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Get it Right the First Time: Permalink Structure and Naming

Permalinks are something that beginning bloggers and internet marketers may take for granted. When setting up a new WordPress site, one of the very first things you should do is establish your permalink structure. The permalink structure determines how your URLs are generated. This is not something you’ll want to ignore, as you definitely do now want to have to go back and change this later.

There are basically two recommended options here…

  • /%postname%/
  • /%category%/%postname%/

A post name permalink structure means that your post name permalink will directly follow your domain in the URL.

Post name permalink structure:

If you are planning on using highly targeted category names, then the ‘Category and Post name’ can also be a good option. Using the same post as an example, if I were to use a ‘Category Post name’ permalink structure it would look like this:

Category and Post name permalink structure:

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I usually go with ‘Post name’ as my permalink structure because I like the simplicity and flexibility I have with it. Either choice is fine, and in some cases, ‘Category and Post name’ might be a better option if your categories contain targeted and relevant keywords (as they should).

Keep in mind that using categories in your permalinks can cause issues down the road if you decide to change or drill down further with your category names. In other words, if you go the ‘Category and Post name’ route, then it means you’ll want to keep your category names and post assignments the same. This option gives you a bit less freedom with your category permalinks, and it won’t be as easy to re-assign posts to different categories later on – should you need to do that at any point.

Configuring the permalink structure in WordPress

To set your permalink structure, simply go to: Settings > Permalinks in the WordPress dashboard.

Select ‘Post name’, if that’s your preference, then ‘Save Changes’. If you want to use the ‘category/post-name’ structure, then you can copy the text below and place it into the ‘Custom Structure’ field, then ‘Save Changes’.


Congratulations! You’ve just established your new site’s optimized permalink structure!

Exceptions to the rule

If you’re managing a very active and routinely updated blog where you’re posting multiple times daily – on time-sensitive info – then having a date in your permalink structure may be a benefit. Some people will put year, month and maybe even the date into their searches. If you have a permalink with the date structure in it, then it helps indicate to search engines and site visitors that this post is hot off the press.

Day and name permalink structure:

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A few years ago it was advisable to have things like Post ID and Date in the permalink, as it made for more efficient database queries, thus increasing site performance. However…WordPress has improved a lot since then, so permalink structure has less of an effect on site speed nowadays. It’s always best to go with a search engine optimized and user-friendly permalink.

Permalink naming and how it affects SEO

Permalinks are vitally important to the SEO formula, and should not always be auto-generated. There will be times when a post title makes for the perfect permalink, but there will be many other times when the permalink should be optimized separately from the post title.

The four major components of a post that you want to configure right away, and in order of importance, are:

  1. Post permalink
  2. Post (meta) title
  3. Post (headline) title

Although it can be argued that the post meta title is the single-most-important factor for rankings – apart from the content of the post itself – it’s more important to name the permalink properly right away. This is because you don’t want to have to change it later. If you do, Google will have to re-index the post or page, plus you lose any social shares attached to that article.

Post titles you should try to get right as soon as you publish, but you can further edit and optimize them once a post is indexed – with no penalty for doing so.

Same goes with post headlines, In fact, it’s a good idea to experiment with those so that you can see what sort of effect the title has on the clicks, stickiness or conversions for that post or page.

Editing the post permalink

By default, WordPress will grab your post title and use it for the permalink. Sometimes this is fine, but other times it may not be as effective – especially if you’re going for a catchy or comical headline. A permalink should be highly targeted and descriptive, with some juicy descriptive keywords. I also recommend you remove as many stop words as you can (e.g., a, the, of, and, as, etc…) to keep the link tidy and targeted.

For example… the title of this post is: “Get it Right the First Time: Permalink Structure and Naming”. While this Billy Joel influenced title may work nicely as a post headline…

…is not an ideal permalink.

This one is much better…

The second one contains a highly targeted keyword phrase with only one stop-word in it. The first permalink is a bloated 10 words, with only 2 or 3 of those being relevant to anything a searcher would type in to find this post.

In Conclusion

When creating a new site, figure out your permalink structure preference, then set it and forget it. Changing it later will cause you to lose rankings, as Google will have to re-index all of your site’s content, not to mention you will lose any authority given to those posts or pages via social media.

If for whatever reason you feel you absolutely need to change your permalink structure, it is crucial that you create a 301 redirect so that any search results and remotely linking sites be sure to send visitors to the proper page, rather than giving them a 404. Keep in mind, however, that social likes and shares do not recognize those redirects, which means the 237 Facebook likes that you have for your kickass Shake Weight review will be lost forever…

When creating a new post, determine in as few words as possible what the post is ‘exactly’ about. Use that as your permalink. A few stop words is ok as long as they add to the keyword phrase, but focus on ‘optimizing’ the permalink so that it is lean (fewer words), juicy (keyword rich) and fat-free (void of superfluous stop words).

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