How your permalink structure impacts SEO

How your permalink structure impacts SEO

Some bloggers get excited about things like SEO and keywords. For others it can feel like a distraction from the work you truly enjoy—creating, writing blog posts, taking photos, connecting with readers, etc. Whichever camp you fall into, there’s no denying that SEO is an important part of growing a successful blog. With a little bit of upfront work to understand best practices, it doesn’t need to be overwhelming or confusing.

Today we’re going to take a look at permalinks: what they are, how they impact your SEO, and how you can optimize your permalinks as part of your blog posting process.

What is a permalink?

A permalink is the “permanent” link to a resource on your site—a page, a post, a photo, or a download. Permalinks impact the usability of your site as well as your overall SEO.

There are really two parts of the permalink that we’re going to talk about:

  • The structure that WordPress uses for all of your permalinks
  • The “slug” used to identify each resource

In the early days of blogging, many bloggers chose a permalink structure that either used the default page/post ID or included the publish date as well as a slug based on the name of the post. As blogging has become more sophisticated, the default settings no longer align with SEO best practices.

How do permalinks affect SEO?

While certainly not the most important SEO factor on your site, the permalink structure you choose, and the slug you set for individual posts, can impact your SEO rankings.

For example, including keywords in your URL can send additional signals to Google on the topic of the post, which can impact Google rankings, as can the length of your URL.

Google displays the URL on results pages, so you also want it to be short and descriptive enough to fit there and capture attention. People are more likely to click on results with clear and identifiable URLs, which may or may not impact future rankings but does mean additional traffic to the page.

A search results snippet showing the permalink
An example search results snippet showing the permalink

The basic goal is to create permalinks that both humans and robots can easily read. Yes, it’s a good idea to incorporate keywords, and yes, tools like Yoast are helpful for evaluating the effectiveness of your slug. But following that simple rule will help you weather the changes to SEO recommendations and algorithms in the future!

Graphic illustrating the different parts of a hyperlink

Understanding URLs

Before we dive into permalink best practices, let’s take a few minutes to look at the parts of a URL and the role each part plays:

https://blog.aghosted.com/permalinks?key1=value1&key2=value2#URLs

Protocol: https://

This portion of the URL instructs your browser on which protocol to use. The most common are http and https, which tell your browser how to fetch and display documents, i.e. websites. In this case, https allows for secure communication and is becoming the preferred protocol for all websites. Other protocols include mailto and ftp, but these are used for different tasks (sending email and transferring files to and from your server) and aren’t relevant to your permalink structure.

Domain: blog.aghosted.com

Next is the domain. When you purchase a domain name, it’s used to direct traffic to your specific server and display the files associate with that domain. 1

In the example above, blog is actually a subdomain of the aghosted.com domain name. Because aghosted.com and blog.aghosted.com are separate sites, the subdomain allows you to get directly to the blog.

Note: Your site should be configured so that your domain loads whether www is included at the front or not. This is done using a 301-direct from one URL to your preferred URL, most often redirecting the one with a www to the one without.

Path or slug: /permalinks

Sending people to your homepage is great, but if you want them to end up on a specific page or post, you’ll also need the specific path. This is sometimes referred to as the slug. The path is the main focus of this post, so we’ll dive into this one more below!

Parameters: ?key1=value1&key2=value2

You probably see parameters often as you browse the internet, even though you may not pay attention to them. They show up when you click a link from an email or Facebook or when you search a website. Parameters are used to pass information to the server and are often used by website owners for tracking where clicks come from (as just one example).

Anchor: #URLs

Finally, we have the anchor portion of the URL. An anchor allows visitors to jump to a specific spot on a page, similar to a bookmark in a book. Setting anchors is especially easy to do in the Gutenberg block editor.

Setting your permalink structure in WordPress

As mentioned above, WordPress allows you to set a permalink structure for all of the posts and pages on your site. This impacts the path or slug portion of your URL.

To adjust your permalink structure, go to Settings Permalinks on the left sidebar of your dashboard. Once you’re there, you’ll see these options:

  • Plain: https://yourdomainname/?p=123
  • Day and name: https://yourdomainname/2019/07/24/sample-post/
  • Month and name: https://yourdomainname/2019/07/sample-post/
  • Numeric: https://yourdomainname/archives/123
  • Post name: https://yourdomainname/sample-post/
  • Custom Structure using the available tags: %year%, %monthnum%, %day%, %hour%, %minute%, %second%, %post_id%, %postname%, %category%, %author%

The plain and numeric permalink structures can be harmful to your site from both an SEO and usability perspective. Because they remove keywords from the URL, they shouldn’t be used.

For some bloggers, using the day and name or month and name structures makes sense. Deal or news bloggers, for example, post content that truly is time sensitive. Including the date helps readers quickly identify when something was posted to determine how relevant it is today.

However, most bloggers focus on evergreen content that visitors can read and apply a month, a year, or even a decade after it was first published. Including the date in a post can make it feel dated in the eyes of readers, even though it continues to be relevant. In that case, the post name structure usually makes more sense.

What about adding a category to your URL? For example: https://blog.aghosted.com/blogging/permalinks?key1=value1&key2=value2#URLs

If your site uses very clear categories and you don’t expect a lot of overlap or changes to the categories, this can be a helpful way to further refine your URLs and add important keywords to each one. That said, for most people it simply adds more clutter to the URL. It also makes it harder to adjust categories in the future without impacting existing permalinks.

How keyword-rich slugs impact SEO

In some ways, post name is misleading as an option. While WordPress originally created those slugs directly from the post name itself, it is now common for bloggers to edit the slug to reflect the keywords of the post but not necessarily the exact title.

The URL Slug field that allows you to set a custom permalink in WordPress

Set custom URL slugs on the menu on the right side of the post editor under Document Permalink. For example, the slug on this post (which is all about permalinks) is simply permalinks.

When editing the URL Slug, be sure to incorporate keywords relevant to the topic of the post. Your slug should be short, without any stop words (such as “the,” “and,” etc.) or filler words and with hyphens between each word (i.e. permalink-best-practices).

As a sidenote, it can be helpful to use the same slug you’ve chosen for your post—or other related keywords—as the name of any image files in your post. So, for example, in this post the images are named permalinks-4, permalinks-6, permalink-3, and URLs. The use of these keywords simply confirms for Google that the post is about this topic.

Changing your permalink structure

In general, you shouldn’t change your permalink structure once your site is established (they’re called permalinks for a reason!). Doing so can impact both SEO and social share counts. However, if you initially set up your permalinks in a way that is now impacting your business, it can be worth carefully changing the permalink structure.

The specific process depends on various factors on each individual site. The basic idea is to change the permalink structure while at the same time creating custom .htaccess redirects to permanently redirect existing URLs to the new URLs. However, this isn’t something you want to do without a full understanding of how those redirects work. Clients can email our support team, and we’re happy to help you with that process!


As with most parts of blogging, the best practices for keywords, permalinks, and SEO change over time. As part of these changes, permalink structure has become more important over the past few years. Following these simple best practices is just one way to improve the overall SEO of your site, but it’s one that shouldn’t be overlooked!

How your permalink structure impacts SEO

Mandi Ehman

Director of Marketing at Agathon
With 10 years of experience as a professional blogger—and as a former Agathon hosting client herself—Mandi’s passionate about the good work Agathon does and sharing that message with more people.
Mandi Ehman

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Footnotes

  1. Your server is actually identified by an IP address, but your hosting company sets it up so that your domain sends traffic to the correct server. This is important because readers don’t need to memorize the IP address in order to find your site!

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