If You're Ignoring Permalink Structure, You're Doing It Wrong


Each and every day, new websites are created and hundreds (thousands?) of new business owners hope that their sites will grow by leaps and bounds.

They picture themselves cracking the popularity code and shooting right up to the top of Google search results.

But what if I told you that so many of them are crippling themselves without even knowing it? I see it every day and I can't help but shake my head.

If only they knew that by making a few small changes, they could get their websites back on the right course!

Permalinks (and link structures in general) don't have the most riveting reputation but they are an element of website development that should never be ignored.

What are permalinks?

Let's get back to basics here and take a look at the "old days" when websites weren't as robust as modern Content Management Systems, like WordPress. This will help us to understand why permalinks developed and why they are so important.

It was a major innovation when people realized how much more efficient it was to manage a website when the content was stored in a database and the theme (i.e., appearance) was kept separately. This made managing large websites so much simpler and safer since content could be updated without risking taking down the entire site.

The problem was that the URL was created only when a user (i.e., an individual human user) clicked a link to visit that page or post. You could try to bookmark the content but it wouldn't work; either you'd end up rerouted back to the home page or you would get a page not found error.

Why did this happen?

Because that original URL no longer existed. So old school, I know!

Two main problems came out of this:

  • People were unable to bookmark websites (specifically certain pages or posts). This was bothersome but it wasn't the end of the world.
  • Search engines couldn't index a website beyond the homepage. The indexing crawlers couldn't follow or find the links connecting one page to another. And, on the off chance that they did follow them, subsequent visits would come back with different URLS for the same pages or posts. Obviously this presented some major issues for site owners.

Related : Best 8 SEO tips for your website or blog

Enter Permalinks

Permalinks, or "permanent links", came out of this need to better access content and allow for search engine indexing.

Stay with me, it's not as boring as you might think!

At the most basic level, permalinks mean that every page or post published has the same URL every time it is accessed. In addition, search engines can follow, index and bookmark these HTML links through this new structure.

Permalinks and Your Website

As the owner of a website, you have the option to chose what type of permalink structure you want your site to use. Depending on the choice you make, it can have a huge effect on how easily search engines can crawl and index your site content, and also how helpful the URL is.

In WordPress, you can access the permalink settings by going to the main WP Dashboard > Settings > Permalinks. Click image below to enlarge.

Permalinks WP Dashboard Settings
Permalinks WP Dashboard Settings

On this screen, you will see several different permalink structure options. Click image below to enlarge.

Permalink Settings Options WordPress
Permalink Settings Options WordPress

As you can see from the image above, I've set my permalink structure to the Post Name option.

If this is your first time on this page, you'll probably see that the default is set to Plain. Not only is that option is pretty ugly, it doesn't give the user any indication as to what the page or post title is. A regular site visitor might not care too much but a search engine like Google sure does!

As such, it is generally accepted that best practice is to use the Post Name setting when establishing permalinks.

Using the Post Name setting accomplishes two things:

  • Gives the user a better idea of what the page or post is all about
  • Makes it easier for search engines to understand the content and context of the page or post

If you haven't already, please take a moment to go update your permalink setting. Be sure to click the Save Changes button at the bottom of this page.

Your users will appreciate the cleaner URLS and you'll be reward by search engines everywhere!

Editing Permalinks

Now that you've set your permalink option to Post Name (you have, right?), at some point you might want to edit  or update the permalink automatically assigned by WordPress.

To do this, go to your Post page to either create or update a post. Under the title field, you'll see a section that shows what your permalink is and next to it, there's an Edit button. Click image below to enlarge:

Editing Permalinks
Editing Permalinks

Click the Edit button and adjust the permalink as needed.

Permalinks might not seem like a huge deal or even have crossed your mind before now, but they are an element of a website that can have a big impact with a small change! By recognizing their importance, you'll help users have an easier time understanding the content of a post or page AND make it simpler for search engines to index your website effectively.

Have you taken a moment to update your permalink settings? Was your site already set to the Post Name permalink setting? We'd love to hear from you so leave us a note in the comments!

Charlotte O'Hara