Good links are like good headlines

Writing a blog post is not really that different to writing any other type of copy, especially when it comes to the headline of a post.

As with any text, the headline is the grabber, the text that usually first attracts someone to the content itself. To me, this is especially relevant with RSS feeds. I have a lot of feeds in my RSS reader and I tend to quickly scan the headlines in each feed channel. The ones that catch my attention tend to be the posts that I actually read.

(Here’s a good article on headline-writing: Writing Headlines That Get Results. An attention-getting headline itself!)

But this post isn’t specifically about headlines – it’s about permalinks, the code that is the address of your post on the internet.

Choosing how the link of your post is named is as equally important as the headline you write. Usually when you write a post, what you write in the headline becomes all or part of the address, ie, the permalink. With some blog platforms, you don’t have much choice in how that address is formed. With others, such as WordPress, you do.

WordPress expert Paul Stamatiou has written a concise outline of the importance of permalinks. The first half is a tech focus; then we come to the easy-to-understand bit:

Permalinks encourage website browsing. From a millisecond glance at a link to your permalinked blog, the user knows how recent the post is and its title. That is a lot more than /index.php?p=102 could ever convey. What if a user follows a permalink to your site only to find that you have since removed that article or changed the post slug (the last part of the permalink with the title)? They can simply navigate your archives by manipulating your URL.

Here’s what that means.

The title and the address (URL) of this post is: good-headlines/

Isn’t that a lot easier to understand (get a sense of what the post about) than this:

You can see this in action – hover your mouse over any link in this post and look in the status bar of your browser. All pretty easy to understand, right?

As Paul also says:

[…] Permalinks are vital to a successful blog. […] Also, since the actual post title is within the link itself, search engines pick up your link faster and can provide your link in higher search rankings. Tom Raftery goes more in-depth about the relationship between SEO and Permalinks.

And read Tom Raftery’s post from last year as well.

All good advice for helping you make it easier for people to find your thoughts on the web.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Chris Thilk

    That’s why when I write headlines they’re very dry, matter of fact statements of what the post will be. Cleverness is great but it’s best to save that for the actual post content as opposed to the headline. I like to give people an accurate picture of what the post will be about as opposed to something that leaves them scratching their heads.

    And the whole number thing in the permalink is just annoying. Give me a date pattern and headline text any day.

  2. neville

    Chris, some blog platforms give you little or no choice re the permalink naming structure. And some content out there is generated from CMS systems, eg, many mainstream media sites (check out those 3-feet-wide URLs from the Wall Street Journal!)

    But if you can use friendly URLs, then I agree with you that it’s damned annoying when people don’t.

  3. Marcel de Ruiter

    Hi Neville,

    This all reminded me of the settings on my own site, build around Textpattern. The setting were article/articlenumber/title and I now switched it to year/month/day/title which indeed provides more information.

    Also, what I was afraid of, breaking current available inbound links to my blog, did not even occur: these links still work!

    Anyway, thanks for the reminder.

  4. Tom Raftery

    Hey Neville,

    Thanks a million for the link love! The article you linked to explains how having your post title appear in the uri increases the chances of your post being found by Google searches. Hence the importance of choosing a post title carefully.

    Personally, I advise leaving date info out of the permalinks – the further the title is from the domain in the uri, the less the seo advantages conferred on the post.

  5. Dominic Jones

    A practical thing: long url’s typically break in emails if they wrap.

    Lots of people email links to friends rather than send whole articles or posts.

    I would rather have the email link work than have a slightly higher search engine rank.

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