Permalink (pur–mah–lingk) – A permanent URL that links to a specific web page, typically a single blog entry or news article.
Permalinks, as the name suggests, are (ideally) unchanging URLs that readers can use to access your WordPress site or blog. But that’s not all they do. Getting permalinks right is critical for your SEO and is still very much part of the SEO best practices in 2021!
What does the ideal permalink look like?
Before we get down to what is the ideal structure for a permalink. Let’s take a look at what are the various permalink options, and why some of them are NOT the ideal ones to go for.
#1. The default structure
Now, by default, the WordPress permalink structure is rather… err, UGLY!
And it looks something like this…http://www.example.com/?p=123 — wherein the numbers at the end denote a unique post ID that WordPress uses to identify the post in the absence of a custom URL. This is certainly NOT the ideal permalink structure anyone should follow. Thankfully, WordPress has some more options to pick for your permalinks.
#2. Day and name structure
So, next up is the one which is also commonly referred to as the Day and Name permalink and a subtle improvement on the ugly ones. Here’s what such a permalink typically looks like:
http://www.example.com/yyyy/mm/dd/post-name/ — this basically translates to a URL which will bear the year, month and day when your post is published. For example, if you publish an article on the 27th of February 2019, your post URL will appear something like this….
#3. The month and name structure
This is similar to the above Day and Name structure, just that it skips the date in the URL. So, with that structure selected, the post published on the 27th of Feb, 2019 would have a URL like this…
In both the above cases, the domain name is followed by specific identifiers related to the post, without beating around the bush. Also, this is something that readers and search engines alike would prefer! However, this still something which is not recommended. Unless of course, the nature of your blog or website dictates you to have the year or month or date stamps in the posts.
This kind of structure is suitable for a news website or a blog, where the day/year matters, or where content does not belong to the ‘evergreen’ variety! The drawback, however, is that if you do not have such a website and you have a lot of content which is evergreen or can be updated over the years and still be as relevant as the day it was published, then you are at a loss. This is mainly because the users will be able to see the year/month and even the day of original publication. So imagine this…
Now, the URL above talks about a post detailing the SEO tips for the current year. Yet, the URL bears the ugly truth of this being an article written in 2017! For any reader, the more recent the content, the better! Based on observations, even if posts and articles are regularly updated, the audience, influenced by the slug, might still develop a perception that the article is old! And this could have a negative impact on your rankings.
#4. Numeric structure
This one takes the lead from the default UGLY structure and tries to improve on that, although unsuccessfully. The URL structure looks like this….
In this one, the archive is the category in which the article is filed in WordPress, followed by the unique post ID as mentioned earlier. So, for instance, if your website or blog has a category called SEO Tips, your published article would have a URL like this…
This sort of structure is not recommended either, as it is not a reader-friendly URL.
Do Note: The post ID was once a necessity for those looking to submit their sites to Google News, as Google News had a requirement for every article to have a unique ID in the URLs. But this is no longer required, and the standard URL structures suffice.
#5. Post name structure
This is perhaps the most ideal permalink structure for various reasons. This is how the URL appears…
This is a plain and simple way to ensuring your URLs are clean, humanly readable, and tell the users what the post is about. It is also great for those who have content which can be updated over the years to feel fresh and evergreen, without the same being reflected by the URLs. For example, the post on ‘Ten SEO Tips For The Year’ will have a URL http://www.example.com/ten-seo-tips-for-the-year
Even though the article may have been published in 2017, you can edit and update it with relevant changes and reshare it… What gives!!!
#6. Custom structure
Now there’s a custom structure too, which you can tinker with to mix and match the options above.
For instance, if you need a URL structure which had post name followed by a unique ID, you can do that by adding /%postname%/%id%/ or say you need the day and the post name structure, then /%day%/%postname%/ can give you that. But, the Post Name structure should work for most people and it is indeed the IDEAL Permalink Structure!
The significance of well-structured permalinks
Readers could be put off by unstructured, long or ugly looking URLs. They might also perceive them to be ‘spammy’, especially the ones which lack proper words and simply have some numbers in them — like the Post ID option. Also, permalinks that are ‘human-readable’ are more likely to land you the required attention! That’s also something that readers and search engines alike would prefer!
Also, talking of SEO, keeping URLs as short as possible (ideally under 100 characters) is ideal. Use hyphens as separators, and do away with stop words such as and, or, but, of, the. And that should help to create an attractive permalink, that’s easy on the readers’ eyes, and provoking enough to make them go clickety-click! For instance, instead of keeping the URL for a post like ‘A Guide To The Best Permalink Structure in WordPress as,
You can ideally keep it as: www.example.com/guide-best-permalink-structure-wordpress
With the year/month/day or even the /year/month/ structure, you are adding unnecessary characters to your URL — at least 6-8 characters!
So, you can create an attractive permalink, by opting for a clean permalink structure with just the post name. The more important factor here is the keyword usage in URLs. Now, this is often debated – does having a keyword in the URL significantly help SEO? Now, it may not ‘significantly’ help with SEO, but it may give that extra push. And when you have your site competing with millions of web pages for the same search results, you could do with every possible help you can get!
If your post name has the keyword (which it ideally should), keeping the post name permalink structure ensures your URL automatically picks up that as well! Of course, for best practice, you should remove the stop words from the slug, such as – of, an, the, etc. But that’s a different blog post altogether 🙂
There… Now you know what a good permalink looks like!Don’t underestimate the power of a good permalink — it plays a very important role in future-proofing your posts! That’s right — you’ll never have to deal with a ‘page not found’ fiasco ever again. Click To Tweet
Let’s make it simpler for you to ensure that your permalinks are always on point… with a simple checklist!
The immortal WordPress permalinks checklist for 2021
- Change the default WordPress permalink structure
- Choose a structure that allows you to have human-readable permalinks, so you can use your keywords (without overdoing them, of course)!
- Build a sound permalink structure that stands the test of time.
- For one, you can avoid dynamic strings (like the yyyy/mm/dd format) unless they are MUST-haves!
- Opting for the post-name structure should be ideal for most WordPress sites and blogs. It is also a future-proof approach from your content perspective.
- Keep your URLs as short as possible.
- Not so much to do with the permalinks, but as a best practice, keep your URLs short, conveying only what is necessary for the reader to know what the article or page is all about. Include the primary keyword in the URL.
Uh oh!!! So, you just realized you don’t have an ideal permalink structure! Should you ….
Relax and ….
Change your permalinks (without hurting your SEO scores)!
Let’s face it — you might need to make some changes on your WordPress site over time, and may not be able to stick to the same permalink structure. So, if you are among those who are panicking at the realisation that your permalinks aren’t ideal… or if you have decided to change your existing permalink structure for various reasons… here are some steps you can take!
1. Choose a ‘pretty’ permalink structure!
The short and sweet /%postname%/ structure should be ideal.
2. Make sure your site is completely backed up!
Taking a backup of the entire site is a good idea since you can always roll back to the original site in case of broken permalinks. While you are doing this, make sure there is no overload on the server!
3. Extract a dump of every post URL!
Take a dump of all the existing URLs using Google Analytics >> All Pages. You can refer to this extract if some URLs need to be 301 redirected manually! Alternatively, you can also use crawlers like Screaming Frog to get a dump of all URLs of your site or blog.
4. Change the permalinks structure
Now that you have already chosen a permalink structure and taken a backup of your website, it is time to take the plunge!
Simply go to WordPress >> Settings >> Permalinks and pick the desired option or add to the custom rule and SAVE!
That’s it. Your permalinks should now be changed! Time to rejoice….? Not so soon. There are a couple of things you need to ensure are in place! What are they? Just keep reading…
5. Install a redirection plugin and set a rule!
Choose the Simple 301 redirect plugin. Redirection plugins can be used to redirect requests to another page on your site. This is especially useful when you are migrating to a new site and can’t preserve your URL structure. By setting up 301 redirects from your old pages to your new ones, any incoming links will be seamlessly passed along.
Instead of wasting time adding each URL separately, you can set a common rule to change the permalink structure. For instance, here’s an example:
- If you are switching from a /year/month/day/postname/ structure to a /postname/ one… you can simply add the identifiers or tags as shown by WordPress’s permalinks page to the rule. Something like this…
- Request: /%year%/%monthnum%/%day%/%postname%/
- Destination: /%postname%/
6. Identify and check the absolute URLs!
With absolute URLs, you put the entire web address of the page that you are linking to in the link. That’s why they need to be replaced! Use a Search & Replace plugin to search and replace the older URLs, with the newly structured URLs in the various internal pages. Ideally, if the URLs are set by clicking the post/page from the WordPress links’ drop-down options, chances are WordPress might have already refreshed the URLs. But this doesn’t always work. So, don’t forget this step!
7. Re-submit the sitemap!
Once you’ve replaced the absolute URLs, re-submit the sitemap via Google Search Console.
8. Run a fresh check for 404 errors!
A couple of days after the process has been completed, check the entire site via Screaming Frog or any such tool for 404 errors. It would also help to keep an eye on Google Search Console for any page errors, just to be sure.
9. Focus on backlinks & link sharing!
Create some backlinks for a few of your top pages, and share the posts on social media, forums, etc. This may not be data-driven but might help with speeding up the indexation process.
But what if, you never changed your permalinks, and yet there seem to some broken URLs! Of course, it could happen that your permalinks are acting off for no fault of yours… there could be some alien forces at play! Or, something closer home that you haven’t been paying much attention to!
Other factors that might cause permalink emergencies…
Are your permalinks acting out, even though you have not changed them? Now, there’s no need to panic! It’s not like broken permalinks cannot be remedied. Let’s take a look at why this could happen…
- Faulty plugins:
Sure, plugins are great! They offer you functionalities you’d never have otherwise. However, they can also cause you a lot of trouble. A lot of them are notorious for incompatibility issues. If a plugin hooks to your WordPress permalinks or edits the .htaccess and something goes wrong, you’re likely to get a permalink error!
Regular WordPress updates are needed for website security and performance enhancement. However, if these updates result in version conflicts, you might have to deal with broken permalinks. (Of course, this doesn’t mean you should avoid updates! You just need to be wary of them, and fix your broken permalinks promptly.)
- Domain/Site Migration:
Site migrations are a breeding ground for broken permalinks. This can happen whether you are moving from one host to another, or from local development to a production server. Switching domain names or implementing SSL disrupts the URL structure, which can lead to broken links.
- Backup Restore:
Restoring a backup can lead to damaged permalinks and could lead you with a lot of WordPress permalinks 404 errors!
- Corrupted .htaccess:
The .htaccess acts as a gatekeeper on Apache servers, doing all kinds of things, like redirects, setting up permalinks, etc. It is always vulnerable to being corrupted by a plugin and might cause all your pages to go 404.
Phew! Never thought about, did you? Since you now comprehend what the possible causes of your broken permalinks could be, let’s take a look at how the situation can be turned around!
Here’s how you can fix those broken permalinks…
Irrespective of what’s causing your permalinks to die a premature death, the silver lining on this dark cloud is that they can be fixed!
1. Reset your permalinks
Sometimes, a minor bug or a few minor changes in your WordPress admin dashboard could break your permalinks. Follow the steps below to reset your permalinks:
Step 1: Once you log in to the WordPress Dashboard, click Settings in the navigation menu and then click on Permalinks.
Step 2: Notice what setting you have selected. The options available are Plain, Day and name, Month and name, Numeric, Post name, Custom Structure. If you are using a custom structure, copy and save it, so you can put it back later.
Step 3: Select the Plain setting, and click the Save Changes button. If you already have the Plain setting selected, choose Day and name, then click the Save Changes button. You will then see a message stating ‘permalink structure updated’.
Step 4: Now, select your original setting, and click the Save Changes button again. You are done when you see the ‘permalink structure updated’ message again. Your site permalinks should now be working again. You may have to clear your browser cache before testing.
2. Fix plugin conflicts
If you are facing the issue of broken permalinks after installing a particular plugin, it could be that that particular plugin is conflicting with the others. In such a situation, you will need to deactivate the plugin and reset the permalinks, as mentioned in the previous point. Refresh the pages/posts, and observe if the error disappears.
If this solves the issue, you might need to delete the problematic plugin and look for alternatives. Alternatively, you might also need to check your .htaccess file, and disable it. Resetting the permalinks after disabling the original .htaccess file creates a new .htaccess file within your WordPress directory.
That’s about it… Getting your permalinks right is important to ensure that your site and content remain relevant and accessible to your audience! Before going for a permalink makeover, just make sure your WordPress site is backed up so that you can restore your original site settings if anything goes wrong!