Optimize WordPress permalinks for search engines

If you have a WordPress blog, you must customize your permalink settings to give your posts a fighting chance to rank high in search engines. In this video, Eric Stegemann (@EricStegemann) of Tribus Real Estate shows the March 6 crowd at #SMMOC, the Orange County Social Media Mastermind Roundtable, how to optimize WordPress permalinks for search engines.

For those of you watching with the sound turned down (don’t worry I won’t tell your boss), here are some details mixed in with an overview of what Stegemann explained.

What’s a permalink?

The word permalink is fancy talk for the web address of an individual blog or forum post. It is a blog post’s URL.

Search engines and URLs

Stegemann says the most important item for search engine optimization is your URL. For details about that, read the SEOmoz blog’s post “11 Best Practices for URLs“.

Content before settings

Before any of this technology can help your blog posts’ search engine rankings, organize your posts into a few main categories of content. See Lorelle VanFossen’s post on categories versus tags for help.

WordPress settings

First, an important note: You can’t change this particular WordPress setting on “WordPress.com” blogs (like the one used as an example in the video). Not sure which kind of blog you have? Follow along and you’ll find out soon enough.

From the menu of the left-hand side of your WordPress admin page, click on “Settings” and then “Permalinks.” Take a look at the image on the right. If you don’t see that “Permalinks” option, then you are probably on a WordPress.com blog; you won’t be able to make this change and you should head over to the Problogger post that explains how to move a blog from WordPress.com to WordPress.org.

Once you’re in the Permalinks settings, jot down the option currently selected under “Common Settings.” If “Custom Structure” is on, then also copy the text in that box.

Now, under “Common Settings,” click on “Custom Structure” and then enter “/%category%/%postname%/” (without the quotations) into the box immediately to the right. Here is what your changes should look like:

Once that’s done, hit the “Save Changes” button on the bottom and you’re done.

Everything changes

If you’ve made those changes correctly, every blog post on your site now has a new URL. What happens to links form external sites pointing to those old posts?

I’m not sure exactly how WordPress performs all of its magic, but I just made these changes last night and important links (from Google and from ReadWriteWeb) to my old posts are still working.

If you know of other sites that link to particular posts on your blog, visit at least a couple of those sites now. Make sure that the links to your posts still works. If not, you might want to consider reverting to your old settings.