Summary: Permalink needs to be good for both SEO and readers. I did the research, combining theory & practice, and found the best permalink structure options
Choosing the best permalink structure for your blog is important step when setting up a new blog. This in-depth article analyzes different permalink types and presents the best permalink structures for you to choose from.
Good permalink combines the elements from being effective for search engine optimization and being shareable and readable by humans at the same time. I struggled to find a reliable and consistent information about what kind of permalink structure to use when I first started blogging, so I took the time and did the research on the subject.
I studied the established and the most popular blogs, what kind of URLs they use and researched the most respected SEO blogs and their expertise on my quest to find the the best possible format for the page URLs or post slugs as they are sometimes referred as.
First I took the top 100 blogs from Technorati and studied the permalink structures they are using. I inserted all the data to a spreadsheet and calculated detailed statistics about the permalinks these top blogs are using.
Complete Permalink Guide
This will help you to find the perfect permalink for your web site, blog or forum.
- What is a permalink
- Common permalink types
- What the Top 100 blogs tell us about permalinks
- Search engine ranking factor of the permalink structure
- The best permalink structure for SEO
- Choosing the best permalink structure for your blog
What is a permalink?
Permalink is a constant an URL address to a web page. The perma is short for permanent.
Permalink, or permanent link, is an URL that points to a individual web page on a dynamic website, like blog or forum, which have updating content on a front page or an archive page for example. Other types of web sites use permanent links, but the term permalink is most common within the blogosphere.
Permalink enables linking and referencing to an individual page, a blog post for example, either internally or from external sources. Permalinks are also a way to make the URL human-readable, which coincidentally are great for search engines as well.
Permalinks can be indicated within the HTML of a page so as to allow automated browsing tools to detect the permalink and use it for linking instead of the stated URL. The link element should include the following attributes:
<link href="[Permalink URL]" />
Source: Permalink - Wikipedia
Common permalink types
The default permalink structures of different blogging and forum platforms dictate the most common permalinks.
Here are some examples of the default permalink structures:
- Typepad: http://<username>.typepad.com/<username>/<4 digit year>/<2 digit month>/<15 character name>.html
- Blogger / Blogspot: http://<username>.blogspot.com/<4 digit year>/<2 digit month>/<article name>.html
- WordPress.com: http://<selectedsubdomainname>.wordpress.com/<4 digit year>/<2 digit month>/<2 digit day>/<article name>/
- WordPress: http://<site-specific prefix>/?p=<post id>
- WordPress (one configurable default option): http://<site-specific prefix>/<4 digit year>/<2 digit month>/<2 digit day>/<article name>/
- Tumblr: http://<selectedsubdomainname>.tumblr.com/post/<post id>/<article name>/
- Posterous: http://<selectedsubdomainname>.posterous.com/<article name>/
- Drupal: http://<site-specific prefix>/index.php?q=node/<unique integer page identifier> for pages (without URL-rewriting)
- Drupal: http://<site-specific prefix>/node/<unique integer page identifier> for pages (with URL-rewriting)
With some of the blogging or forum platforms, you can't modify the permalink at all, or it requires technical knowledge and web programming skills.
On the rest of the tools, it is possible to modify the permalink structure directly from the settings, or by using a third party tool (like a plugin or an addon) to configure the permalink settings as you want.
If it is possible to configure the permalink structure, it is best to set it when setting up a new blog, but it can be changed later.
What the Top 100 blogs tell us about permalinks?
As I mentioned at the beginning, I took the time and analyzed the permalink structures of the top 100 blogs from Technorati. I added the data to a spreadsheet and pulled some statistics out of it and here's what I learned...
First lesson from top 100 blogs is that the different permalinks don't make or break a blog. There are couple of horrendous permalinks structures in use, that go against every recommendation out there, but still these blogs pull tons of traffic.
Second, most blogs do have article/post names on their permalink. This is commonly recommended best practise. It's not only makes the URLs more readable for humans, but using post name in the URL does have SEO benefits as well.
Thirdly, there's quite a lot of versatility on the permalinks. The top 100 blogs use 43 different permalinks, but when we take a closer look, large percentage of the permalinks have certain characteristics.
From the permalinks of the top 100 blogs:
- 89 have the article name (postname) in the permalink
- 78 display the year in the URL
- 77 include the month in the permalink
- 72 have both year and month in the permalink
- 68 have year, month and postname on their permalink
- 50 end their URL with trailing slash ("/")
- 45 have year, month and date included
- 43 have year, month, day and postname on the URL
- 34 use the specific permalink: /<2 or 4 digit year>/<2 digit month>/<2 digit day>/<article name>/
- 23 include post-id
- 23 end with .html
- 16 has the word archive or archives and/or blog or blogs
- 14 includes the category
- 7 end with .php
- 5 include the author name
- 2 have hours and minutes included
- 0 blogs have seconds in their permalink
- 0 blogs use just the post id (e.g. WordPress default /?p=n)
Conclusions from the permalinks of the top 100 blogs:
- many top blogs use the default permalink structures or one of the default choices as their permalink
- nearly all top 100 blogs are updates many times a day, which makes year/month/day great inclusion for their permalinks
- only a handful of the top 100 blogs use "SEO slugs", meaning optimizing the page name URL by shortening it and leave only spesific keywords or phrase to the slug.
- postname is a must for good permalink
- if you're running a WordPress blog with the /?p=xxx default, you should change the permalink structure right away.
The problem with this kind of study on top 100 blogs, is that they are established blogs. Their chosen permalinks have very little effect on the blog's popularity or traffic. Some draw traffic via other means as a part of larger network or root website for example. So we can't draw definitive conclusions from the permalink structures of the top blogs alone.
Especially for beginning blogger, even the smallest search engine benefits of choosing certain permalinks is a great perk, and that should not be overlooked. For that, we need to take a look at what are the pros and cons of different permalink structures, before we go and decide what's the best permalink structure for our blog.
SEO factors of the permalink structure
Based on the search engine ranking factors data from SEOmoz, rated by the panel of 72 SEO experts, the keywords in the page name URL or the folder name URL are the top 10 and top 11 ranking factor in on-page search engine optimization.
The keywords in the page name part of the URL have low importance on SEO. The same can be said about folder name in the URL. A category word or words act as a "folder name" in this sense.
Factors like Alt-texts in images and lesser headline tags (<h2>-<h6>) are below the "permalink effects" in the search engine ranking factors. So the permalink structure seems to have significant enough effect on SEO that this quest of mine is worth it.
Also, excessively long URL has been rated in the negative search engine factors with minimal importance. If you had post name in the permalink structure as you should, and would to use excessively long post titles, you should shorten the URL by manually editing the post slug (or shortening the post name).
The best permalink options for SEO
In short, the best permalink for search engine optimization is any permalink with words in it (versus permalink consisting only numbers). Preferably this is the post name (%postname% in WordPress).
As we saw from the analysis of the top 100 blogs and their permalinks, 89 use %postname% in the permalink. And those that don't use post name, are heavy on category or author names in the URL.
To make the most of using the postname as a permalink structure, you need to top it off with SEO post slugs. SEO slugs mean that the page URLs would be optimized for certain terms.
This way, the URL becomes shorter and increases the weight of the keywords in the permalink. For example, on the permalink of this page, the post name would normally be "quest-for-the-best-permalink-structure", but I've shortened it as "best-permalink-structure".
For getting the relevant keywords into the post slug, just having the post name in the permalink structure is enough for most bloggers (and it doesn't require any effort when publishing posts). Only a couple blogs from the top 100 seem to use SEO slugs, rest go with the normal post name.
Category in the permalink structure?
Permalink structure with both category name and post name can be used for maximized SEO effect when optimizing for the category keywords. This is generally good for niche blogs, which can be built around category keywords. In these cases, there wouldn't be many individual pages in each category, and those individual pages would be optimized for the category keywords and closely related terms.
For more longer-term blog, where tens of even hundreds of posts can go into one category over time, using category as a part of the permalink structure is not worth it. Also, re-organizing categories becomes very hard and time consuming if you do have the category in the permalink.
(at this point you might notice that I am using categories in the permalinks of this blog at the time this post is published. but I was making this study because I didn't like them that much and wanted to find out if there'd be a better option. Also, while I was on this quest, I found out that using categories in permalinks can affect the performance on WordPress blog, which makes me want to change permalink structure even more.)
When optimizing for category keywords, choose category + post name as the permalink structure. Otherwise, for the best permalink structure for SEO is using the post name as part of the permalink structure. Either as a standalone, or in conjunction with time based structure (combination of year, month and date) or use the post id to add unique element to the permalink.
Choosing the best permalink structure for your blog
As you can see by now, there are a lot of factors to consider when choosing the permalink. But to end this article, I'll help you make the educated choice for your blog or blogs.
The bad news is that based on this study of mine, there is no one permalink setting that would be the absolutely best choice for any blog out there.
But the good news is that we do have some settings that are way better than the others, so let me limit the selection into handful of choices and give my recommendation for you.
Here are the best permalink settings for you to choose from, using the WordPress notation:
Let's start with the most "blog-like" permalink structure. Also the most popular among the top 100 blogs:
- e.g. /2009/12/14/quest-for-the-best-permalink-structure/
You can't go wrong by choosing this one. Especially good for blogs that publish at least one post a day
But, for some blogs, it's better not to show the date. Perhaps the content is timeless, and it wouldn't be good to show that the article in question is 5 years old. So the next choice for a permalink would be:
- e.g. /best-permalink-structure/
Using just the post name as the permalink is the most recommended option for search engine optimization, so that is an excellent option. The downside with that is that after sometime you might run into possibility of duplicate URLs that you have to manage by hand.
Because of the possibility for duplicate URLs over time, including the post id in the URL is a great option:
- e.g. /1150/best-permalink-structure/
Using this permalink, with unique post id, all the permalinks are 100% unique. Using post id also brings options for nice short URLs, using just the post id. As an example, lifehacker is using this kind of permalink and they use the post id's as short URLs in their social media shares.
Personally, I would choose this permalink, because /%post_id%/%postname%/ -permalink is
- great for using http://domain/post_id as custom short URL
And you can re-organize the tags, categories and such without worrying about breaking your permalinks and loosing incoming links (post id will always point to the same post, unless Db is edited).
As the last option for permalink setting, here is one for the blogs optimized for the category keywords (focused niche blogs).
- e.g. /movies/blade-runner/
Using category in the permalink requires more pre-planning for the blog structure, as re-organizing the categories will effect all the permalinks as well.
WordPress users must also notice that WP documentation warns about possible performance issues using category in the permalink. You can read all about this and other WordPress specific issues from the definite guide to WordPress permalinks.
Afterword and my choice of permalink structure
On this blog, I used the /%category%/%postname%/ permalink structure, but I changed it to /%post_id%/%postname%/. As I wanted to re-organize the categories, it was a good change the permalink while at it for something shorter and more useful for me.
I like /%post_id%/%postname%/ permalink structure. It's SEO-friendly enough and I really like the simple possibility to use the domain + post id as short URL. As the post id is in the permalink too, the short URL would naturally redirect to the actual post without causing any confusion. Big blogs like Lifehacker and Gizmodo run with this kind of URL, and they also use short URLs like http://example.com/post_id.
Overall /%postname%/ is the best option. It is very good for SEO, it is very readable, user-friendly and compact and it is flexible if you need to do major changes on the site.
I'd stay away from /%category%/%postname%/. This way you don't have to use good amount of time to find the best category keywords before starting to fill the categories, but start right away. Also, if you're on WordPress, note the performance issues with this kind of WordPress permalink, which makes /%category%/%postname%/ even worse, unless the blog stays very small.
If it would be beneficial to show the time of the posts, I'd go with the blogging "standard" /%year%/%month%/%day%/%postname%/ or just leave the %day% out of it and go with year, month and post name.
As you can see and the top 100 blogs showed, there is no one option that is single-handedly better than all the others. However, the overall winner and the best generic choice is /%postname%/.
Have you chosen certain permalink for some specific reason? Or did you just go with one that felt right? Share your experiences and leave a comment.