Update WordPress Permalinks without Breaking Search Engine Ranking

How to Update WordPress Permalinks

There may come a point in time when you need to change your blog’s URL structure and you want to know how to update WordPress permalinks correctly.

Permalinks are usually one of the first things any budding blogger configures in WordPress. The truth is at that time there’s usually not a lot of though that goes into the permalink settings. The problems is that a wrong decision at the start can cause quite a lot of pain later on.

In this post I will show you the correct way to change WordPress permalink settings for your blog. I have just implemented this on wife’s GoldaBakes blog and thought it would be good to share how I did it.

The Wrong Way to Update WordPress Permalinks

Changing your permalink structure will change the URLs generated in WordPress for all newly created posts and pages. What it won’t do is change the URLs for your existing content. What this means is all your existing content before the change will result in a lot of 404 errors once your permalink configuration is updated.

Not correcting this will mean any internal links you have created in your posts which are not handled by the WordPress core will no longer work. More importantly though is that any search engines which have indexed your website will now receive 404 errors and this will seriously affect your SERP standings.

How to Update WordPress Permalinks the Correct Way

The correct way to change your permalink structure is to make sure all your existing content when accessed will still send the user to the actual page they are looking for. We do this by adding a 301 redirect to our existing posts and pages. Luckily there are a couple of handy plugins we can use to help achieve this.

Before I go into how to change your WordPress permalinks I want to talk about what is a 301 redirect and why we need to use it.

What is a 301 Redirect and Why Should I Use One?

A 301 redirect is a way of informing the search engines that a page has permanently moved to another location.

There are 2 types of redirects a 301 permanent redirect and a 302 temporary redirect. Because we are looking to permanently change our URL structure we will be using the 301 redirect.

Check out this article from Moz if you’d like to know more on 301 and 302 redirects.

Updating WordPress Permalinks in 3 Easy Steps

  1. Create a list of all your website URLs.
  2. Change permalink settings in WordPress.
  3. Create 301 redirects, pointing the old URLs to the new URLs.

The first task we have is to get a list of all the existing URLs on the website. To do this we can use the plugins List URLs. Once you install and activate the plugin you’ll have access to a new List URLs page under the Tools menu. To get a full list of URLs for your website it’s as simple as clicking the Download CSV button.

Next we are going to need a way to redirect our old URLs to our nice new ones. For this we will use another plugin called Redirection. Go ahead and install and activate this plugin.

WordPress Redirection Plugin

Now we have the plugins we need and we have our list of existing URLs we can now change the permalink setting on the WordPress settings page. I recommend creating your URLs based on your post title to give a clean, readable and searchable URL.

WordPress Permalink Settings

To change your WordPress permalink settings, in the left WordPress menu select Settings > Permalinks.

You’re free to select any structure that suits you but I recommend either using the Post name or a Custom Structure based on category and post name as shown below for Blogging Nectar permalink structure.

WordPress Permalink Settings

Configure 301 Redirects in WordPress

Once we have configured our new permalink structure we need to make sure all those existing posts and pages are redirected properly.

Open the downloaded CSV file containing your site URLs, you should see all the URLs for your website neatly listed. We want to create an entry in the Redirection plugin setup page for each of the post and page URLs listed.

The Redirection plugin also sits under the Tools menu. Take the first URL from your CSV, copy and paste it into the Source URL field and enter your new URL structure for this post into the Target URL field. You can leave Match, Action, Regular Expression and Group as their default values. Click Add Redirection to finalise the new entry.

Import Redirection Settings

If you have a very well established website you probably have 100’s of URLs and the thought of entering all these one by one does not sound so appealing. Thankfully Redirection comes with a handy import facility. You can use the CSV you downloaded containing all your current URLs and create an importable CSV in the following structure.

Source URL, Target URL, [Regex 0=false, 1=true], [HTTP Code]

Example:
/2012/11/24/my-bundle-of-joy/,/my-bundle-of-joy/,0,301
/2009/07/24/the-best-day-of-my-life/,/the-best-day-of-my-life/,0,301

Once you have created your import file head on over to the Option page in the Redirection plugin (you will find it in the top menu). Towards the bottom of the page you will see an Import section. Choose the file you have created and hit Upload – it’s as simple as that.

By following these simple steps you will be able to update your

You may also be interested in learning how to boost visitors with URL optimization. It contains my recommendations for creating URLs to help your SEO.

If you liked this post don't forget to share and leave a comment in the comments section below.

Happy Blogging - Mathew

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