If you have a WordPress Blog and it is getting successful you may find yourself in a situation where the default page names you went with are just not cutting it any longer.
Default Page Names
WordPress provides various options for the naming of pages with the default being a simple URL parameter: page_id. This results in pages that look like something like this:
Clearly, that is not an ideal format as the page_id variable gives us no clear indication of what the page is about. Updating this so the page name is descriptive provides various possible SEO benefits: links using the URL will feature these important keywords, the link itself is visually descriptive of the pages content so is more likely to be clicked & a more descriptive link can result in better looking results in the search engine results page which will in turn win more clicks.
In most hosting environments WordPress will support better looking URLs out of the box so it is simply a case of turning them on by navigating to: Settings > Permalinks.
The permalinks page provides you with a series of options as below:
Day, Month, Page Name?
What we are actually seeing here is a couple of presets for configuring your URL names and there is no one option that is absolutely perfect or ideal for SEO and I would advise you to consider your audience and the content and choose an option that best suits your requirements.
If your content is very date specific then maybe including year, month and day is important. If date is less important and things change on a far more infrequent basis then maybe just include year and month (or even just year).
If your content is strongly categorised then maybe category is an important option?
Whatever you choose from the above, I would always suggest using the name of the page itself and if all pieces of content stand pretty much on their own then maybe just the page name is a good option?
Building your Permalink
In most cases you can select from the presets but there are various tags you can use to create a customised URL structure if required.
We would usually separate these tags with a forward slash character to help give the URL some structure and readability and some obvious combinations would be:
Will this impact your SEO?
First up, as with all things SEO, changing your page names are not going to suddenly rocket you to the top of the rankings, sorry, it just wont. But, with the ever incremental changes there are a raft of benefits from improved URLs, keywords in URL strings which may be used as links, readability, clickability of the URLs in the search results and on other pages so overall, it is certainly a positive change. Additionally, there is a small correlation with page names and results so whilst correlation is not causation, it is still a recommended change.
Will this break anything?
Yes, it could cause probelms so the change has to be managed carefully. In a nutshell, your site is likely indexed with your old URLs so when someone clicks on a search engine result for your site, that page will not exist any longer and they will get an error page – not ideal. Additionally, by creating new versions of the old pages there is a chance Google may see these as duplicates of the existing pages which can also cause problems and affect the rank of the site pages or prevent the new pages from ranking.
A simple solution
Fortunately, in this instance there is a simple, one stop solution for these problems but it should be applied before you change the page names. The solution is to install a WordPress Plugin called Redirection. This is a powerful little plugin that works out-of-the-box and that provides a range of features for redirecting pages but the feature of most interest to us here is that it will create redirections for any pages that change names. This means that you can chop and change till you are happy safe in the knowledge that visitors to any of the older URLs will be safely directed to the new page.
Additionally, when Google visits any of the old pages, they will too be issued with a redirection that will allow them to update their records and prevent any possible indexation or duplication issues.
Technical Bits and Bobs
For those of you that want to know the ins and outs the plugin issues a HTTP 301 Permanent Redirect which the search engines can use to update their records and which web browsers can use to automatically forward the user to the new page.
Should you do anything else?
If your site ranks well then it would not hurt to generate and submit another sitemap via Google & Bing Webmaster tools but you don’t need to do this and everything will sort itself out given time. It certainly wont hurt to add Canonical URLs as well and possibly revise your page titles whilst you are at it to make sure that everything is as optimised as possible. WordPress is pretty good for SEO by default but installing the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin will certainly help tidy up a few loose ends.
Summing it up
In brief, this is a simple, two step process: you need to install the redirection plugin and specify a new permalink structure and you should be good to go. If you wanted to be fastidious you can install the Yoast SEO plugin which will generate an XML sitemap and create Canonical URLs for your new page names & submit the new sitemap to Google to ensure that your new shiny page names get indexed as fast as possible.
Questions, Comments and Cries for Help!
As ever, if this was useful to you, please share it or link to it from your site and if you have any questions please drop a comment below and follow me on Facebook or Twitter where I will always be happy to help with any WordPress or SEO (or WordPress SEO) questions you may have.