Back To Basics: Fixing Ugly Wordpress URLs Without Losing Your Ranking
Exact match domains (EMD) manipulation should be officially dead, according to Google. It used to be that you could give yourself an edge in the search engines if you purchased a domain that was an exact match of your desired keyword. So, for instance, if you wanted a site all about bandogs, your target keyword would be "bandogs." Your URL would be "bandog.com." It used to be that having this type of website would push you higher in the search engines just because your domain name was an "exact match." No more.
Google has fixed this issue and promises that EMDs are no longer given the weight that they once were. However, what about keywords in the URL. For example, let's assume you have a site about dogs. One of the pages on your site is about bandogs. So, you might have a URL structure that goes something like this: www.mydomain.com/?p=123 or mydomain.com/the_date/bandogs. The first URL structure is common on default Wordpress installations. The second, however, is how a lot of folks choose to keep their URL structure. This could be bad news.
According to SEOMoz, URL best practices include using keywords in the URL. If you think about it, it makes sense. Users might naturally look in the URL as a visual cue for relevancy on the page. OK, so, you know you should fix your URL structure, but you still don't want to. You've got a lot of pages indexed in the SERPs and your ranking will tank if you go monkeying around with the permalinks. Have no fear. There's a plugin for that. Here's how to have awesome permalinks without sacrificing your existing rank.
Normally, you would log into your admin area on your site and change the permalink structure. In fact, if you don't care about your ranking, you can do exactly that. Here's the link you need to click on:
Just click "post name." That will give you a nice and pretty URL structure. If you want to preserve your rankings, however, you'll need the plugin called "Advanced Permalinks" from this website: urbangiraffe.com/plugins/advanced-permalinks/
The plugin's author says that it's no longer supported (meaning, the author is no longer developing the plugin), but it still works on the latest version of Wordpress (as of this writing). So, go download that plugin. Do it now.
Once it's installed, verify that it's activated:
OK, once it's installed and activated, go to settings > permalinks in your admin area (on the left-hand side of the screen):
On the top, you'll notice some additional menu links. Click on "posts." Make sure Start ID and End ID are set to "0" and "-1," respectively. That means, "Start ID" should read "0" and "End ID" should read "-1." This will change all posts on your blog. You can also specify category-specific permalinks as well as author and category permalinks if you wish. Finally, click on "migration." This is a migration tool that will automatically 301 redirect all of your old posts to the new permalinks you're about to make. This will preserve your rankings in Google and other search engines since search engines will read the 301 redirect and just index the new page rather than assume you just closed up shop on the Internet.
When all of your settings are ready, go back to the "defaults" link/tab. Now, choose the post structure you want. I prefer this one:
The post name is clean and does a good job of indicating where users are. When you're done, hit "save changes." It's a little nerve-racking, but your posts and rankings will remain intact. In fact, you can test it immediately. Find a post of yours in the SERPs, when you've made the changes, and click on it. You'll be redirected to your site. Notice the fancy new permalink? Eventually, the search engines should re-crawl your sitemap and index the new permalinks, swapping out the old, dead, links for the new ones.
In the meantime, you have the URL structure you've always wanted without fussing with any code or screwing yourself in the SERPs. Enjoy.