What are Permalinks? Complete Guide

By: | Updated: January 31, 2021

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One of the words you might hear mentioned in relation to blogging is “permalinks”. This sounds like it might be quite complicated but the truth is that it is very easy to get to grips with once you understand the basics.

Ideally, you will sort out your permalinks when you first set up your WordPress site. By doing this first, you will ensure that all of your posts are set up in a uniform way from day one.

However, if you are already up and running then all hope is not lost, as this isn’t something that is going to ruin your blog’s chances of success. You should look to get your permalinks right from now on though, as there are some clear benefits to doing this.

It won’t take you long at all to do this. All you need are a couple of minutes to set up the default structure and then a few seconds to amend it on each new post that you write.

What Are Permalinks?

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that permalinks are permanent links. These are the page-specific URLs that tell us exactly where an article is located on your website. When starting a blog, you will want to define the correct permalink structure from the start.

They are designed to the stay the same forever, so that people don’t get lost when looking for your articles. A good permalink will guide them straight to where they want to go to no matter how long ago the article was written.

For example, if you are looking at our article on how to start a blog then this is the permalink you will see in your browser’s address bar; https://bloggingtips.com/how-to-start-a-blog/. As you can see, it tells you the name of the site and the name of the post right away, so it is clear what the post is about before you even go there.

So far so simple, but maybe you have also seen horribly complicated permalinks that are filled with symbols and are far too long to make sense of. Why is it that some sites have clear, easy-to-read permalinks and others have really messy ones?

More to the point, why does it even matter? Let’s take a look in greater detail at the subject, to see what it is all about.

What Does the Permalink Actually Do?

This is the full address of each article or post on the internet. Therefore, it carries out a number of different functions at the same time:

  • It tells your browser how to quickly locate the article in question
  • It lets a human reader understand the name of the site and get an idea of what the article is about before they even read it
  • It allows people to share the content easily
  • It lets other sites link directly to your article
  • It affects the search engine rankings of the site

The first of the above points isn’t as important at the others. As long as the server takes your readers to your post then no-one really cares how it does it, do they?

The second, third, and fourth points are far more important to bloggers, though. Having clean, concise URLs is one of those things this it is hard put a value on. However, it seems clear that people prefer to see nice, neat URLs on the sites that they use.

If one of your readers wants to share an article with a friend then it is likely that they will be happier to do so if you have a good permalink that is easy to read and gives an idea of what the article is about. People also often worry that a long, complicated URL could be a scam leading them a dodgy site.

As for the SEO impact, the more relevant keywords you have in here the better. You also want to avoid having stop words or fillers in there to clutter things up.

This isn’t the most important part of your SEO work but it does provide an easy way to improve how the search engines view your site.

The crawler bots that assess your site will take into account the words found in each URL. Therefore, permalinks are a good place to fit in your keywords. However, you shouldn’t just cram them in if they don’t reflect the title of the article or the content.

Since it is so easy to control your permalinks, there is simply no excuse for not doing so. The benefits of doing this are solid enough so it makes sense to take the time necessary to deal with it.

Can You Change Your Permalinks?

While permalinks are designed to be permanent links and are designated automatically in WordPress, they can be changed if you want to do so. As we saw in the above point, there are a few good reasons for doing so.

The first step is to find out what format your permalinks are currently in. Many WordPress blogs use a default setting that simply allocates a number to each new post and then tags that number onto the end of the URL.

Others use the post title, sometimes with the post category in front of it. In other cases you will see the date that the post was made in the permalink.

As noted above, what we want to see in here are plenty of keywords and little filler. If you have already researched your keywords well and included them in the title then this is as easy as using a shortened version of the title including the main keywords as your permalink.

So, let’s imagine that your keyword phrase is “best permalink information” and the post you write is called “All the best permalink information that you will ever need”. In this case, the ideal permalink would be the main URL of your site followed by something like “best-permalink-information”.

How to Change Your Permalinks

To find out your current setting you only need to look at the permalinks that your new posts automatically generate. If you are using WordPress’s default settings then they won’t be optimized.

Start writing a post and once you add a title you will see a permalink generated. If this is your first time looking into this matter then you will see the standard WordPress default permalink, which will need to be changed.

To check the current settings in WordPress you need to enter into WP-admin followed by Settings and then Permalinks. There are 6 common settings here with self-explanatory names attached to them; Plain or Default, Day and name, Month and name, Numeric, Post name, and Custom Structure.

The Plain or Default setting is the least useful of all of them, as it simply tags the number of the post onto the end of the URL. This won’t help to optimize your site and is unattractive for your readers as well. No-one will know what the post is about until they visit it.

The good news is that it is easy to change this. There are just two things you need to do in order to fix your permalinks swiftly and effectively:

  • Change the default option
  • Change the permalinks on individual posts

Changing the Default Option

Changing the permalink is extremely easy to do. Ideally you will do this when you first start the site, as this will ensure that you get all of the permalinks right from the beginning. They will then all follow the same structure and look similar to each other.

However, if you have older posts set up in the wrong format then it is best to just leave them as they are rather than trying to fix them. You could lose valuable links and make life difficult for readers who have bookmarked your articles on their browsers or have received links from someone who shared your content with them.

To change the default option for your future posts then you need to be in the same place mentioned before: WP-admin / Settings / Permalinks. You will again see the 6 different options and should choose the one that says “Post Name”. You can then save the changes.

This is the permalink option that gives you the simplest, most straightforward way of working. There are no un-necessary words to affect your SEO or old dates to put off visitors.

You only need to make this change once and then you will see that all future posts follow this simple format. Try going back in to write a post. Put on the same title that you used for the example in the last point.

You will see that it now produces a neater and more useful permalink without you needing to do anything else. You are now halfway towards getting the right sort of permalink on every post that you create. There is still one more thing to do before leaving this subject though.

Changing the Permalink on Your Posts

While the change we just looked at will help you a lot, you will still need to amend individual permalinks now and then, when you see that the automatically generated ones aren’t great. This is especially true if you write longer titles. You will often need to make them neater and more focused on your keywords in this case.

As you edit individual posts on WordPress you will see a button that lets you edit the permalink. You should look to do this when you are writing a post, rather than going back to change it later when you have already published the article.

In fact, it is a good move to get into the habit of writing your title at the start and then seeing what permalink is generated. You should then change the permalink to something that suits you rather than leaving it to the end.

By doing this you won’t run the risk of forgetting about it. Having said that, if you end up changing the title or the keywords used then you will need to alter the permalink as well.

Some bloggers prefer to write their draft articles on Word and paste them into WordPress. If you do this then you could get into the habit of writing a good permalink at the top of the document and pasting it in as well.

If you start to try and change old permalinks, things could get really messy. It simply isn’t worth the hassle and the potentially damaging effect that it has on your links, you readers, and your SEO.

In some case you won’t need to change anything at all, as the proposed permalink will be fine. If it doesn’t look great then just take out the filler words and leave in your keyword phrases.

If you just posted an article in the last few minutes or hours and want to change the permalink then it should be safe to do so. However, the longer that an article sits on your site the less advisable it is to change the permalink.

What If I Forget to Change a Permalink When Posting?

There is a chance that you get so caught up in writing a new blog post that you forget to optimize the permalink before you post it. If you don’t catch it in time to amend then it is safer to just let it stay as it is.

Of course, this is where the benefit of amending the default is going to save the day. Your permalink might not be perfect in this way but it should still be fairly close to what you need.

WordPress will automatically put in a permalink that is based on the title of your article. So, if the keywords are in the title then there is a good chance that they will find their way into the permalink as well.

The worst type of situation is probably when you use a long title for your blog post. In this case even when the correct default has been set the title might be confusing and might not include the keywords you are targeting.

However, your readers are unlikely to notice anything amiss. It is simply a missed opportunity for you to improve your SEO in an easy way.

by Brett Helling
Brett has been starting, growing, and monetizing websites since 2014. While in college, he began to learn about digital marketing. After graduating, he continued to build a diverse portfolio of websites while working a full time job. After years of building the portfolio on the side, he made the jump to run his websites full time.