Aug 18

What is a Permalink?

In Digital Marketing, the URL of a site is almost as important as the content it leads to. The best URL is one that gives the user insightful information about the webpage that they are about to click. On the other hand, a poor URL is unattractive and does not offer any information. When you consider the importance of a URL, it is not just for the web users, but also for search engines. URLs assist in your website’s functionality in various ways, especially in SEO, which means that they need to be designed in the appropriate way using permalinks. This article will discuss permalinks; what they are and why they are crucial.

But before we dive into permalinks, let us first find out what slugs are.

History of Slugs

During the heydays of the printing press, typesetters coined the word ‘slug’ to refer to one line of linotype, which was utilised as a placeholder or spacer for an article’s title. Over time, the term found its way to the newsroom floor, and soon, it became the industry standard to use ‘slug’ when referring to the in-house title of an article in progress. This term, in addition to other printing terms such as typeface or font, pagination, ‘above the fold’, cut & paste, and so forth have made their way into the digital age and are now commonly used in graphic design and web development.

So, what do permalinks have to do with slugs? The term slug still holds weight today when indicating the semantic (human-readable) tail of the URL that search engines love. If you can remember, in the formative days of the web, URLs looked hideous with their question marks, percentage signs, and ampersands strewed all over. They looked something like this:

http://www.anexample.com/search/a/index.php?article_id=q65132a19b8765&source=web&q=what%30is%30a%30slug.

While this works just fine for a program running on a web server to locate and display your article, for humans, it is just gibberish and very unpleasant. So, if you wanted to share an article with your friends, wouldn’t you preferably have a clean and concise URL which gave some information about that article?

Now, consider the following URL:

http://www.anexample.com/blog/what-is-a-slug.

Isn’t it more beautiful and insightful in comparison? A slug is the last bit of the URL pie; ‘what-is-a-slug’. It is the semantic piece that makes it easier for us to decipher a URL. In light of the above information, we can now look at what permalinks are.

What Are Permalinks?

The shortened version of ‘permanent link,’ permalinks are semantic URLs that do not (or should not) change, and always point to the same web pages. The Internet is a place where things are continually changing; while the link was designed to be permanent, one cannot guarantee that the content will always be the same.

And that is the idea behind a permalink: a persistent URL that is expected to always point to the same page.

Importance of Permalinks

Permalinks, especially in WordPress, are more than essential. First off, whenever someone likes your content and intends on linking back to your article, they can use the article’s permalink to link back to the post. Secondly, if you need to share your posts with people online either through social media or email channels, you will need their permalinks – as they act as the addresses to your blog posts on the internet.

Additionally, permalinks are usually displayed in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) below the post’s title and above the post’s meta description. This display allows internet users to quickly know whether the post is relevant to their search query or not.

As such, without permalinks, you will not be able to keep track of your content across the internet as well as not being able to tell how well your posts are performing after implementing your latest digital marketing strategies. Moreover, Facebook utilises permalinks to keep track of your posts. Thus, each time a person likes, comments on or shares your post below that link on Facebook, your share count for that post increases. This count will reflect positively on Google as it shows that people love your content.

Permalinks and SEO

Search engines usually try and bring the most appropriate and high-quality content to users on the web, depending on what their search queries are. To achieve this a search engine such as Google will employ complex algorithms that take in every last detail on a webpage to score for quality and relevancy, with the highest scoring web pages being ranked the highest on results pages. Thus, the importance of continuously working on your website’s SEO cannot be over-emphasised.

A regular URL, however, does not provide a user with the information they need for them to know whether the page contains the information that they need. And in matters SEO, it has provided no value whatsoever. Thus, the webpage is likely to be poorly ranked.

On the other hand, permalinks afford you the ability to design ‘pretty’ URLs via the Custom Structure Field which enables you to add more tags to be used in creating the URL. These tags give internet users some sort of description about the page the URL links to, thus allowing them to know whether the page is relevant to their query. This customisation pleases search engines, and your SEO is rewarded for it.

Therefore, not only do permalinks enhance the chances of users finding your page, but they also help prevent unnecessary click-throughs to your site as well, assisting in lowering your bounce rate, which is vital for SEO as well.

Characteristics of a Good Permalink

  • Relevant and easy to recall
  • Unique: You should not have two articles having similar permalinks as search engines will not know which one to show in their results pages.
  • Has Keywords: As a blogger, you probably already know the importance of a well-thought-out title to encourage more clicks. Thus, by utilising keywords in your permalinks, you will not only get a good title, but you will also help the readers know what the article is all about.
  • It is not modified: Changing the permalink after it has already been posted will cause a 404 error on the old URL, which will affect your search engine rankings negatively. Thus, if you should change it, ensure that you redirect the old one to the new one.
  • Uses dashes rather than underscores: Google recognises an underscore as being an additional part of a word, thereby making the URL seem longer. On the other hand, dashes are identified as word separators.
  • Uses lowercase: Google can tell the difference between lower and uppercase letters. Therefore, if you have two URLs leading to the same page, Google will register them as different web pages, which divides the SEO power between them.
  • Does not use stop-words: These are words such as ‘yours’ ‘the’ and so forth. Google gives them low priority as they are deemed to make the URL unnecessarily long.
  • Doesn’t have easily forgettable characters: A URL that is dynamic is one where its content changes as it is retrieved from the database for the user to view. This type of URL uses characters such as %. A static URL, on the other hand, is one that does not change. Thus, by using a static URL which does not contain those symbols, you will be making it easier for users and search engines to understand.
  • Short and straightforward: Search engines claim that permalinks which contain more than five words are considered to be spammy thereby affecting your search engine rankings.
  • Consistent: When you have consistent URLs, they will assist with enhancing your search engine rankings as well as making your blog more organised for readers.

Formatting Options for Permalinks

The structure that you will choose for your permalinks shall determine the way WordPress assigns URLs to your articles.

Like we covered earlier, permalinks are permanent and static URLs that your site assigns to specific posts and pages.

The first section of the URL is always the same for all the website’s links. However, what changes is the slug? Remember that the slug is the last portion of the URL. Therefore, when we discuss changing permalinks’ structures, we are mostly talking about the slug.

Why do you need to choose your permalink’s structure carefully?

  • Slugs that are descriptive are also more informative: When you choose the default structure, your slug will consist of a string of numbers that do not offer any value to the user and search engines.
  • Specific structures have SEO benefits: for instance, using keywords as part of the slug will boost your rankings on SERPs.
  • Some structures are easy to recall: Slugs that have descriptive names also tend to be easy to remember, which is an SEO bonus.

WordPress Permalink Structures

WordPress gives you various options to alter your permalink structure. The most straightforward technique is by going to Setting > Permalinks tab on the dashboard. You can then choose an option, and then Save Changes.

Nevertheless, it is recommended that you do not change your site’s permalink structure if it has been up-and-running for over six months, as this may result in broken links. It is still possible to do it successfully, nonetheless, but it needs a bit more effort.
The various permalink options offered by WordPress include:

Plain

WordPress utilises plain structure by default. Here, your pages and posts are identified by their IDs. For instance:

http://example.com/?p=345

Here, the slug is just a number. And even though the structure is quite clean, it does not give you any information regarding the link’s content. As a matter of general principle, it is not advisable to use slugs with numerical strings as they offer you zero SEO benefits. Nevertheless, numerical IDs have their places. For instance, in large online stores, creating individual slugs for each product might not be feasible, thus making IDs more preferable.

Day and Name

This option identifies your posts based on their names and when they were published. For example:

http://examplesite.com/2018/08/14/sample-post/

From the perspective of SEO, this format makes sense as it provides users with valuable information – the title of the post that they are about to read as well as the date it was published. The date can also help them in deciding whether the content is still relevant. The drawback to this option, however, is that users might not click on your site if they perceive it to be old content. You can work around this by not including the exact post publication dates in your permalinks but be showing it on the page.

Month and Name

Month and name are similar to the previous option only that it contains the year and month instead of the day. For example:

http://example.com/2018/08/sample-post/

The same benefits and drawbacks we covered in the last option still apply here.

Numeric

This structure usually identifies the posts using their IDs. Here, however, each slug is generally preceded by the archives prefix. For example:

http://example.com/archives/245

The benefit of this structure is that it tends to be compact. Nevertheless, it is not descriptive or memorable, making it be more like the plain format. Additionally, the archives prefix might lead some users to believe that the content is outdated.

Post Name

Here, your article’s title is used as the slug. For example

http://example.com/sample-post

This permalink structure is the most recommendable for most websites. It has the benefits of being a short URL which has your post’s title. The length makes it both memorable and descriptive. You also have the option of including your primary keyword into the slug to further enhance SEO. The only instance where you wouldn’t want to utilise this option is if dates are critical to your content – for example, if you are running a news site.

Custom Structure

In this option, you get to design your permalink’s structure. As such, you get to enjoy benefits such as having multiple tags that you can add in any order that you prefer to your URLs. The advantage of taking this approach is that you can create the permalink structure that suits you best. While a lot of individuals usually end up using either of the above default structures successfully, the custom option is beneficial if there is specific information that you want to display in your slugs.

Summary

Search engines are focused on providing high-quality and relevant content to their users for their search requests. Semantic URLs play a critical role towards facilitating that process. A proper URL lets the visitor know what the webpage is all about, which is a highly favoured trait by search engines. Additionally, it also helps prevent a high bounce rate which will negatively affect your SEO. Nevertheless, you cannot create a quality URL without involving permalinks. Use this post as your guide to permalinks and hopefully design URLs that will provide value.

About The Author

Ajay Chavda is the co-founder of Weboptimizers, an SEO agency in Melbourne and has been involved with SEO for over 15 years. Between the digital properties and security forums he has managed, his articles have been read by approximately 50 million unique visitors.

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