Ever wondered why the URLs on your WordPress site are the way they are? I promise you that it’s not magic. WordPress isn’t consulting some cosmic power to structure your URLs. No, it’s actually the result of how your WordPress permalinks are set up.
And guess what? You have complete control over how these URLs function on your WordPress site. That’s exactly what I’m going to discuss in this post.
I’ll tell you what WordPress permalinks are, how you can change them, and how you can use something called slugs to get even more control over your links.
But perhaps most importantly, I’ll also tell you why you should never accept the default WordPress permalink structure. So if you haven’t changed your permalink structure yet, this is an important post for you to read.
What Are Permalinks and Where Can You Find Them?
At their core, permalinks are a simple subject. They’re just the URLs at which visitors can find your posts and pages. They’re permanent links. For example, you’ll always be able to find this post at “www.nimbusthemes.com/what-are-wordpress-permalinks”.
You can’t change your basic domain name (the part before “.com” or other domain extensions), but you do have complete control over what comes after the “/”. So to use my example from the previous sentence, I could make “what-are-wordpress-permalinks” whatever I wanted.
It’s important to know about permalinks because the default WordPress permalink structure is, unfortunately, just plain bad. Truly – the vast majority of WordPress users are better off using a different permalink structure than the one that ships with WordPress.
What’s Wrong With the Default WordPress Permalink Structure?
If you’ve never checked out your permalink structure, let me give you a refresher on the default WordPress permalink structure.
On every fresh install, the structure is:
To give you a real example, here’s what that structure looks like on my test site:
While this is better than the previous “post ID” default permalink (a random number as far as regular users are concerned), there are still three main problems with the current default structure:
- It’s not user friendly. When visitors see that jumble of numbers, it can be confusing. Whereas a nice clean URL provides context for readers to understand your post, the default structure only adds confusion.
- It’s not good for SEO. Those numbers don’t just make it difficult for humans, it also is suboptimal for getting search engine robots to understand your URL. That can mean your site doesn’t rank as well as possible in Google search.
- It locks you into a specific date. There are times when you might want to go back and republish old content. If you have the date in your URL, it can be confusing. And if you try to change the date in the URL to match the republishing date, you’ll lose all your search engine rankings.
So, don’t let your site fall victim to the default WordPress permalink structure! Change it to a much better one. Here’s how…
How to Set Default Permalinks in WordPress
Setting your WordPress permalinks is pretty easy, but the developers have tucked it away in a spot where you might not have encountered it.
You need to head to Settings → Permalinks:
You can see that the default is set to Day and name. You can also pick Month and name for a similar structure.
If you look at Plain and Numeric, you’ll see those “random” numbers I mentioned above. While this number isn’t truly random (it relates to the post or page’s location in your database), it holds no relevance to humans.
Finally, you have the Post name structure, as well as the ability to create your own Custom Structure (not recommended).
Which Permalink Structure Should You Use?
So I told you about all the possibilities above. But now it’s time for the one true answer. In 99% of scenarios, this is the WordPress permalink structure that you should use:
That is, your URL will just be the name of your post. No confusing numbers. Just clean and simple.
Using your post name for your permalink fixes all of the previous issues. Now, your URLs will be:
- Easy for search engines to understand. %postname% is the best option for ranking your website in Google.
- Date-independent. You can now republish content to your heart’s content. You’ll never run into any issues with the date in your URL.
- Easily understandable for visitors. Visitors will have a good idea what they’ll find at your site just from looking at the URL.
So, just click the radio circle next to Post name and save your settings to update your permalink structure:
Note – this is best done before you launch your site. If you do it after you already have an established site, you’ll need to redirect your old permalink structure to your new one to avoid losing links.
If you need to change the permalink structure on an established WordPress site, you should use this free tool from Yoast. It will give you the redirect code that you need to add to your WordPress site’s .htaccess file.
What Are WordPress Slugs? How Are they Different Than Permalinks?
Ok, so up until now, permalinks have been fairly simple, right? Now, I’m going to throw a bit of a wrench in things. See, there’s another element, called a slug, that connects with permalinks.
Permalinks are the generic default structure, but slugs let you customize that default on an individual basis.
How to Set WordPress Slugs
When you create or edit a post or page, have you ever noticed the URL box below the title? That’s where you set your WordPress slugs.
To edit the slug for your post, just click the Edit button:
Then, enter your desired slug. Make sure you don’t use any spaces. Instead, use dashes “-” to separate words in your slug:
Then click OK when you’re finished.
Congrats! You just created your own WordPress slug.
Best Practices for WordPress Slugs
WordPress slugs are an essential element of on-page SEO. While they’re by no means the only thing that determines whether or not your post ranks in Google, they are a key contributor.
Even after you’ve set the optimal permalink structure, you still should never use the default slug generated by WordPress.
Say I write a post called “The Top Ten Places to Eat Pho in Hanoi – #8 Will Astound You.” That’s a proper clickbait title, right? I’m sure to be raking in the viral web traffic. But when WordPress sees my awesome clickbait title, it’s going to generate this slug:
As awesome as my clickbait title is, that URL is equally…unawesome. It’s a bit long, isn’t it?
See, most people aren’t going to search for something that specific. They’re probably going to search for something simple like “best pho in Hanoi.” So to match their search, I would be much better off changing the default slug generated by WordPress to something like:
Isn’t that much clearer? Both humans and search engines will have a much easier time understanding what my post is about.
So here are two best practices for setting your WordPress slugs/permalinks:
Try to make your slugs:
- As short as possible. Ideally, you only want a few words. And skip generic “stop words” like “the”.
- Include your target keyword. Try to think of the simplest way to describe your post – normally this will match up with what people are searching for. If you want to get more advanced, you can even use a keyword research tool to come up with the optimal slug.
Editing Slugs for Categories and Tags
You’re not just limited to posts and pages, you can also edit slugs for all of your categories and tags.
To edit slugs for your categories, you just need to go to Posts → Categories. Then click on the category you want to edit and find the Slug box. Enter your desired slug there:
The process is identical for tags, except you’ll need to go to Posts → Tags. Everything else is the same as if you were editing a category.
Wrapping Things Up
Your permalinks might seem like a mundane part of your WordPress site. But I promise you…that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Choosing a good permalink structure makes your WordPress site more accessible to both humans and search engine robots.
They’re something you need to configure in your WordPress settings. And they’re also something you should manually set for each and every post or page you create.
No more ignoring your permalinks and slugs. Get out there and start creating some awesome, human-friendly, robot-friendly, URLs.