What’s the best WordPress permalink structure?
That’s one of the most critical issues you face in setting up a WordPress blog.
It will affect how humans interact with your site and how search engines rank your pages.
But first: what is WordPress permalink structure?
- 1. What Is WordPress Permalink Structure
- 2. What Are The WP Options For Permalink Structure?
- 3. Which Is Better, Sample-Post or Custom Structure with Postname Tag?
- 4. Using Categories in the Permalink
- 5. Permalinks and SEO
- 6. Tips For SEO Friendly Permalinks
- 7. Wrapping Up
A permalink is the web address of an individual blog post.
Blogs and other dynamic, database-driven websites don’t assign a separate page to every piece of content:
Typically a new piece of content sits on the home page until it gets pushed off by newer content.
A permalink is a means of giving that piece of content a permanent address, so that it can still be located and referenced even when it no longer appears on the home page.
A permalink’s structure is simply the way the permalink has been put together (more on that below).
In your WordPress dashboard, if you go to Settings > Permalinks, you’ll see the 6 options available for permalink structure:
‘Plain’ is the least user-friendly because it’s not memorable and doesn’t tell the user what the post or page is about.
‘Numeric’ is not particularly helpful either, for the same reason.
Options #2 and #3, which include tags for year, month, and date are good for news sites, where it’s important to know when a story was published.
They’re not a good option for a blog, especially if you’re trying to create evergreen content, as your content is effectively ‘time stamped’.
The ‘Custom Structure’ comes with 7 different tags that can be combined with each other to produce different permalink structures:
- %postname%: Your post’s slug
- %post_id%: A post’s unique ID
- %category%: The main category of a post
- %year%: The year of the post
- %monthnum%: The month a post was published
- %day%: The numeric day a post was published
- %author%: Potentially useful in multi-author, magazine type environments
Note: however you combine these tags, you would need to include either %postname% or %post_id% to get a permalink that points to a unique piece of content.
So what are the options for the best WordPress permalink structure?
For SEO reasons, nearly all blog sites user either:
- ‘Post name’ (ie. 'sample-post')
- ‘Custom Structure’ with /%postname%/ tag
3. Which Is Better, Sample-Post or Custom Structure with Postname Tag?
There are quite a few online articles stating that the best WordPress permalink structure, and the most SEO friendly, is the 'Post Name' (sample-post) option.
And that's what I use: https://robpowellbizblog.com/sample-post/
But there doesn’t appear to be any objective evidence that this structure is more SEO friendly than the 'Custom Structure' with the post name tag.
Either will do:
They are both more SEO friendly than the alternatives, because they:
- are short
- tell the search engine what the post is about
- allow you to include a relevant keyword in the post URL
In the 'Custom Structure' you have the option of adding a category to your permalink structure. With a category tag your permalink would look like this: www.yourdomain.com/backlinks/link-building-strategy.
I started off using the category tag in my URL structure but I ended up removing it, in the interests of shorter URLs.
There are good reasons both for and against using the category tag.
- Categories help your users to understand how you have organized the content on your site, e.g.: yourdomain/seo/long-tail-keywords
- Including the category tag allows you to better define the keyword importance of the permalink: yourdomain/seo/long-tail-keywords has a stronger keyword profile than www.yourdomain/long-tail-keywords. That in turn could give you higher search engine rankings.
- Using categories in the permalink can lead to duplicate content (i.e. the same blog post in two different categories).
- It can also lead to broken links: if you decide later on to change your categories, the links containing the old categories will automatically become broken links.
- Using the category tag will give you a longer URL, and there’s now a distinct SEO advantage in shorter URLs (more about that below).
Your permalinks can be either friendly or unfriendly to humans and search engines.
Unfriendly permalinks tell humans and search engines nothing about the type of content the link contains: https://robpowellbizblog.com/?p=10347
A friendly link tells both humans and search engines what the post or page is about: https://robpowellbizblog.com/wordpress-permalink-structure.
Until quite recently, the default WordPress permalink structure was not user or SEO friendly:
If you downloaded and installed WordPress on your site, and didn’t change anything in the Settings, this was the permalink structure you were given:
Not very nice!
But this changed in WordPress 4.2 (we’re currently on Version 4.8.2).
If you started your blog using WordPress Version 4.2 or later, then your default permalinks will look like this:
This is friendly to both humans and search engines because the slug identifies what the post is about.
Watch this video by Google’s Mat Cutts: ‘How does URL structure affect PageRank?’
Here are some additional tips for creating the best WordPress permalink structure:
6.1 Shorter is Better
The shorter your URL, the better from an SEO standpoint.
Moz suggests keeping your URLs under 100 characters, but a study by backlinko suggests URLs should be even shorter.
Backlinko studied the average length of URLs in the top 10 positions across more than 1 M Google search results.
These are the average characters per URL they found:
- Position #1 – 50 characters
- Position #2 – 55 characters
- Position #3 – 57 characters
- Position #4 – 58 characters
- Position #5 – 59 characters
Here’s the chart showing Backlinko’s findings:
Google truncates URLs in the search results to 512 pixels, which translates to 55 to 60 characters (some characters take up less space than others).
If possible, you want to avoid having your URL truncated.
One way to reduce the length of your URL (by 3 characters) is to remove the ‘www’ portion of your web address, as in: https://robpowellbizblog.com
You can do this in the WordPress dashboard:
Just go to ‘Settings’ > ‘General’ and remove the ‘www’ (including the dot) from the URL:
On the next screen click on the cog (upper right corner of screen) and then choose ‘Site Settings’:
On the following screen, check the 3rd radio button option, to display your URL without the ‘www’:
6.3 How Many Words In Your Slug?
In WordPress, the ‘slug’ is your post or page title, which comes after your domain name.
For example, the slug for this post is ‘wordpress-permalink-structure’:
There's no hard and fast rule about how many words you should have in the slug.
But in a 2008 interview, Mat Cutts – then head of Google’s webspam team – suggested you should keep it to no more than 4 or 5 words:
So try to keep your slugs no more than 5 words in length.
What I definitely don't recommend is letting WordPress create your slug for you – you’ll end up with a long slug full of ‘stop’ words.
For example, this is the slug that WordPress generated by default for this post:
‘Stop words’ are common words that search engines have been programmed to ignore because they don’t add any information about the topic of the link.
Common stop words are: a, and, is, on, of, or, the, was, with.
In the above example, ‘what is the best’ are all stop words and don't add anything to the keyword strength of the URL.
In a nutshell: always click into the ‘slug’ field of a new post and set the post title (or slug) manually. Enter up to 5 words, preferably two or three. Make sure that at least one of the words in the slug is a keyword but avoid keyword stuffing.
If you’re using Yoast SEO, the plugin will in any case tell you if your slug doesn't contain your focus keyword:
6.4 Dashes or Hyphens Instead of Underscores
By default, WordPress will give you dashes or hyphens in your slug and you should stick with this – never use underscores in preference to hyphens (Source).
If you decide you want to change the URL structure of already published posts or pages, be very careful.
Most people advise against changing the URLs of existing posts.
Because all your existing links will become broken links.
Of course, you can use a redirect to take your visitor from the old URL to the new URL, but you will still lose any social shares that post had already accumulated.
7. Wrapping Up
So, after all that, what is the best WordPress permalink structure?
If you follow these simple WordPress permalink tips, you'll have an SEO advantage over many other websites:
- Use the ‘Post name’ or ‘Custom Structure’ with /%postname%/ tag
- Avoid category tags in the permalink for shorter URLs
- If you need to shorten your URL, consider removing the 'www'
- Keep your URLs to about 60 characters in length for best SEO results
- Set the slug for your blog post manually and make it no more than 5 words
What's your experience with WordPress permalink structure?
If you've got nay tips or insights on this topic, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!