WordPress Tips Series: Friendly Permalinks

If you’re running the WordPress blogging platform, one of the first things you should do after installation is change the Permalinks setting. Permalinks refers to the URL by which a particular post can be referenced. If your home page, say, shows the ten most recent posts in full text, it’s likely that few of your regular readers will need a Permalink to view the contents of each post.

What happens when you post a few more articles? Anything beyond the ten most recent will get pushed to “page2”. It’s also likely that if your blog is new, individual pages are not being indexed by the search engines. What is probably getting indexed is the home page, the web feed, the category pages and “page2”, “page3”, etc.

If you want individual pages indexed (especially if your site is new), you’ll need to link to them yourself, from later posts. This is called deep linking to your archives, and I’ll talk about its importance in my next post here. Now here’s the problem. The default WP (WordPress) permalink setting is for individual pages to look something like:

  • http://www.yoursite.com/?p=12
  • http://www.yoursite.com/?cat=5
  • etc.

Such URLs are not very human friendly. As well, having more descriptive URLs can help your rankings in the search engines. You have numerous options, a couple of which are:

  • Standard: Date and name based: /%year%/%monthnum%/%day%/%postname%/
  • Numeric: /archives/nnn
  • Custom: /%year%/%postname%/
  • Custom: /%postname%/

In the above URL permalink structures, the “nnn” is simply a number, the %…% strings are variables for month, year, day and the postname. In this case, postname is really the “slug“. So if the title of your post is “WordPress Tips Series: Friendly Permalinks”, then the slug or postname will be:

  • wordpress-tips-series-friendly-permalinks

All punctuation is removed and text is lowercased.

So which of these permalink structures should you choose? (This question is valid for any blogging platform, not just WordPress, though platforms will not have exactly these structures.) The answer to that is a subject of debate. I can only tell you what I’ve learned, both on my own and from talking to other bloggers who’ve been at it longer than I.

My answer is the last option, /%postname/. That is, no year, no day, no month in the URL. Some SEs (Search Engines) “like” sites with URLs with that look like dates. The problem is, each slash marks a virtual directory, and the deeper the directory structure – virtual or not – the less perceived value a page has to some current SE algorithms.

When I first started creating web pages in 1996, I was a webmaster for one of the first SEs on the web. Back then, almost no one used directory structures. All pages lived at the same level. Later, for large websites, it made sense to structure the pages. But for weblogs, it’s not really necessary. If you feel really uncomfortable, keep the year portion. Beyond that, I say don’t do it because, as I’ve mentioned, some SEs give less ranking to pages “deeper” in your directory structure.

That said, if you already have a blog with more than, say, 20 posts, don’t change your permalink structure except to move from the default to one of the other options. But if you already have a “date and postname” URL structure, do not change that. That’ll mess up any SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) entries that your site has. It’s not the case if you move from default because the default structure always exists. Though if you already have a long permalink structure, you can adjust for that using deep linking, which I’ll talk about next.

So what do you say? Do you agree or disagree with this synopsis on blog permalinks?