Are you a business owner that’s already been reaping a lot of the benefits of SEO, but have been freaking out over a sudden drop in website traffic and SEO rankings? It seems like everything was going quite smoothly with your website’s SEO.

You made all the correct optimizations to your website, made sure there are meta descriptions and title tags, and added alt-text to each image. Your competition is getting crushed by how you’re consistently running circles around them with spectacular content, compelling headlines, and enticing product offers and deals.

Your website design is the first thing people always compliment you on after they look at your website. You’ve done everything exactly as you should, but what happens when you decide to make a change to your permalink structure on your WordPress site. This is a mistake even some experienced WordPress developers make.

WordPress is one of the best content management systems many small businesses use. With an enormous assortment of plugins to choose from and tons of documentation available on how to use WordPress, it’s a no-brainer to build your small business website on there.

But you have to be extremely careful with setting up your website right the first time. Decide on what permalink structure you want to have from the beginning, so you never need to bother with changing it in the future. When you’ve built up a sizable number of internal links, pages, and posts, it becomes problematic to make what could seem to be a change which WordPress has an easy solution for.

Because of how WordPress works, you will be left with a ton of 404 errors after the permalink structure has been changed. If the redirects weren’t set up at that time, Google will de-index the old pages and your SEO will take a heavy, short-term hit.

If you’re ever in this situation, don’t panic. There are many ways to mitigate the situation and get your website’s SEO back on track. In this article, you’re going to learn a lot about what not to do with your permalink structure and the best mitigation strategies for fixing the problem.

What is a Permalink on WordPress?

To understand why permalinks are such a big deal in SEO, you have to know what they are from a fundamental level. Permalinks are the website URLs pointing to landing pages and website content. Their name implies that these links are supposed to be permanent and in most circumstances should never need to be changed. There are several permalink structure settings in WordPress to choose from, each fitting a specific purpose depending on what you want to do with your content.

Permalink Settings to Choose From

These are the permalink structure settings in WordPress you can choose. Understanding each one and when they should be used will save you tons of headaches later on as you carry out your SEO strategy.

Plain
Plain is the default permalink structure setting with WordPress and isn’t the most ideal to have with SEO. The links don’t tell people much about what they expect when they read your content, so your click-through-rates will suffer.
Day and Name
The day and name permalink setting is a lot better than the Plain setting. You have a bit more room to create customized slugs with each post on the site, although sometimes you’ll run into conflicts with Yoast SEO. You can also change slugs using that tool, but beware that it’s NOT a display URL like with Google Ads. This will change your URL entirely and you’ll have to make a redirect.
Month and Name
This URL structure is similar to the previous one, only it doesn’t have the day of the post on it. These two permalink structures are both used when you’re publishing a lot of content everyday and don’t have time to create customized slugs for each one. You’ll find these permalink structures on a lot of news websites, like in this CNN article.
Numeric
This setting has the same problem as the Plain setting. You won’t be able to create SEO-friendly URLs and you won’t be able to gain as much out of SEO. We recommend avoiding this setting as well.
Post name
This setting is a popular favorite among many SEO professionals. The permalink URL structure here is super simple and lets you create shorter URLs which still have your keywords contained.

When deciding on the correct permalink structure to use, think about how often you will publish content. Are you intending for the content to be timeless for many years? If so, the post name option might work best. Will there be multiple articles published on your site each day? Then use Day and Name or Month and Name for your site.

As long as you can add more meaning to your permalinks and add relevant keywords to your URLs, a lot of this boils down to personal preference.

But What If I’m Unhappy with My Current Permalink Structure?

As a best practice, it’s best to settle on one permalink structure from the beginning and stick with it, even if you think a change is necessary to improve the SEO on your website. In cases where your website has been using the default permalink structure or the Numeric setting, any change to the permalinks will be more beneficial and help your SEO.

Before making such a change, think about whether the change will make sense for your business and where you plan to take it. Do you want your permalink URLs to be more SEO-friendly or are you planning to turn your blog into a news site? These are all questions you should ask yourself before making a switch.

If you must change your permalinks for any reason, which we don’t recommend, here’s how you can do it without killing your SEO.

1. Pick Your Permalink Structure, But Don’t Make Changes Yet

Decide on what permalink structure you want, but take note of all the pages which might be affected by the change. Create an Excel spreadsheet with all the old links you will make 301 redirects to after the change is complete.

2. Run an SEO Site Audit

After you’ve changed your permalink structure, run another site audit to see if there are any broken URLs or links on the website. Review the information and go from there.

3. Fix Your Broken Site Links

There are many 301 redirect plugins in WordPress you can use to fix each broken link after changing the permalink structure on your website. A 301 redirect tells the search engine what location the old content is located now so you don’t lose your SEO rankings. Yoast SEO Premium and Redirection are plugins you can look into using for your WordPress site without having to mess with your .htaccess file.

4. Check Your Website Again for Any Missed Redirects

Use tools such as Screaming Frog and SEO Spider Tools to see if you missed any website redirects and fix them before they become a major ordeal.

5. Resubmit Website Sitemap to Search Engines

Only after you’re 100% sure all the links on your website are working correctly, then you can resubmit your website sitemap to Google. You will find your XML sitemap under a URL such as https://www.websitedomain.com/sitemap_index.xml. It will take a little while for Google to catch up and see that there are new locations for your content, but submitting a corrected version of your sitemap will speed up that process.

Important Takeaways

While there are ways to mitigate problems after a major change in website permalinks, it’s advised that you avoid changing them for any reason. Choose a permalink structure from the beginning you will be happy with and leave it alone.

It might seem like a good idea on paper to modify the URLs on your site, but please understand that they are the lifeblood of your SEO and there are serious risks and consequences to any change on a website. Understand that if these changes aren’t executed properly, it could take several months for your SEO to recover, even if you followed all of the steps properly.

If you would like more information on SEO and keeping your website free of errors and problems like this, please call our Atlanta SEO experts at 470-440-3434 or email [email protected]. By contacting us, you will be eligible for a free SEO website audit and consultation!