Ultimate Guide to WordPress SEO – Keyword-Rich Permalinks

WordPress.org describes permalinks as “the permanent URLs to your individual weblog posts, as well as categories and other lists of weblog postings.”

But permalinks themselves won’t help if you haven’t optimized them.  Understanding the role your permalinks play in your WordPress SEO starts with understanding the methods for permalink optimization.  Keyword-rich permalinks, along with the other ingredients in this series, will help search engines determine the kind of content in your posts/pages, and rank them accordingly.

Understanding Permalinks

Before we optimize our permalinks, we need to understand what they are. Permalinks aren’t always pretty.  In fact, WordPress calls the “example.com/?p=11” format “Ugly Permalinks”, and they’re right … they are ugly, and unfortunately they do absolutely nothing to help you reach your SEO goals.

What we want is “Pretty Permalinks” … permalinks that include actual words, and not arbitrary numbers.

How WordPress Handles Permalinks

WordPress handles permalinks in one of two ways: either the “ugly” way, or the “pretty” way.  And, by default, your site will have “ugly” permalinks.  So you need to make the “pretty”.  In order to do this, you will need two things: 1. access to your WordPress admin, and 2. the ability to make your .htaccess file (located at the root of your WordPress directory) writable.

You see, WordPress uses the Apache mod-rewrite module in order to take pretty permalinks (example.com/category/some-title-of-some-post/) and return the correct post based on the permalink structure.  Normally, there would have to be a “category” folder at the root of your example.com directory, and in that folder there would have to be another folder named “some-title-of-some-post”, and in that folder there would have to be a web document with your data.  In the case of “pretty permalinks”, the webserver takes the URL requested and returns data using the words in the URL as the variables for use in querying the database.

If all that goes over your head, don’t worry.  It’s not that important.  Just know that it works.

Setting Up WordPress

So, how do you use Pretty Permalinks? Simple.

Log into your WordPress Dashboard and click “Settings” then “Permalinks” (in the submenu).  The configuration page will look something like this:

As you can see, on this site I am using a custom structure for my permalink structure.  I use the /category-name/title-of-blog-post/ structure, and I find that this works best for me.  And to be honest, I really recommend this structure for you as well, because your categories tend to describe your content.  Having them in the URL will more than likely help you.

So, choose the structure that works best for you.  And if you must choose a custom structure other than the one I used, see this reference for how to do it.

Using Keyword Rich Permalinks

Now, as you can see from the image above, I’ve chosen to just use the title of my post (with words separated by dashes, which is the way WordPress does it) as the majority of my permalink.  That’s fine if you’re doing a good job of Optimizing your titles (which we’ll cover in a couple of days), but if you are writing your headlines for humans rather than machines, you’ll want to gain as much advantage as you can by changing your permalink speak to the machines (the spiders) for you.

And in WordPress 2.5+, changing your permalink is very very easy.  Here’s a picture of this post as I am writing it:

Now, you may notice that right below the Title of this post, I’ve chosen to “edit” my permalink.  So, if this post were titled something catchy like “Fight the Power, Use URLs to Drive Traffic”, but I wanted to rank well for search terms like “wordpress seo“, “keywords permalinks“, and “wordpress permalinks“, then the permalink WordPress generated for me wouldn’t do me much good, would it?

So, we edit it.  We put in the keywords we want to rank for. Just click save and you’re done.  Once published, your URL will reflect the keywords you want to rank for, even if your title doesn’t.

Wrapping Up

You make have noticed a theme in this post.  Keyword Density. Smart keyword density is key to ranking for the search terms you want to rank for.  This theme will be prevalent in many of the upcoming posts in this series, so get used to it. Tomorrow, we’ll cover how to optimize your <title> tags using WordPress theme template files and yes, more Keyword Density.  Stay Tuned!

Reader Interactions


  1. Great article, I hope you don’t mind if I link to it in the coming weeks, I just finished a similar piece and I’ve had a few people ask about the real importance of seo friendly slugs.

  2. Nathan, awesome article as always! I hope you don’t mind I’ve been linking to a lot of your posts in this series for readers over on my blog. Chris

  3. Nathan, I must be going crazy here…how come I don’t see an area below the title area, to rewrite the permalink?

    Is that a special plugin?


    • I’ve noticed that too, in some cases. Not sure if it’s a WordPress version issue or what, but it’s not always directly below the title. Try looking at some of the boxes under the post content for a box labeled slug or permalink. It might be there.

  4. For those not seeing the post slug just click on the “Screen Options” tab in the upper right hand corner and it’s the only option unchecked. Just check it and it’ll add it to where toy can do what Nathan is talking about.

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