Setting up your site’s permalinks structure should be one of the first things that you do after creating a new WordPress site. Hopefully, some forethought went into picking the permalink structure. Realistically, the permalink structure on many sites is selected after a just a moment of reflection, and may not be the best structure for that particular site.
Once a site has been live for just a short time, changing the permalink structure can create some very real problems. Internal links can break, external links will start sending visitors to a 404 page rather than the intended content, and search engines will remove the pages whose permalinks have changed from their index. However, you can change permalink structure without causing all of these issues, as long as you do it right.
Why Change your Site’s Permalink Structure in the First Place?
The default permalink structure in WordPress is the Date and name option. For websites that post content that is related to current events, such as news sites, it makes perfect sense to include the date in the permalink. However, for most blogs, the content is usually “timeless” as it tends to cover subjects that don’t relate to a specific date in time.
Using dates in your permalink structure also tends to have another side-effect, namely a lower CTR for older posts that may very well still be relevant. Whenever someone sees a result in Google with a date pointing back two years ago, they’ll be less likely to click that result. Seeing as Google uses this CTR for page rankings, it might be a very good idea to change your permalink structure to something more appealing to your visitors!
Here are a few other reasons why you may want to change your site’s permalink:
- If you started with an older version of WordPress you may still be using the previous default structure, which includes the Post ID. This structure provides no useful information about your content and is worthless for SEO.
- You may be taking your site in a different direction, and need to update the structure to reflect that change. For instance, if you are moving to a more news-oriented site, you might want to include the date in your permalinks.
- Many people buy established websites as an investment, so it’s possible that you have purchased or inherited your site from someone else. If you have taken ownership of a live site, you may want to update the link structure for re-branding purposes.
The Easiest Way to Change Your Site’s Existing Permalink Structure
After updating your permalink structure setting, you need to create a 301 redirect from every old permalink to the new permalink.
If you don’t create a 301 for each post, very bad things will happen:
- Any internal links that were created manually won’t be updated and will break.
- Any external links to the updated posts will send traffic to your 404 page rather than the appropriate post.
- The next time a search engine crawls those old URLs they will report back 404 errors and drop those pages from the SERPs.
Needless to say, properly setting up 301 redirects from the old permalinks to the new permalinks is the most important step in this process. There are many different ways to create 301 redirects, but the easiest solution I have found is to use the Change Permalink Helper plugin, which is truly a plug-and-play solution.
After you install the plugin, I recommend doing two things to test ou the redirects:
- Manually type in some of the old permalink URLs to make sure they redirect properly to the new URLs.
- Find some of the old URLs with Google search and follow the links to make sure they redirect properly to the new URLs
Once you have verified that all of the old URLs are redirecting as intended you can rest easy knowing that your site and all its links will load properly.