It doesn’t seem like a challenge, does it? But hear me out, as a matter of fact permalink settings can have a big impact on every blog’s search engine rankings, and its “user-friendliness.”
If you go to the Permalinks section in your WordPress admin panel you’ll see some options to choose from, and an additional field for setting a custom structure in case you feel like none of the predefined ones suit your needs.
Before I share my opinion on which ones of those I think are worth using and which aren’t, first let’s discuss the main purpose of permalinks. There are two, like I’ve mentioned briefly in the first paragraph:
1. Permalinks make your URLs user-friendly
First and foremost, permalinks should be as user-friendly as possible. By user-friendly I mean: short, understandable, and easy to memorize. This URL, for example: domain.com/?g=123¶m2=hopeless&sid=124GDms_2, isn’t.
You may think otherwise, but users refer to given pages by their URLs quite often. Like, for instance, when they want to share it with a friend via email. Or when they want to point someone to a site while talking to them on the phone. Or when writing the address on a piece of paper for whatever reason.
A quick rule of thumb to recognize a user-friendly URL would be: if you can’t spell it easily, it’s not user-friendly.
Moreover, permalinks should indicate what’s on the page the URL’s pointing to. Look at it this way, imagine that you have two pieces of paper, written on the first one is: domain.com/?p=145, and on the second one: domain.com/seo-advice-for-blogs.
Both of them are quite easy to memorize, and both of them pass the user-friendliness test. But if someone gives you such notes, and then you have a look at them a week later there’s no way you can remember what the URL on the first note is referring to, while the second one is still perfectly understandable.
As it turns out, when we’re speaking user-friendly permalinks, the length is not the most important factor. The fact that the URL is understandable is much more crucial.
2. Permalinks improve SEO
SEO is key for every blog. Yes – I said it – EVERY. If you disagree then you’re probably just trying to impress someone. There are many things to do to make the blog you’re working on as search engine friendly as possible, but in this post let’s just focus on things you can do to the permalink structure.
One of the most important on-page factors of SEO is what the URL of a page looks like. Google assumes that the most important keyword for a given page is most likely to appear in its URL.
This is a perfectly reasonable assumption because if someone claims to have created a page talking about a given topic (keyword) and then they go as far as building hundreds of links pointing back to this page using this specific keyword, it’s natural that the keyword also appears in the URL. And if it doesn’t… something seems just not right.
Moreover, Google values the URL so much because it’s a highly limited space. It’s easy to disguise thousands of keywords as the page’s content, it’s not that easy to include thousands of keywords in the URL. In most cases, there’s only place for one, maybe two keywords.
Limiting it to zero by using a poor permalink structure is not a wise choice. Therefore, you absolutely have to make it possible to include a keyword somewhere in the URL of any page or post. Also, the structure can’t be too long, or it starts to look a bit spammy. So in essence: short, and keyword rich.
This works with the user-friendliness rule quite well if you’d notice. In my opinion, keyword-rich is a kind of a synonym for understandable. Besides, Google has been talking like forever that the best SEO approach is just to care about your users.
New blogs only
A short disclaimer… If you’re working on an existing blog you shouldn’t change the permalink structure. This is something you should play with only when working on setting up a new blog. If you change the structure for an existing blog it creates a lot of confusion both in terms of SEO and for users.
What permalink setting to choose
Let’s go back to the WordPress admin settings page for permalinks and take a look at the predefined options. There’s something there that hits me right away. I’m wondering, how on earth is the post ID setting the default one? It’s the worst setting possible from an SEO point of view.
It is short (yay), but it’s not understandable, and has no place for keywords.
The second one – day and name. This is better. You might consider going with this one if you are creating a blog for a newspaper, a news site, or some other major publisher – someone publishing multiple posts in a day.
Sites like these often have to distinguish each entry by showing its publication date in the URL. I know that it makes the URL longer and harder to memorize, but often it’s the only choice. It’s actually the structure NY Times, and many other newspapers use.
The third option is similar to the second only it doesn’t include the day. Personally, I don’t find this very useful. If you’re going to include the date why not including the whole of it? However, I guess it all depends on the specific website, so don’t yell at me in the comments please.
The fourth option – numeric. You know what, I need to correct what I’ve said just a minute ago. From now on this is the worst setting possible from an SEO point of view. I truly don’t see any value whatsoever in using such a structure (feel free to disagree though).
Finally, let’s focus on the useful stuff – creating a custom structure.
First of all, WordPress allows you to use a number of tags here. they are: %year%, %monthnum%, %day%, %hour%, %minute%, %second%, %post_id%, %postname%, %category%, %tag%, %author%. They are all pretty self-explanatory.
Long story short, there are basically two main settings I always advise to use. Go with either:
1. Post name only
The simplest of them all, and my favorite one. I’m using it on all my blogs (I think). By using only the post name you’re making the URL short, understandable, and highly SEO-friendly. The only problem is that you can’t use the same title for more than one post/page. But in most cases this isn’t a scenario likely to occur.
2. Post name and category
This is a structure that bumps up the post’s search engine optimization a little. The main idea is that apart form the post name the category name contains a keyword as well. So by using this structure you can use two relevant keywords in each URL.
However, the first one needs to be short – two words maximum. And it’s mainly an approach for sites where every post is assigned to just a single category.
What’s your permalink structure?
I’m curious. Feel free to share what your permalink structure is and why. Let’s see what the most popular one is.
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