A Guide to Permalinks

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Permalinks are the URLs of the content you publish using your content management system (CMS) such as NetBrite or WordPress. They are what people type into their browser bar to view your pages and what search engines and other websites use to link to your site.

Any time you change the structure of your permalinks, you change the URL of your page. Although you can do so at any time, it is best to configure the permalinks you want initially so that you don’t lose traffic to your site as people click on outdated links. If you must change your permalinks, you can use a 301 redirect to help maintain a link to the site through the old address.

Here I will go over the default structure of permalinks, show what other structures are available, and explain how using clean permalinks can benefit your website.

Default Structure

Your CMS will give you one or more options for default permalink structures. Usually the default will look something like this:

http://www.yoursite.com/?page_id=12345

The number at the end refers to the location of the content in your database and is known as a query string. As you can see, this format is not user-friendly, and it would be better to have a permalink such as:

http://www.yoursite.com/newest-blog/

Although search engines can index permalinks containing query strings, they show preference to user-friendly URLs, especially ones that contain keywords. Google stated this directly in their Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide, “Creating descriptive categories and filenames for the documents on your website can not only help you keep your site better organized, but it could also lead to better crawling of your documents by search engines… If your URL contains relevant words, this provides users and search engines with more information about the page than an ID or oddly named parameter would.”

In short, structured URLs containing keywords will make it easier for both search engines and viewers to locate and refer back to your pages. It’s easy for a person to accidentally cut off or mistype a long string of numbers and letters.

Optimized Permalink Structure for Search Engines

Permalink structures that are search engine- and user-friendly are called “Pretty Permalinks” or “Clean URLs”. In order to use these structures, your CMS needs to access your website’s .htaccess file. This should be done automatically, but if not, you will need to add the code manually. If you do not know how to do this, you should be able to find help through your CMS help function or your web hosting company.

A post slug is the last part of your permalink. In the examples above, the slugs were “?page_id=12345” and “new-blog-post”. Although your post slug can include organizational structures using the page’s author name, category it was assigned to, or date it was published, in order to be considered a Pretty Permalink it must include either the post name (%postname%) or post id (%post_id%). Post name has the added benefit of including keywords. You can also string together more than one structure separated by “/”. For example: “%postname%/%monthnum%”.

Best Permalink Structures

There are many options available to you when creating your permalink, but you’ll find that most websites use the following structures:

  1. Post name. (/%postname%/)

Example: http://www.yoursite.com/newest-blog/

Post name is one of the most popular ways to set up a permalink because it creates short, memorable URLs. However, it is not as useful for sites that publish several times a day, since it would become difficult to come up with new titles every time.

  1. Category and name. (/%category%/%postname%/)

Example: http://www.yoursite.com/blogs/newest-blog/

Using both a category and name creates a hierarchical structure for your site’s content that can help viewers navigate your pages easily. It also helps you add more keywords to your permalink, which can help with SEO.

  1. Day and name. (/%year%/%monthnum%/%day%/%postname%) Example: yoursite.com/2015/01/01/newest-blog/

News sites and others with high posting frequency each day often use the day the article was published and its name in their permalinks.

  1. Month and name. (/%year%/%monthnum%/%postname%/)

Example: http://www.yoursite.com/2015/01/newest-blog/

For sites that don’t post quite as often as popular news sites, this option is shorter and just as useful for organizing permalinks.

Some authors want to hide the date that their article was published because the information will be useful for years to come, but this can be frustrating for future viewers who want to know if the information remains valid. Keep this in mind when structuring your site.

Most people (especially bloggers) will say that post name is the best structure to choose for your permalink. From an SEO standpoint, “post name” is not necessarily superior to “category and name”, “day and name”, or any other structure that includes keywords. However, post name does add an element of ease for viewers who want to recommend a page to someone else or try to find an article they saw in the past.

Which Permalink Structure Should I Use?

This depends on the type of website. If you are posting several times a day, some variant of “day and name” would be best. Most everything else should just use “post name”, since it is the simplest and easiest to use. You should stay away from “category and name” if you think there’s any chance that you will change your category names in the future, since doing so will sever the connections between your links.

I hope this was helpful in clearing up what kinds of permalinks are most useful when creating your website pages. Remember that it’s important to get the structure right to begin with so you don’t have issues in the future. Nobody likes a broken link!

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