Permalinks form the structure of a website; they are the links to the individual web pages and posts. On WordPress, permalinks are often overlooked, since they are automatically generated from a page or post title. Since permalinks are where information of a web page can be found, it is imperative to learn to optimize permalinks on WordPress, to ensure that a site ranks well for SEO.

In this Search Engine Optimization basics tutorial, we’ll look at:

  1. What are Permalinks?
  2. Why should we optimize permalinks?
  3. How to optimize permalinks on any website?
  4. Additional ways to optimize permalinks on WordPress
  5. Redirecting new permalinks and avoiding 404 errors

Let’s begin!

What are Permalinks?

A permalink or permanent link is a URL that should be unchanged and kept the same for a long period. By doing so, it yields a hyperlink that will always return the correct web page. Permalinks should be kept simple as friendly URLs, to be easy to type and be referred.

In layman term, permalinks are the links on your website address or domain name plus its slug. An example of a permalink,

www.yoursite.com/slug/

Why Optimize Permalinks?

As mentioned earlier, permalinks are the web addresses used to link individual pages and posts. Since it serves an important function, optimizing permalinks is an essential part of SEO.

#1 Optimize permalinks has potential ranking benefits

While permalinks are not crucial to a site’s ranking, keywords in permalinks may return positive on search. Keywords in the permalinks are the clearest indicator of a page’s relevance to the search query. Even though search results will not be easily manipulated just by adding keywords in permalinks, optimising permalinks does not require much effort either.

#2 Permalinks affect the website structure

Permalinks can help to organise multi-page websites into proper layers, ‘filing them in the right directory. In order for a website to be properly indexed, a sitemap should be submitted to the Google Search Console. The sitemap comprises a list of all permalinks on the entire domain, and it can be auto-generated with a plugin such as Yoast or All-in-One SEO plugin on WordPress.

Grouping related pages together help users to navigate the website better and improving the overall user experience.

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In addition, grouping related pages together help users to navigate the website better and improving the overall user experience. For example, a hair salon might have pages such as ‘Hair Cut’, ‘Hair Dyeing’, ‘Hair Treatment’, listed together under a parent page, ‘Services’.

#3 Link Building with Permalinks

Link building is an important aspect of search engine optimization. When a site links to another site, it is a ‘recommendation’, giving the site a upvote.

For a solid link foundation, links should be connected to permalinks, instead of the root domain. This ensures traffic to forgotten and less accessible parts of a website. For instance, an article published a year ago, may be deep within the archives. Having external and internal links pointing to them will direct readers to find out more about those content.

#4 Consistency with page content

Descriptive permalinks offer a quick glimpse of what a page is about on search results. Links that are short and consistent with the targeted keywords on a particular page, reinforces the choice of keywords.

#5 Prevents Duplicate Content

Properly named permalinks avoid the possibility of duplicate content on a website. There are cases where blog posts tagged in two or more categories are filed twice or more, hence duplicating the content on different permalinks. For example, the links below illustrates a case where the same content is filed under two separate categories and creating a duplicated content under two URLs.

www.demolink.com/food/ice-cream

www.demolink.com/deserts/ice-cream

While it is possible to have such a structure on a website, the canonical link, or the actual link where the original article can be found, should be properly shown on all duplicates.

How to Optimize Permalinks?

The steps below are for new pages. Take note that existing permalinks should be retained to avoid losing link juice. If a change to existing permalinks is required, perform a proper redirection to avoid having 404 errors.

#1 Add Keywords in the Permalinks

Keywords should be added to the permalinks so that they are consistent with the content keywords. These should be kept short(see next point) without ‘over-optimizing’ or creating excessively dynamic, keyword rich permalinks.

#2 Keep it Short

Keep permalinks short, so that they are easy to type and memorable. On WordPress, permalinks are automatically generated from the page/post title may be too long. These should be rewritten with the target keywords.

For example, this article has its permalink shorten to http://leowhouteng.com/optimize-permalinks.

#3 Remove Stop Words

Stop words, such as ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘of’, ‘for’, are automatically filtered out by a Google search. These words do not add value to the selected keywords or phrase. This applies to keyword choice in the content and title as well.

Ways to Optimize Permalinks on WordPress

#1 WordPress Permalink Settings

When setting up a website, before creating any content, toggle to the WordPress Settings > Permalinks > Common Settings and select ‘Post name’.

Digital Marketing and WordPress Tutorials - SEO Basics - Optimize Permalinks on WordPress - WordPress Permalinks Settings - learn with leowhouteng

WordPress permalinks settings

#2 Change the Slug

Before publishing a content, edit the slug in the box at the top of the page. SEO plugin such as Yoast provides a reminder to edit the permalinks.

An additional web address layer may also be added in the box physically if required. For example, the link may be

http://www.yoursite.com/layer/slug

Digital Marketing and WordPress Tutorials - SEO Basics - Optimize Permalinks on WordPress - Specify Permalinks on WordPress - learn with leowhouteng

Optimize permalinks on WordPress

#3 Group Related Pages under a Parent Site

In addition, if a page needs to be filed under a parent page, indicate it at the sidebar dropdown toggle. The parent page must already be published to be found on the list.

Digital Marketing and WordPress Tutorials - SEO Basics - Optimize Permalinks on WordPress - Specify Parent Category on WordPress - learn with leowhouteng

Add a new category to a parent category on WordPress

#4 Use a Plugin to Edit Parent Page Slug

In cases where patent slugs need to be edited, a plugin such as Custom Permalinks By Sami Ahmed Siddiqui may be installed to edit the permalinks.

Digital Marketing and WordPress Tutorials - SEO Basics - Optimize Permalinks on WordPress - Custom Permalink plugin by Sami - learn with leowhouteng

Custom Permalink WordPress plugin by Sami Ahmed Siddiqui

For example, portfolio projects may have a /portfolio/ slug automatically added before the project name without filing it under a parent page.

The same is true for archive pages such as ‘categories’, ‘tags’, and ‘authors’. These will require special codes or plugins installed to make the changes to the permalinks.

Retaining the ‘author’ slug on WordPress may have a security vulnerability. The author login username may be visible to potential hackers. Hence, it is advised to use a plugin such as ‘Edit Author Slug’ By Brandon Allen to edit the author slug and base to hide the login username.

Digital Marketing and WordPress Tutorials - SEO Basics - Optimize Permalinks on WordPress - Edit Author Slug Plugin - learn with leowhouteng

Edit Author Slug WordPress plugin by Brandon Allen

#5 Use Codes to Change Slugs on Divi

Instead of using a plugin, advanced users can opt to add codes to the function.php file of a child theme. Take note that any customisation codes here should be used with care.

Performing Redirection for Old Permalinks

404 Errors and Broken Links

It is not advisable to change the permalinks for existing pages that have already been published as this will cause an increase in the number of missing pages or 404 errors. This happens when pages are already indexed by the search engine. Broken links might also occur if pre-existing links were not updated. In addition, changing permalinks will lose any ‘link juice’ that were previously accumulated.

Updating Links Pointing to the Particular Page

If a page permalink has been changed, remember to update internal links to reflect the change. It is also recommended to contact websites that were previously linking to the site to update their links. This ensures that the web page continues to be properly attributed.

For a quicker way to update internal links on WordPress, use the plugin, ‘Velvet Blues Update URLs’ by Velvet Blues. The plugin updates old links in the entire site content.

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Velvet Blues Update URLs WordPress plugin

Performing Redirection for Old Permalinks

Link credit can be transferred to a new site by performing a proper redirection. This works by redirect traffic from the old link to a new link. However, take note that a portion of ‘Link juice’ will be lost in the process, hence it is advisable to update the old permalinks.

On WordPress, use the plugin Redirection By John Godley to do a simple redirection. For advanced users, codes can be used to serve the same function.

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Redirection WordPress plugin by John Godley

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Hou Teng

Hou Teng

Art Director, Digital Marketing Strategist at LeowHouTeng.com
Hou Teng is a Singaporean graphic designer, specialising in both print and web. After graduating from Nanyang Technological University, School of Art, Design & Media, he has worked in advertising and launched an education startup as a side project. He has also worked briefly in a renovation start-up in Shen Zhen, China. While his strengths are in branding and layout design, he is also skilled in digital imaging, web design (HTML & CSS), WordPress content management and administration, search engine optimisation, and digital marketing.
Hou Teng