Blogging Tip: Don’t Use Dates in Your Permalink Structure

by Michael on February 4, 2010 · 7 comments

This is just a quick tip for all the bloggers out there. If you’re using your site for anything more than just a personal journal, I would strongly suggest avoiding dates in your urls. There are numerous good reasons for this. I’ll outline three below.


Inability to republish articles

Perhaps the biggest reason you shouldn’t use dates in your permalink structure is that it makes it impossible to update your post and “republish” it at a future date without breaking all the old links.

For example, here at jammer(six), I’m using a permalink structure similar to this:

http://www.jammersix.com/archives/title-based-page-slug-goes-here

If I ever want to update a post and republish it, it’s just a matter of going into the WordPress dashboard, making the necessary edits, and changing the publication date. The url will stay the same and all the old links (internal as well as external) will remain functional, but the post will appear at the top of the site as new content.

If, on the other hand, I had a date in the url, such as this:

http://www.jammersix.com/2010/01/01/title-based-page-slug-goes-here

Then I’d have no choice but to: (1) leave well enough alone with the old post, and write a new one instead, or (2) update it, republish it, and break the links. While you could perhaps minimize the damage with a well-crafted 301 redirect from the old url to the new one, this would rapidly get unwieldy on an active site.

Search visitor behavior

This is a more subtle effect, but when you run a Google search, the url is visible below each listing. With dates in your url, there’s a distinct possibility that people will see your post from three years ago, decide that it’s likely out of date, and skip over it in search of fresher content.

Beyond people spotting the date in the url, Google seems (in some instances at least) to extract the date information from the url and add it to the page blurb in their search results. This is just another reason to shy away from dates in permalinks.

The main reason this concerns me is that date information is one of the things that I look for when skimming through search results. If I see an old date, I’m much less likely to click through. While I may be more savvy and/or observant that the average internet user, I don’t want to risk turning even one potential reader away.

Backlink accumulation

This is related to the republication point above, but it bears repeating. Jim over at Wangarific actually takes things a step further than I did, suggesting that you might want to have one “master” post for reference info that regularly changes.

When crafting this post, be sure not to include any date-related info in the title slug, as that would defeat the purpose of removing dates from permalink structure. When it comes time to update, you can move the old info into a separate post and update the master post with the new info.

This strategy works especially well with annual information. For example, if you’re running a sports blog and want to track the top-ranked football teams, you could have a master post with the current info. You’re free to title it something like “2010 Football Rankings,” but make sure the url is more along the lines:

http://www.randomsportsblog.com/archives/current-football-rankings

At the end of every year, you could then create a separate reference post with a snapshot of the “final standings,” move the year-end rankings into that, and continue updating the master post.

This strategy allows you to republish the master post with fresh info on a regular basis, thereby helping you to continue collecting inbound links to that one page. At the same time, you’re creating “snapshots” of the annual information, which will likewise be indexed and available for people looking for historical data.

In other words, it’s a classic win-win.


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

jim February 4, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Those are some good reasons not to use dates, it’s amazing how limiting they can be once you realize all the things you can’t do. At first it just seems like your URL has some dates… and then you peel open the onion.

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Financial Samurai February 7, 2010 at 10:40 am

Good thoughts, and something I have thought about as well. But, does it really matter in the long run given consistent and fresh content is what matters? Why would i be republishing my posts instead of writing new ones? If I wanted to highlight the old post with a new edition, why not just copy and paste it, and really alter it so as not to write the same thing and entitled it something new or different?

Did you have your perma lnk structure different before and noticed a change to your traffic?

Finally, how does one change the permalink structure going forward in Wordpress without changing all the old links and therefore losing all the linkage?

Thnx for your thoughts!

Sam

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CJ Bowker February 7, 2010 at 11:21 am

That definitely makes sense and something I never thought of. I’m new to blogging and didn’t realize that when you update the post the link will change with the new date. I thought the date just stayed as the original date. My big question is, how do I fix this?
Do I just not use a date going forward?
Do I go back and change the other links?
I’ve only been blogging for a couple months.

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Michael February 7, 2010 at 2:33 pm

You can certainly get by with dates in your permalinks, but if you keep at this long enough, you will inevitably run into situations where you wish you didn’t have them. Since there is no real advantage to having the date in the permalink, I would advise avoiding it. I would also have to say that “consistent and fresh content is what matters” is an oversimplification. Yes, fresh content is important, but from an SEO perspective, links are hugely important.

As for changing your permalink structure, you can do this from the Wordpress dashboard (under Settings/Permalinks). If you don’t want old links to break, you’ll need to set up a redirect. In theory, you should be able to pass the link juice to the new url, but there are no guarantees.

I am planning on experimenting with the changeover on one of my other sites, and will report the impact on search traffic when I do so.

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Chris Johnson February 9, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Something that people need to consider, though, when it comes to Wordpress permalinks is that employing this technique could have a performance impact on your site.

From Wordpress’s documentation:
“For performance reasons, it is not a good idea to start your permalink structure with the category, tag, author, or postname fields. The reason is that these are text fields, and using them at the beginning of your permalink structure it takes more time for WordPress to distinguish your Post URLs from Page URLs (which always use the text “page slug” as the URL), and to compensate, WordPress stores a lot of extra information in its database (so much that sites with lots of Pages have experienced difficulties). So, it is best to start your permalink structure with a numeric field, such as the year or post ID.”
http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks

I am not sure if this affects other blogging platforms, but there is a reason, I think, why the big blogs use dates in their permalinks (e.g. Engadget, Mashable, Smashing Magazine, etc.).

Also, Wordpress does not handle this automatically so if you do change your permalinks, you will loose any backlinks pointing old content unless you install a plugin that does this for you. There are several out there and I have used one called “Redirection” for my clients. If you have a lot of previous content or if your blog has been around for a while, you can seriously affect your page rank unless you handle the 301 redirects properly. There are lots of things to consider here that were not discussed in this post…

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Financial Samurai February 9, 2010 at 6:24 pm

Very helpful thoughts CJ! If Mashable and Engadget are using dates, I think so can I.

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Michael February 13, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Chris: I’ve read about that, but never had any problems. Of course, if this is a concern, there’s still no need to include dates. Just include the post ID. As for redirection, I’m not crazy about plugins for mission critical functions. What if the plugin author loses interest and a future WP update breaks compatibility? I would much prefer to handle something like this with a hand-coded .htaccess redirect.

Financial Samurai: It depends on your goals. If you generate traffic based on a high volume of time-sensitive content (like Mashable or Engadget) then having dates probably doesn’t matter. But if you produce evergreen content and you’re looking for an SEO edge, then you should avoid dates for all of the reasons I detailed above.

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