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Understanding The WordPress Post Title and Post Slug

While writing and editing your blog post before publishing, does the post title change during the process? Mine do.

I’ll come up with some title appropriate to the post during the draft process, then while editing the post in the WordPress Write Post panel, I’ll reconsider the words in my post and the title, editing it a little here or there, or totally changing it to be more appropriate to the content.

While you should know it by now, the most successful post title describes the post content using keywords, search terms, and a little attention-getting techniques. As I edit my blog posts, the post title may change before I hit publish.

During the many Save and Continue Editing page reloads, your post title is not permanently set in stone. You can change it at any time during the editing process. However, once you hit Publish the title is cleaned up and turned into a post slug, if you are using permalinks.

Permalinks are the permanent links to your blog posts or other content links. WordPress has to option to use “pretty links”, turning the numbered links into sentences:

example.com/categories/this-blog-post-is-about-titles

WordPress turns

This Blog Post is About Titles

into

this-blog-post-is-about-titles

which is the post slug.

Letterpress type and lead slugsThe term “slug” is one of the few words that comes directly from the early days of the printing press when hot lead was melted into molds of letters, which made up the words of the article. Following the handwritten article, the letter molds were assembled by hand and the lead poured into the molds. When it cooled, the result was a line of lead with a sentence the width of the column, called the slug. Then the next column width line of text, and the next, and the next would be created, stacked on top of each other inside of a galley. The chase, or galley as some called it, would be put in the letterpress, ink would be rolled over the lead slugs in the galley, and when pressed against the paper, the words would be imprinted.

An expert typesetter in those days could set a line of type and work the machines quite quickly, but you can imagine the frustration of spelling mistakes or last minute changes to the text or titles – a new line of type would have to be created again from the molds and inserted into the galleys before the printing began. Insert or remove a word, and the whole story might have to be reset in lead slugs as the width of the lines might change. Unlike today’s computers with easy editing abilities, once it was printed, there was no turning back.

Today’s post slug is similar. Before you hit Publish, the blog title or post slug can be changed. After you hit Publish, it’s hard to turn back the post slug.

The Penalties of Changing the Post Slug After Publishing

When you hit the Publish button, WordPress cleans up your post title into a viable permalink URL. For instance, if your post title includes apostrophes or commas, it removes those.

It's a Long, Sad Story I'd Be Tellin'

becomes

its-a-long-sad-story-id-be-tellin

You can manually set your post slug before you hit the Publish button, possibly turning the above into:

long-sad-story-to-tell

When you hit Publish, whatever is in the post slug form stays there. That’s part of the problem if you screw up your post title or the post slug.

Once you hit Publish on your blog post, a series of actions happen which make it hard to turn back the clock and change your post slug.

A ping is sent to a pinging service which notifies search engines and directories that you’ve updated your blog, giving them an invitation to come visit. Some visit immediately, or within the next 24 hours, so changes to your post slug in that time period might be safe, but after that, your post may already be indexed in the search engine. Change the link, and if it comes up in the search results, the potential visitor will arrive on a 404 Page Not Found Error, lost on your blog.

Examples of trackbacks in WordPressAny links within your blog post trigger the automatic trackback feature of WordPress, sending trackbacks to all posts you linked to within your blog and to off-site blogs with trackbacks enabled. The link appears within their posts and within their Comments Panel. There is nothing you can do to change the link on their side, so if they click the trackback link to your blog post, they will find a 404 Page Not Found Error if you changed the post slug.

The moment you hit the Publish button, your blog post is added to your feeds. Whether your feeds are handled through the built-in WordPress feed service, Feedburner, FeedBlitz, or any other feed service, once that post slug goes into your feed, anyone clicking on the link to that post from their feed reader will get a 404 Page Not Found Error on your blog.

So what do you do if you misspell a word, want to change the title, or totally screw up your post title after you hit Publish?

You have some options, as I explained in Change the Post Title – Also Change the Post Slug, when faced with this very dilemma:

  1. Change the Post Slug, which will change the URL, which will break links to the article. I can either trust others to detect the broken link (ha!) or notify everyone I find in the trackbacks and incoming links list that I’ve changed the URL. However, this is time consuming and reliant upon others to fix their links. And how can I ever find all the links to the post that might come from non-trackback powered sites?
  2. Change the Post Slug and add a ReDirect to my .htaccess file. This is probably the best all around solution. I can set a ReDirect code in my .htaccess file in the root directory which will redirect the incoming “wrong” link to the right “new” link and no one would notice. I would do this on my full WordPress site and not think about it, but on , I don’t have any access to my files, root directory, or anything under the hood. So this isn’t an option for this blog.
  3. Leave it alone. This is probably the best answer, as it doesn’t really matter what the URL is as long as it gets to the post. It does, however, matter what the title is representative of the article and helps readers understand what the post is about.

Prevention is the Best Cure

Think through your post title well before hitting the Publish button. If you change your mind, do it before you move the mouse to click Publish.

If you are working with future posts and make a mistake in a title, like I did recently, spelling “Blog Herald” as “Blog Hearld”, you can edit the blog post before it is published, and change the spelling in the post title, and then change the post slug to reflect the correction.

WordPress Post Slug on the Wirte Post PanelWordPress sets the URL title in the post slug form, a box in the right side of your WordPress Write Post panel. While the post is in Draft mode, the post slug is blank. When published, as a future post or immediately, the post slug is created. At any time before the post is released to the public, you can change the post slug, but you have to do it manually.

If the change to the post title is important, but maintaining the link is more important, then change the post title only, and leave the page slug alone, as I did with Do-It-Yourself Search Engine Optimization. The post slug is dyi-search-engine... not diy-search-engine... for “Do-It-Yourself”. I changed it in the post title but left the post slug alone because it had been linked to too many times over months before I caught the slip.

Does it matter that the post slug and post title don’t match? Sometimes. Readers and search engines tend to be suspicious of a post titles and URLs like:

Make Money Blogging and slippery-slopes-when-first-we-cope

There’s no connection between the two. However, “Make Money Blogging” and make-money-4529 doesn’t bother them. Still, connecting the two as close as possible still says a lot about you and your blog’s integrity.

Pay close attention to your post titles and make sure they right, representative of your post content, and contains the words people need to know when searching for information on this topic, and make it right before you hit Publish. Your blogging life will be much easier.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network, and author of Blogging Tips, What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging.

24 Comments

  1. Posted September 2, 2007 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Permalinks are also known as “pretty links”, the URLs which have words not numbers

    I must protest this — it implies that the numeric ?p=123 links are not permalinks. They are. A permalink is merely a link that doesn’t change… a link that will always point to that resource even after it no longer appears on the front page. In the days before permalinks, a link to a blog entry could be something like http://example.com/#july03-2001, which would only work as long as that entry was on the front page. Thus, not permanent.

    ?p=123 links may not be pretty, but they are permanent, and thus meet the definition for “permalink.”

    “Pretty links” or “pretty permalinks” is a good way to refer to permalinks that use words and date information instead of a meaningless ID number.

    And on the topic of post slugs, I think it is good advice to sometimes slightly tweak the post slug from the entry. For instance, title “10% of Parents Don’t Always Buckle their Children’s Seatbelts when Riding in the Car” would have a post slug of: “10-of-parents-dont-always-buckle-their-childrens-seatbelts-when-riding-in-the-car”

    It’s long, the percent sign got dropped so it’s sort of confusing, and “dont” looks strange. So you could fix it by manually making the slug: “10-percent-of-parents-forget-to-buckle-up-kids”

    Also: note that you can change your post slug after publishing. WordPress will remember the old slug and redirect people to the new slug. Of course, for the most amount of SEO juice, you’ll want to change it early — within a few minutes of posting, before people start linking to the old version.

  2. Posted September 2, 2007 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a quick video of changing a post slug. Note how the post slug is first “old-slug.” Then, after changing the slug to “new-slug,” if I enter the URL with “old-slug” into the address bar, I end up at the new (correct) “new-slug” URL. This will work in WordPress 2.1 and above.

  3. Posted September 2, 2007 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Good to know about the redirection, since it didn’t happen in older versions. Thanks, Mark.

  4. Posted September 2, 2007 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this great writeup Lorelle, although I’m equally grateful for Mark’s comment as well. This is great, informative post on an often overlooked area of WordPress, in my opinion. Makes me want to search your blog to see what you’ve written on “custom fields”. By the way, your book arrived at my house a week or so ago and I read it the other day. Nice job – there’s some really useful stuff in there, thanks for sending those books out after the shipper’s snafu @ Wordcamp.

  5. Posted September 2, 2007 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Yeah some good advice there, the slug (and url) and title is so under estimated indeed. I have only seen a little written on it as well and myself have written a few things on something similar.

  6. Posted September 2, 2007 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    There’s a Greasemonkey script for Firefox to warn you if you haven’t manually set a post slug.

  7. Posted September 4, 2007 at 1:53 am | Permalink

    Hi everyone,

    I tried the movie from Mark on my blog but it does not work. It gives me a 404 and I have version 2.1.3. But it works on another blog I have running 2.2.2. So I think it was only since the 2.2 release that that tip works

  8. Posted September 4, 2007 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    The link works to the video. By the way, it’s Flash, and some people have set their browsers to not view Flash or don’t have the Flash ability enabled. Make sure it is turned on and active then you can see the video.

  9. Posted September 12, 2007 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    I’m quite new to blogging and wondered what the post slugs were. This has really cleared it up for me. Thanks :)

    I was thinking I may have to change my URLs as I’m not sure if my current method is the best. It’s really useful seeinf the problems that will occur and how to get around this. I will have to lookup some htaccess stuff.

  10. Posted September 14, 2007 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this info, Lorelle. I recently changed the title of 3 posts and, being a little bit compulsive, changed the slugs, too. I figured it wasn’t a problem because there were no links to them. But I never thought about pings and trackbacks. Thanks! I’ll be changing my slugs back this evening. :)

  11. Posted September 18, 2007 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    So that’s what a slug does. I’ve seen a few attempts at explaining it in the past, but they usually dissolve quickly into a lot of jargon that loses my attention. Thanks for a clear, concise explanation.

  12. Posted September 20, 2007 at 2:52 am | Permalink

    My “post slug” does not work.. Say I have a title “test for the better”, and then I write “test-better” in my “post slug” window. When I hit publish, it comes up with test-for-the-better.html… how come? anyone had that problem before ?

  13. Posted September 20, 2007 at 2:56 am | Permalink

    okay.. investigated a little more… tried to de-activate a plugin called “slugger”, that changes danish letters ÆØÅ to ae, oe, and aa… now it works… hope that helps some people…

  14. Posted September 30, 2007 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle,

    It looks like you have a pretty good knowledge of wordpress and I was hoping you might be able to answer a question for me. I have tried creating several wordpress blogs but keep getting the same problem.

    For some reason any post I make, if I click the title link, category link, recent post or pretty much any other link, it sends me to a 404 error page. I have know idea what I’m doing wrong or how to fix it.

    Below is a link to my newest install, I hope you can help me out with this.

    http://financeandbusiness.info

    Any ideas or suggestions would be much appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Mike

  15. Posted September 30, 2007 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    Your first step needs to be to search and then ask on the WordPress Support Forums. I’m on the road traveling and cannot always respond in a timely manner, so I do not offer much WordPress support on this blog, except through the articles I write.

    However, it is clear that you have one or more of several problems. You are not using the www in your URL, and your site may not be set up to not use it. You will have to make modifications in the .htaccess file or use a WordPress Plugin to help, or upgrade to WordPress 2.3 which has better URL redirection. Your permalinks may be screwed up, make sure there is a slash at the end of the URL in your setup options and permalink references to your blog’s domain name in WordPress. Your web host might be limiting access to pages – doubtful, but it happens. And many other possibilities.

    Ask on the WordPress Support Forum for more help if these don’t ring a bell.

  16. Posted December 17, 2007 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Just a note – the lead wasn’t poured into the chase.

  17. Posted December 18, 2007 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Ah, you’re right. I messed it up. Thanks for the catch.

  18. Posted March 16, 2008 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Useful resource. Thanks for so nice explanation. I know now that what actually a slug is!

  19. Posted June 1, 2008 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Hi I’m from Indonesia !
    Wow this article is great, i looked for the topic on previous days. Thanks for the great explanation.

    Cheers !

    +Ihwan+

  20. chris h
    Posted February 19, 2009 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    does any know of a way to get the title-slug or post url without using the “permalink” tags

    i have an error with using wp-email plugin and i am looking for a way to manualy create a link that with the title slug nested in it
    (i.e. http://site/category/the-title-slug

    i have tried calling the title, but many have periods or quotations that are not included in the permalink/title slug

    any help would be great

    • Posted February 19, 2009 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

      If you are having a problem with that Plugin, you will need to contact the article. As for getting contextual URLs without the pretty permalink structure in place, there is no known way of doing that. After that, the WordPress Support Forum is your best help on this kind of question.

  21. Posted July 2, 2009 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Thank you for information

  22. Posted July 2, 2009 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for information

  23. Rajesh Chaukwale
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    This slug part is underestimated by most bloggers. The article will help all for sure.
    Nice work.


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