What are Permalinks?

Wondering what are permalinks? Before we find out about permalinks, let’s find out what slug means.

The History of Slugs

In the glory days of the printing press, typesetters used the term “slug” to indicate one line of linotype, used as a spacer or placeholder for an article title. In time, the term moved onto the newsroom floor, and it soon became an industry standard to use “slug” to indicate the in-house title of an article-in-progress. Slug, along with many other printing terms such as font or typeface, “above the fold”, pagination, cut & paste, etc. have made their way into the digital age and are now commonly used in the sibling vocations of web development and graphic design.

It’s all Semantics

What do slugs have to do with permalinks? You may be asking yourself. That former printing term still holds weight today to indicate the semantic (that is to say, human-readable) tail of a URL that search engines go ga-ga over. I’m sure you’ve seen, in the earlier days of the web, those hideous URLs with lots of question marks, ampersands, and percentage signs strewn all about.

This works great for the program running on the web server to locate your article and display it, but as far as humans go, it’s mostly gibberish and very much an eyesore. Now, imagine for a moment you wanted to share that article with your friends. Wouldn’t it be easier, and prettier, if you could give a nice clean URL that described what the article might be about? Consider the following: http://www.example.com/articles/what-is-a-slug. Isn’t that beautiful, in comparison? To get to the point, the last bit there on the trailing end, “what-is-a-slug”, is indeed that — a slug — or the semantic piece of the URL pie.

With this information in hand, we can now tackle the question, “What are permalinks?”. Permalink is essentially short for “permanent link”, and it’s typically a semantic URL that does not (or rather, should not) ever change — it will always point to the same webpage. Now, this is the Internet, and things are always changing — websites go down or die, facts change, mistakes are made and corrected, and sometimes there’s a whole new, better article you might want to read instead. So, while the link is intended to be permanent, we’re not always guaranteed the content will be the same. That’s the idea, though: it’s a persistent URL that we can expect to point to the same page.

WordPress permalink settings can be found in the main settings menu of the WordPress admin area.
In the screenshot below, you can see the five custom permalink structures that WordPress displays as common settings.

What Are Permalinks

Search Engine Optimization

So, what are permalinks good for and why all the fuss? In addition to being user-friendly and human readable, search engines like permalinks and semantic URLs and tend to give preference in search results to sites that use them. This falls under a broader term known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and it’s all the rage for getting your site to the top of Google’s search results.

Google make it clear in their guide that a structured URL structure with keywords will make it easier for them to crawl your pages:

It is better to use one a more search engine friendly permalink structure on your WordPress website various reasons like.

  • URLs with a structured hierarchy will make it easier for google to crawl your pages
  • Visitors may cut off part of your URL while copying a link as the additional code might seem unnecessary
  • URLs containing relevant keywords helps in ranking better in search engines

Bringing it all full circle, Google is focused on delivering relevant, high-quality content to its users for their search queries, and semantic URLs are an important part of that, so it’s no mystery why these permanent links are ubiquitous in today’s web scene and why most major content management systems (CMS), such as WordPress, utilize and, in fact, encourage usage of permalinks to make the world a better place for everybody.

Hope you find what are permalinks article useful. If you know more about permalinks and it impacts on SEO then you are welcome to share it in comments,

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