Customization of URLs is an important SEO task as it helps search engines understand your content better. It does, however, even more. Most internet users are much more inclined to click on a link containing keywords than signs or numbers. The reason is simply that the latter is often used to mask spam links.
This post will guide you through the rules for customization of URLs guaranteeing optimal performance. You’ll also learn how to easily customize URLs in WordPress in bulk mode and individually.
Best SEO Practice For Customization Of URLs
- Use your domain name. It’s crucial – for so many reasons – to always include your domain name when customizing your URLs. It’s not only important for branding purposes but also for cultivating trust. If you hide your name, you have likely other things to hide as well. Luckily, in WordPress you don’t even have the possibility to remove your domain name from the final URL out of the box. Be aware though, that some social plugins or software used for tracking purposes can change the whole structure of URLs without a warning! Shortening your links for sharing purposes is yet another example of how you could end up excluding your domain name from the final link. When using short links on, for example, Twitter, it’s, however, okay that your domain name doesn’t show, simply because it has become a standard practice.
- Use eventually a (single!) category (or “blog”) and the name of a post or a page instead of numbers and characters to customize your URLs. No matter how your link ranks, a person is much more likely to click on a link that “tells” where it’ll lead one. Cryptic URLs make us uncertain about whether it’s safe to continue. As internet users have an ocean of websites to choose among, they’ll likely navigate to a similar page with a correctly set URL instead to your page with a cryptic one.
- Be careful to not make your URLs too long. Too long URLs are difficult to remember or copy and often can’t be read as they get shortened in search results. This way you miss the opportunity to communicate with internet users via your URL and tell them why to head over to your page. Too long URLs are also bad for SEO as they don’t highlight the important keywords properly. Up to 80-100 characters in all is fine. If your URLs are too long, try removing stop words (a, to, for, but, and, or, etc.) or reducing the number of folders.
- Use keywords. Keywords are still what actually tells search engines what your content is about. It’s therefore important to properly optimize your pages for keywords. This includes customization of URLs. Best practice is to use your main keyword or 2-3 main keywords, beginning with the most important one. You should place them as close to the beginning of the line as possible. That is, just after your domain or domain/folder. Remember that individual pages and posts should be optimized for unique keywords to increase your chances for reaching your target group!
- Use page titles as URLs. Even though it can’t be done in all cases, it’s best SEO practice to customize your URLs in such a way that they either repeat your page titles or are as close to them as at all possible. The reason is simply that this repetition helps highlight your topic and reassure internet users that the link they click on will really lead to the page they want to visit. You spend also most of your time working to optimize your headlines, so chances are that you found the right keywords, the right word order, and the right message that are bound to make your URLs appealing as well.
- Separate words with hyphen or underscore. Avoid using other characters or spaces that often are translated as % in browsers. While this doesn’t have a direct SEO effect, it does a lot in terms of making your links visually attractive and can lead to higher CTR.
Those URL optimization rules are, of course, not covering all possible tweaks, as many are context dependent. If you, however, follow the rules described above, you’re already ahead of competition.
Now it’s time to learn how to customize URLs in Word Press. Both bulk and individual customization will be described step-by-step.
Customizing URLs in WordPress: Bulk Process
In WordPress you have the option to edit all of your URLs, including already existing ones, in bulk mode by setting your URL structure preferences. You do that by clicking on Settings ->> Permalinks in the Admin menu to the left of the screen when logged in.
You’ll then see a screen that looks like the picture below. The Plain setting is your default one. However, as you can notice, it doesn’t follow the best practice recommendations.
When customizing your URLs, you can either choose one of the preset structures or create a new one by clicking on Custom Structure and entering the desired structure tags. If you’re unsure about their use or names, read this guide by WordPress.org.
The settings, as shown above, apply only to posts. Consider well how you’d like your post permalinks to look to avoid troubles with broken links if tweaking later on.
Pages cannot be bulk customized. Their URL contains your domain name and the name of the page. Folders can be added via individual customization, as described further down in this post.
OBS! It’s normal practice to customize your URL structure in the very beginning, just after installing WordPress and before publishing pages or posts. If you do it later on in the process, you risk that permalinks shared on your pages, used as custom menu links, or shared externally by others, won’t work! Remember that bulk settings apply both to new and existing URLs!
Individual Customization Of URLs
You can also choose to ignore your bulk settings and customize URLs one by one. You can do it with or without a plugin. Without a plugin your options are somewhat limited. For posts you can only change the part of the URL corresponding to the title of the post. That means that you cannot remove eventual folders from the URL this way (for example date, category, etc.). Folders for posts can be added or removed via bulk customization. You tweak the title-part of the permalink by clicking on the Edit button next to the default permalink right under the title of the page in Edit mode.
Edit the URL and click on Save. It’s as easy as that.
When it comes to pages, you can still change the part of the permalink corresponding to the title of the page as you do with posts, but here you have one more option to customize the URL.
To the right of the editing screen you can find the field called Page Attributes (see the image below).
In the circled dropdown menu you can find all your existing pages. By choosing a page from the list you assign a parent to the page you’re currently editing. This is a way to signal interrelations between your pages and structure your content (useful for automatic menu creation and search engine crawling).
When you assign a parent to your page, your permalink changes. So, if About is the parent of Contact, your permalink will look like this: http://mywebsite.com/about/contact/, whereas, if you don’t assign a parent to Contact, the URL will look like this: http://mywebsite.com/contact/.
You can therefore use the parent attribute as a URL customizer. You must, on the other hand, be aware of the change that occurs in your URL, if you assign a parent for other reasons. Too many parent pages can result in too long and slightly irrelevant URLs. For example, if the mentioned above About page was already assigned a parent, the page called Company, your final URL for the page Contact will look like this: http://mywebsite.com/company/about/contact/.
Be warned once again that every time you make a change to an existing URL, you face the risk of broken links. Try therefore to format your links properly from the beginning.
If these customizations aren’t enough for you, you should try installing a plugin. The plugin called Custom Permalinks offers additional functionality for individual permalink editing (no bulk options) and promises proper redirects for existing links.
Be aware though that some of the plugin’s users experience problems as broken links, no support of sitemaps, and lack of support by the development team.