What are permalinks?
Permalinks are an important part of every WordPress website’s SEO efforts. So, what are they exactly? The term permalinks refers to the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) for specific pages and posts. Take a quick look up at the address bar while you’re viewing this post and you will see the end result of a proper permalink structure. As you can see, the URL for this post is https://www.bellinghamwp.com/wordpress-seo/the-importance-of-proper-wordpress-permalinks-for-search-optimization/. The permalinks that I have set within the dashboard of WordPress are responsible for the /wordpress-seo/the-importance-of-proper-wordpress-permalinks-for-search-optimization/, where /wordpress-seo/ is the category and /the-importance-of-proper-wordpress-permalinks-for-search-optimization/ is the post name. With regard to search engines this is a perfect, keyword-rich URL structure. But WordPress doesn’t come this way by default.
The WordPress Defaults Aren’t Good Enough?
No, they aren’t. By default, WordPress uses the reference number of the page or post in the following format: /?p=N, with N being the reference number. The default permalinks settings would lead to the following URL for this post: https://www.bellinghamwp.com/?p=1239. Not keyword rich, and not search engine friendly.
What is the SEO benefit of proper permalinks?
Firstly, setting permalinks replaces the /?p=1239 with a text string which represents the title of the post or page. The search engines like this as it acts as an indicator of the existing content on the page or post, as opposed to a random number string. When the permalink structure is changed to include the post’s category as well, your website starts to provide a hierarchical structure with its content. Taking this post as an example yet again, the URL shows that it exists within the WordPress SEO category. This serves to build relevance for the classification of the posts which exist in the category. If the posts exist in the WordPress SEO category, they must have something to do with WordPress SEO. Furthermore, if quality content exists in the posts within the category, the keyword relevance of the Category, as well as its authority, will also be bolstered.
This same process can be used to further SEO efforts for service and product pages. Thinking of a web hosting company as an example, they may provide a service specifically for hosting WordPress websites. If all of their search engine optimization efforts lead up to a sub-par ranking in Google for the term WordPress Hosting, they could consider adding sub-pages with additional informative content. This would make the WordPress Hosting page into a parent, and the sub-pages would bolster it’s authority in much the same way posts bolster the authority of categories.
Setting Proper WordPress Permalinks
This is simple. Visit the WordPress dashboard for your website and go to the Permalinks section under the Settings menu. Although the Post name option is better than the default, we need to do a bit better. We really want the Category / Post name format that I used in my example above. To achieve this, select the Custom Structure option and enter /%category%/%postname%/ into the field to its right. And don’t forget to click the Save Changes button at the bottom of the page.
Confirm the Permalinks Settings
All we have to do to confirm that the settings have been saved is to load a post and view the URL in the address bar. If you see the category / post name structure, your work is done. If not, you will need to re-visit the permalinks section and see what went wrong. Don’t forget that you need to have a forward slash (/) at the beginning, and one at the end in order for the new permalink structure to work properly.