Search engines use an incredibly complicated algorithm to decide which pages to serve up when you search on any given word or phrase. They calculate how popular the page is (based on incoming links, primarily), how relevant the page is, how much content it contains, how authoritative the overall site is, how well the site is constructed, and a whole slew of other factors that few people fully understand. As a webmaster, it’s your job to optimize as many of those factors as you can. That’s why you strive to build backlinks, do good keyword research, and write interesting and compelling content.
One area you do have complete control over is in your WordPress permalinks. SEO best practices dictate that your permalink (the actual URL to a specific blog post) contain your keyword, and readers like to see something meaningful before they click. Fortunately, it’s easy to accomplish both.
First, set your default permalink structure by clicking Settings>Permalinks. You’ll see a number of choices, including the WordPress default. Whenever we set up a new website, we like to use the custom option with a setting that looks like this: /%category%/%postname%. That makes a permalink that looks like http://allqualitywebsites.com/wordpress/how-and-why-to-set-wordpress-permalinks. WordPress has taken our category name and our post title and strung them together.
This structure works well if your category names are also keywords. You can also use just your post name if you like. Be aware, though, that you could run into an issue with speed should you build a large website. In fact, the makers of WordPress strongly recommend against starting your permalink with text in any form. Instead, they advise that you use either the year, the post number or some other numerical value to help WordPress differentiate between pages and posts. You can read the debate here and make up your own mind.
More Permalink Configuration Options
Just because you set your permalink structure a certain way doesn’t mean you have to use that same setting for every post. At the top of your post editing screen, you can see your current permalink structure (you might have to save as draft first), and you also have the ability to change it. Simply click the “edit” button and revise as necessary. For example, I want to optimize this blog post for the keyword “WordPress Permalinks SEO,” so that’s what I’m going to make my permalink. The new URL looks like this: http://allqualitywebsites.com/wordpress/wordpress-permalinks-seo. Much better!
You can install plugins that will automatically edit your permalink for you by taking out short words out, but I find it’s just as easy to edit this myself, and I don’t have the added overhead of another plugin.
Changing WordPress Permalinks
I do want to caution you about changing your permalink structure, especially after you’ve already spent some time building backlinks and getting your content indexed by the search engines. Without careful planning and setting up of 301 redirects (page permanently moved) your site is going to experience massive 404 errors (page not found). This is, of course, not good for your SEO plan.
To avoid this, simply install a 301 redirect plugin (Platinum SEO will work just fine for this and a variety of other WordPress SEO jobs). Now when you change your permalinks, incoming links will continue to work, and the Google-bot will still be able to find your site.
Photo by filiperivera