Please note this article is from 2007. WordPress has come a long way to protect the links to your posts and Pages no matter how many times you change the post slug or post title. There are still some instances when the canonical url feature of WordPress doesn’t work and the old link to the post or Page results in a page-not-found error, but this is becoming rare.
I’ll come up with some title appropriate to the post during the draft process, then while editing the post in the WordPress Write [currently called Edit] 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. The address to a post is actually to the post ID number such as
example.com/?p=65432. WordPress has to option to use “pretty links,” turning the numbers for the post ID into words and sentences, called pretty permalinks.
This Blog Post is About Titles
which is the post slug.
The 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. When it cooled, the result was a line of lead with a sentence and it was 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 holding the galley of words and sentences in a block, or galley as some called it, would be put in the letterpress, ink would be rolled over the lead slugs, 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. It is set automatically when the post or Page is saved and maybe changed at any time.
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'
You can manually set your post slug before you hit the Publish button, possibly turning the above into:
When you change the post or Page slug after publishing, WordPress should automatically redirect to the new link. Most of the time it does, called canonical urls, however I’ve found that it isn’t consistent. I’ve changed many post and Page slugs over the years to have the old link result in a page-not-found error. WordPress does its best to keep the path clear to the post no matter what you name it.
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 may arrive on a 404 Page Not Found Error, lost on your blog. Again, WordPress does its best with canonical urls to keep the path to the post direct.
Any 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. This is another instance when WordPress should keep the path to the post but sometimes it doesn’t. It could also mean that the author of a trackbacked post to your site may have put the post in draft or deleted it as well.
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 on changing the post title and post slug when faced with this very dilemma:
- 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?
- 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 WordPress.com, 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.
- 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 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
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
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.
- Changing Titles in The Titles of WordPress Posts
- Change the Post Title – Also Change the Post Slug
- Dissecting the WordPress Post Title Link
- WordPress Design Details
- Writing Effective, Attention-Getting Headlines and Titles on Your Blog
- Creating Effective, Attention-Getting Headlines and Titles
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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.