Why Permalinks Matter

WordPress is filled with options and settings that allow you to customize your website in almost endless ways. However, because of the bevy of options available, it’s easy for great features to go unnoticed. Buried in a Settings submenu, the WordPress permalinks feature is often one of them.

What are permalinks?

Permalinks (short for “permanent links”) are permanent URLs that direct visitors to a particular post, page, category, or tag archive on your site. The reason to pay special attention to permalinks is that you can change the system WordPress uses to create your links.

What options can you use?

The default option: Plain or “ugly” permalinks

By default, WordPress uses an option called “plain” or “ugly” permalinks. That’s right, WordPress itself refers to the default option as “ugly,” so if you’re wondering why this is an important topic to consider, there’s your answer. The ugly permalink format looks like this:

http://example.com/?p=N

In the example above, “N” is the post ID number. As you might be able to tell, this format is considered “ugly” for several reasons. First, the end of the link (?p=) looks strange, and followed by a number, it doesn’t help someone viewing the link to know what they’re clicking. Because many of your site’s potential visitors might be uneasy about clicking a link when the content is unclear, this isn’t a good option to use.

Another option related to ugly permalinks is what WordPress calls “numeric” permalinks. It looks like this:

http://example.com/archives/N

It’s a better option than ugly permalinks, but it’s still not very informative for your potential readers.

Date-based permalinks

Another common option is to use a permalink based on the date. Some options include using the year, month, and/or day in the link text, like one of these:

http://example.com/2016/post-name/
http://example.com/2016/10/17/post-name

In the first option above, the permalink uses the year and the post name. The second option uses the year, month, day, and post name. These are better options than ugly permalinks, but it’s still not a perfect solution. Using a date in your permalink might make it less likely for a potential reader to click on an older link because it’s clear from the URL that the link is old, so for that reason you might consider excluding dates from your links.

Custom permalink structures

WordPress allows you to use a number of tags to create a custom permalink structure. In your Permalinks page, you can enter them in the box next to “Custom Structure.” The options begin and end with a percent sign, and include the following:

  • Date information: %year%, %monthnum%, %day%, %hour%, %minute%, %second% (That’s right — if you really desire to do so, you can even include the second your post was published in your permalink structure!)
  • Post ID number — the unique ID number of the post: %post_id%
  • Other post information — the author, title, or category of the post: %author%, %postname%, %category%

If you include the title of the post in your permalink, it removes common words like articles. You can also edit the permalink for a particular post or page when you’re composing a post or page in WordPress.

We use a custom permalink structure — specifically, ours includes the category and title — for a few reasons. First, it’s helpful for potential readers to know what they’re clicking. Even with articles and other common words stripped out, readers are able to figure out what they’re reading before they click. Second, it helps your SEO to list important keywords in your permalink, so including the title is a good idea for that reason. The category can also help with SEO if it’s relevant to the topic, as it should be.

How to choose what’s right for you

Whichever option you choose to use for your permalinks, it’s most important to know that you have several options at your disposal. Go to Settings > Permalinks in your WordPress Dashboard to choose the permalink option that’s right for you. There, you can choose between plain or ugly permalinks, date-based permalinks, or set up a custom option that fits your needs.

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