How to set up URLs as sentences in WordPress

28 Comments

In the WPCandy v4 redesign post I mentioned that my favorite part about the new website is that URLs as sentences adorn the site.

Today I’m going to show you how to do the same thing on your WordPress website.

About URLs as sentences

Ideas on the “proper” way to create URLs differ. Arguments range from so-called SEO benefits to what is most user friendly. While I won’t argue that URLs as sentences are either of those two (since the former barely interests me and the latter is entirely subjective), I will argue that they are fun to use.

An example of a URL sentence is in your browser right now:

wpcandy.com/teaches/how-to-set-up-urls-as-sentences-in-wordpress

Left to right, the URL reads as a complete (or near complete) sentence.

The first place I learned about this technique was Chris Shiflett’s blog, though there are definitely other examples out there. I thought it was very clever, and set about implementing it on each of the new WordPress sites that I created.

To create these URLs, we’re going to need to take a bit of control over our WordPress permalinks.

What are WordPress permalinks?

Permalink stands for permanent link. Within WordPress, it’s used to refer to the structure of the dynamic links that are created to form your site’s posts, archives, and pages.

Turning page slugs into sentences

Pages, on their own, have permalinks that are straightforward to control. On the Add New Page or Edit Page screens, simply edit the slug to create a sentence.

Editing a page slug on WPCandy.

On WPCandy, for example, we use a few of these:

About page
/is/
Contact page
/is/here/
Submit news page
/is/powered-by-you/

On my site, my personal blog, I use these:

Ryan’s projects
/creates/
Know Ryan personally?
/is/human/

Think up creative uses for page slugs. They’re easy to change, and the potential hierarchy gives you more opportunities to mix things up.

Categories and tags

Categories and tags are a step more difficult, in that by default they each display with initial bases like this:

/category/the-category-name/
/tag/the-tag-name

WordPress does give you control over the base that is used there, via the Settings > Permalinks page. You can use this to create sentence-like bases; for instance on WPCandy the tag base is “on”. So we’re able to link up topics using URLs like this:

wpcandy.com/on/themes

Or like this (appropriate for this week):

wpcandy.com/on/v4-launch

That’s a helpful way of making a pseudo sentence, or at least something human-readable, out of a URL that will inevitably end in a noun of some sort.

For categories you might be able to try to the same thing, though in our case we’re using the No category parents Plugin to remove the /category/ base from category archives in general. That’s because we’re using category slugs to write our sentences out. So for the news archive, instead of using:

wpcandy.com/category/news/

We’re using:

wpcandy.com/reports/

That’s achieved by combining the Plugin with customized category slugs, which you can change on the Posts > Categories page on the Dashboard. Changing a category’s slug is as easy as changing slugs anywhere else within WordPress. The difficulty can be choosing the write word to pair with a category.

Categories matched with category slugs on WPCandy.

Once you get the knack of turning category slugs into useful verbs like this, you can take the next step (that we chose to do) and include that category in your permalinks structure, by selecting Custom Structure on the Permalink Settings page and using this:

/%category%/%postname%

Now, as long as your post slugs are now written to accompany your category slugs, your URLs will read nicely as sentences, just like WPCandy’s URLs.

Other, auxiliary pages

There are other types of pages to consider within your website. Author archive pages, for instance, by default look like this:

/author/the-name

“Author” isn’t a very good verb (spoiler: it isn’t a verb). So in order to change that base as well, we can install a Plugin similar to the category base one mentioned above called Edit Author Slug to achieve /by/ryan-imel/ instead of the default /author/ryan-imel/.

Side note: This is one of those awesome Plugins that falls into the category (my own category) of “does things right”. Instead of creating its own management screen for the simple purpose of editing the author archives slug, it simply adds another line of control to the Permalink Settings screen. Beautiful.

There are also post archives by date, which really come in two forms:

  1. Paging through archives (next/previous style): /page/2/
  2. Viewing specific monthly or yearly archives: /2010/08/

I’ll be honest, I have no great ideas for making these types of URLs into sentences. They are in this format on WPCandy, and I don’t really have any plans to change them. These fall through the cracks into the category of “the types of URLs visitors may type on their own to see a specific thing” and because of that, are probably not worth playing with much anyway.

Have fun with it

In the end, find a way to have fun with your URLs. Odds are that if you care about it, then others will too. Your fun with your site will become infectious, and your visitors might enjoy it more.

Have you implemented these URLs into your WordPress site? Why or why not? Any creative examples that I haven’t thought of?

28 thoughts on “How to set up URLs as sentences in WordPress

  1. I’ve never really give any thought to have fully legible URLs versus just the post’s slug itself. I definitely do like the author slug changed to /by/ and will probably utilize that for a new project of mine.

  2. Really glad to see more people using URL sentences. Very nicely done, too. I like your use of “on” and agree that making URLs human-readable is more important than worrying too much about always making a complete sentence.

    For what it’s worth, my blog is the first place most people learn about URL sentences, because I came up with the idea. :-) Glad you like it!

  3. What an interesting idea!

    I can see I’m going to waste several (happy) hours thinking up fun verbs for my permalinks in the future.

    Thanks Ryan and Chris.

  4. Like a few people have already said, interesting! :)

    I’ll have to think about this myself and see what I can come up with for maybe a future site, I’m quite happy with the way my URLs are on mark.mcwilliams.me anyway! — That’s a play on my name, and a sub-domain anyway, so it’s cool! :P

    • Glad you liked it Mark. I think these sorts of URLs really depend on the particular site, one’s feelings about it, etc. Not for everyone or every site, but fun to explore when it’s appropriate.

  5. Nice, way to have original URLs. Not quite interesting if you are looking into SEO though. Having so different category and post names compare to slugs is not that recommended.

    But what’s better? SEO or nice URLs? I didn’t decide yet! :)

    • Sure, it’s an interesting discussion to have. Lately, I tend to think that if it’s better for the visitor (human readable URLs, that is) then it doesn’t matter whether it’s initially SEO friendly. I mean, websites are for people, not for machines right?

    • Still a great post!

      For those reading this in 2012, WP 3.3 addressed these performance issues, so you can ‘use the postname permalink structure without a performance penalty’

  6. very cool idea and implementation!

    I tried to have a look at the no category parents plugin, but there’s no download link on that page, any thoughts?

  7. This is not something i would have thought about including on a site, as at 1st glance it seems gimmicky. But i can see the ‘personality’ factor coming into play and giving users that actually read the address bar something a little ‘extra.’

    I already use /%category%/%postname%/ – but i am now seriously concocting ideas that would better utilise this.

    As being a web designer is essentially one of the most boring tasks imaginable, this should at least give me my own little buzz from time to time. It is geek chic.

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  9. Just out of curiosity Ryan, do you have any ideas on this type of structure fits in with the permalink issue brought up by Otto when using /%category%/%postname%/ structure? His post is a little over my head, and I guess since WPCandy has so few pages / cats it makes it a bit less of an issue… just interested in your thoughts on it.

    • It’s something I have thought about, for sure. I don’t know as much about it as others, but we haven’t run into any issues. It’s definitely not something you want to start up with if you aren’t going to care about things down the road. But that goes for any permalink structure.

      In the end, the permalink setup we have is for people, and we’ll do whatever we have to do to keep them running at full sail as time goes by. So far we’re okay :)

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