What Are WordPress Permalinks?

I often get feedback on my training classes. Here is a recent question and answer I have provided concerning the use of WordPress permalinks.
Question:
The site content is excellent. However, it would be nice to first explain what a Permalink is. I have been using wordpress for so long and I have seen this but still cannot grasp what it is for.
Answer:
A permalink is simply­ the URL of a full, individual article posted on WordPress. In WordPress terminology, it can be either a post or page.
e.g. Both of these are examples of permalinks referencing a article on a typical WordPress blog:
http://yourdomainname.com/?p=123
http://yourdomainname.com/article-title/
After you install WordPress, you can navigate to the permalinks page by logging into admin, then selecting Settings->Permalinks (It may be different depending on which version of WP you are using).
By default, your permalinks structure will look something like this:
http://yourdomainname.com/?p=123
From here, things can get interesting. Your goal in general is to stick more keywords up into the URL and remove the fluff which nobody uses, to make the URL seach engine and people attractive.
So most people will choose a custom structure like /%postname%
This structure tells WordPress to use your post name in the URL for your blog posts.
e.g. If you write an article titled “Dog Training Tips”, WordPress will automatically create your articles URL as:
http://www.youdomainname.com/dog-training-tips
After you’ve changed the structure, you should click the save button. If you encounter any .htaccess related issues after saving, see this article:
http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks#Fixing_.htaccess_Generation_Issues
In summary using /%postname% is probably the simplest structure you can start with, but you can experiment with other structures until you find one that suits your needs.
Once you’ve selected a structure though, try not to change it (WordPress will allow you to), as it will have a negative impact on your websites SEO if your posts are already indexed on the old permalink name (unless you have a proper 301 redirect strategy, but this is a topic for another day). Changing it some time in the future will probably also invalidate all of your hard earned backlinks coming.
Do not read further unless you want to experiement with other features in permalinks.
Some General Permalink Tips
1. Include %postname% in your URL
Having keywords in your URL is an absolute must, especially when it’s as easy as WordPress makes it.
2. Get rid of useless tags
Don’t use %day%, %post_id% , %hour%, %minute% or even %second% in your permalink structure. None of these are necessary. Monthly posting archives are perfectly acceptable, but for the vast majority daily ones are not. Putting more “/*/” rubbish into your permalink URLs will make it harder to see the URL’s boldened keywords on search engine results, less emphasis is placed on your post title keywords (which are really great).
Bonus tip: want to go really mad with your permalink SEO? Try dropping date tags all together for %category%! It does away with your neat date tags, though, so you could even try keeping %year% and %month%.
On blog­style websites, you might want to keep the day, month and year in the permalink structure. However, ensure that the postname is always present so the post can be properly indexed by the search engines.
e.g. On www.WebAnalyticsAsia.com/news the permalink structure is /%year%/%monthnum%/%postname%/, which suits its usage as a news repository, and will show up in the search engines.
For www.internet­-marketing-­today.com/articles/, it’s just %postname%. This creates a SEO friendly page title, that is well indexed by search engines. If you are using mostly pages(as opposed to posts, see below for an explanation between WordPress pages and posts), then it is likely that your website is a CMS style website, and %postname% will normally be the best choice for the permalink structure.
Check out www.dowser.com for an example of such a website.
Advanced permalink structure tip (Don’t use this unless you need it)
The /%category%/%postname% permalink is the most commonly advised, but to the search engines your blog post appears in two places.
If you look at the URL as it shows in your browser, it appears as follows: http://www.your­blog.com/your­category/your­post/
But your post can also be found here: http://www.your­blog.com/your­category/your­post/index.php
To keep your permalinks constant you can force WordPress into naming posts with a URL which contains a suffix, for example you could use the following permalink:
/%category%/%postname%.php
Your blog post can now only be found at: http://www.your­blog.com/your­catagegory/your­post.php
To change your permalink structure, open your WordPress Admin Panel and click on “Options” then “Permalinks”. In the “Custom structure” text box enter the following: /%category%/%postname%.php
Then click on the “Update Permalink Structure” button. Next you need to rename the default category from “Uncategorized” to a phrase related to your blog under which all your default posts will be saved. It is not essential to name this particular category after a keyword phrase, think of your readers first. For example you could use the phrase “From My Point of View” as the name for the default category. Most of your posts will be fairly short, and often your point of view on some topic, making this the perfect place to file these posts.
You can change the default category by editing it in the “Manage / Categories” section of your control panel.
Any longer informative posts or reviews MUST be saved under categories which are named after a keyword phrase. For example if you had a blog related to promoting websites, you could name one of your categories “Increase Website Traffic” and all the posts you write about increasing traffic to a website should be posted under this category.
You can find full details on how to use permalinks at the official WordPress help here: http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks
Article by Ivan Wong. Visit MapleCommerce to learn how SEO and PPC can be used to drive more targeted traffic and sales to your online business.