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August 01, 2007

Tips on Changing Custom Permalinks

Permalink TipsSeveral people have emailed me asking feedback about my recent change in permalink structure. Instead of sending the same emails over and over again, I thought I’d share some of the lessons I’ve learned with that recent experiment. The entire process was a great learning experience which gave me a few insights on the way search engines behave with these types of situations.

The discussion will primarily be focused on WordPress blogs but entire the idea will also be applicaple with any other stand-alone blogs, minus the plugins.

Changing from default permalinks to custom permalinks has its pros and cons. Most people would say it’s better because:

  • Custom permalinks are prettier to look at and more descriptive.
  • They are more optimized for search engines.
  • You can further optimize the permalinks {see example here on post slug}

However, it could also be a headache sometimes:

  • The URLs tend to be longer than usual, especially when you use categories and post names as part of the permalink tags.
  • Moving post categories or editing Category names could change and ruin old permalinks.
  • Major pain in the arse if you’re not familiar with .htaccess and mod_rewrite rules (esp. when moving from server to server).
  • Could be incompatible with other plugins, hacks or theme modifications.

So here are some tips you need to take note when changing permalinks. Some of them will become very useful when you already have an established blog with thousands of posts in the archives and even tens of thousands of backlinks.

  • Check if your current theme, plugins and other modifications will work well with the new permalink structure. The odds of it screwing your blog are very small but it pays to be really sure.
  • Avoid doing a live test unless you’re sure you got it all right. You can create another blog using the same DB and do all you tests there.
  • You will need one or both of these plugins: Permalink Redirect WordPress and the Permalinks Migration Plugin for WordPress. You will initially need the first one to redirect all old permalinks to the new one. However, if it won’t work, you will need the second plugin to fix that. This plug-in is the most essential part as they send out a 301 permanent redirect to search engines. That way, you won’t lose any visitors from organic searches and link referrals.
  • Check your list of categories that might conflict with the new permalink structure (only when you’ll use the category tag as part of the permalinks). Usually, it’s the “Search” category that will get lost in the move as it will conflict with the internal blog “Search” structure. Meaning, all posts under the Search category will be interpreted as a “search query”.
  • Some of the images in the old posts might disappear (as broken links) if you’ve posted them with a relative path instead of the absolute path {i.e. wp-content/images/filename.jpg instead of http://www.domain.com/wp-content/images/filename.jpg}.
  • Once you’ve moved to the new permalink structure, check whether the old links are properly redirecting. You can simulate this by searching your posts via the different search engines and see if they redirect to the new URLs just fine.
  • If you have time, change the hard coded links to reflect the new links. This could include links to the pages or navigation. You can also go over your old posts and change the cross-links to other entries with the new URLs. If you have other blogs linking to one another (post-level), you can also update those links. This is the most time-consuming part esp. when you have thousands of posts.
  • Watch your access logs for any 404 errors and see why they’re not resolving properly.

Sit back and relax. It may take some time before the search engines will re-index your blog. It took mine around 2 days before the new links showed up for the archives.

To answer some other related yet equally important questions:

1) Will I lose my Page Rank? Yes and no. Your old posts which have accumulated backlinks and acquired Page Ranks will lose the PR value. You main page and the domain will not lose their old PR. Once the 301s have fully been accounted for by the SEs, your post-level PRs *might* return to their old pre-migration status.

2) Will I lose traffic from search engines? Probably. It depends actually but I cannot be certain. You could lose traffic from pages that used to rank well before but you could also gain more traffic because of the optimized URLs. There’s a trade-off between the two. In the long term, I think you’ll gain more traffic than if you didn’t make the move. In the onset, you could actually get double listings.

3) How about advertisers? You mean TLA and the likes? Not likely but there could be a few that might drop off in the Post-Level Link Advertisers. It will depend on #1 and 2.

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9 Responses to “Tips on Changing Custom Permalinks”

  1. dude alert! says:

    i was just doing a related article about pretty permalinks, and doing some test and experiment and i headed out to your blog coz i know you’re using p?=1 URL, turns out you’re not using it anymore. damn, just when someone actually needs it. =)

  2. Jaypee
    Twitter: jaypee
    says:

    I wouldn’t have known about those plugins if it weren’t for you Abe. Now my permalinks are prettier and more search engine friendly.

    Btw, I only used the Permalink Redirect. Is it okay if I install the Permalinks Migration plugin now or I don’t have to do it? Thanks!

  3. yuga says:

    @ dude, you can still ask em questions. The old structure introduces a lot of variables in the URL that I was getting duplicate contents all over.

    @ jayps, you only need the first one. We used the second plugin with Connie’s blog the other day because the first one wouldn’t redirect the new permalinks from the old custom permalinks.

  4. Jaypee
    Twitter: jaypee
    says:

    Oh okay. Thanks! :)

  5. jhay says:

    I knew tweaking with your permalinks right in the middle of something is a very serious and tedious business.

    Glad I customized my permalinks early on. ;)

  6. dude alert! says:

    Yeap, thats my first thought actually from changing my URLs, duplicate content and 404 and stuff.. yours is much more complex though, with /p?=123 as your old URLS.. have you got that one resolved..?

  7. yuga says:

    Yup, dupes have been taken cared of. ;)

  8. Shari says:

    This reminds me to do what I’ve been planning to do for the past couple of months. I’ve had those 2 plugins in my folder for months and I haven’t even used them yet. I have to get off my lazy arse first.

    Btw, glad you got rid of that “unfriendly” permanent link. Haha.

  9. StrayArrow says:

    hehehe for us newbies its like reading an alien post… but i am learning everyday… thanks

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