A “Permalink” is a common web term used to describe the permanent link to a given post or page. Or put another way – this is this final web address that represents your desired content. Within WordPress this applies to posts, pages, media files, category archives, tag archives, etc.
Why is a Permalink Structure Needed?
A permalink is needed to give a final destination to your content that other sites and directories can reference. Google and other search engines catalog urls individually and evaluate the content found within against potential search inquiries. When a match is found, the search engines present the permalink in their search results and help direct users to your specific content.
Within WordPress you can reference each post by using query based variables, such as http://www.mysite.com/?p=123. However this approach is not optimized for search engine results. Search engines use information found within the permalink to help classify and understand your posts content.
Let’s assume that you have a Cooking Recipe based website. You may create separate categories for major topics such as Recipes versus Cooking Techniques. In this case you may have 2 separate posts within your site, both focused around making Wheat Bread. The first post is a Recipe, while the second post is general advice applicable to cooking wheat bread regardless of the recipe used. Without using a permalink structure and relying on WordPress’s built in query params, you would end up with URL’s that look like this
By contrast – if you use the WordPress permalink settings to add in the category and post slug into your permalink you could end up with much more meaningful urls. Here are what your new urls would look like:
Using this structured permalink approach, Google (as well as users) can automatically tell the general difference between these two posts without even looking at the post content. Google of course does analyze everything about their page that they can, but this little formatting approach helps to correctly classify your content and get the best search results directed to your page. Besides – aren’t both of those better urls then the query approach?
Adjusting Permalink Settings in WordPress
When you are setting up your new WordPress site, be sure to setup the proper permalink structure that you want to use. This will require you to think ahead of the content you will be creating on a regular basis. A blog that releases posts that are time relevant may want to use month and even day numbers within it’s permalink structure. A blog that focuses on instruction and teaching may want to utilize category and post slugs within it’s permalink structure.
Within WordPress go to the Settings link on the left. Find the “Permalinks” setting and click on it. You will then be taken to the Permalink Settings page as shown here:
Using this settings editor, you can select which permalink structure you would like to use. You can use one of the pre-made ones or you can create a custom one using the tags provided.
As mentioned above, once you select a permalink structure, you want to avoid changing it if at all possible. This is because you do not want to break the already indexed pages that Google and other search engines have. If you do need to change your permalink structure, you will want to employ a redirect plugin to redirect old url’s to their new locations. That topic is out of scope for this post – but you will want to spend time planning and setting up that change so that you do not hurt your existing search traffic.
Getting Additional Help on Permalinks
Permalinks can be an important part of your SEO strategy and should not be a decision taken lightly. WordPress has several articles and documents covering permalinks that you should familiarize yourself with.
If you click on the help button at the top of the permalink settings page, you will see some brief explanations as well as links to additional documents.
These links can be very helpful if you need assistance in determining what your permalink structure should look like.