Back in the day, sitemaps were used as standalone pages that listed a map of all content on a website by listing all website pages, kind of like a directory.
Sitemaps existed so people could quickly find a page they needed on a site.
Nowadays, that’s no longer the case, sitemaps moved from HTML to XML, and are mostly used for search engines and not people.
What is a sitemap?
XML sitemaps help search engine robots navigate your website pages quickly and list your content in a machine-readable format. Essentially, it’s how website owners tell search engines what pages exist on their website. Also, XML sitemaps inform search engines how often your site is updated, and which links take precedence over others.
Sitemaps won’t help with the search engine ranking; however, they help bots crawl your website more efficiently and find more content, which will often result in a better ranking.
Sitemaps are very important for SEO (Search Engine Optimization), especially if your site is new and doesn’t have many backlinks as search engines can’t discover your content as quickly.
Creating an XML sitemap in WordPress
To create a sitemap on your WordPress website, log in to your WordPress dashboard, head to Plugins > Add New option. Fill in Google XML Sitemaps in the search field in the top-right corner, and click on the Install Now button:
Once installed, click the Activate button to activate the plugin:
Once it’s activated, the Google XML Sitemaps plugin will generate a sitemap of your website by default, and you can see it by going to https://yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml URL (replace yourdomain.com with the actual domain name):
Even though the plugin works out of the box, we recommend reviewing settings to see if you can optimize it even further.
For the plugin settings, head to the Settings > XML-Sitemap option.
The top section shows status information and if search engines have been notified about your sitemap. It provides information on what to do if there’s a problem:
The Basic Options section allows you to choose if you want to notify Google and Bing search engines, add the sitemap to robots.txt file, increase PHP memory limit and execution time limit, and so on:
Default settings are fine, but you can tailor them specifically to your site and use-case.
The Additional Pages section allows you to add pages to your XML sitemap manually. This is very useful if you have static pages that weren’t created by WordPress:
Next, you can set how the plugin designates priority to posts. By default, it’s set to the number of comments to determine the post’s priority:
The Sitemap Content and Excluded Items sections allow you to include and exclude content from your sitemap:
If you run an Ecommerce online store, you would want to include products, product categories, etc.
Lastly, you can configure the frequency and priority of your sitemap content.
Keep in mind that search engines can choose to use this information, but they may ignore it depending on their standards:
Once you’ve finished setting up the plugin, click the Update options button to save changes.
Submitting a sitemap to search engines
Search engines are smart enough to find your new sitemap, but we recommend submitting your first sitemap manually to be on the safe side.
When it comes to Google, you need to submit your sitemap via the Google Search Console.
Once you’re setup on Google Search Console, head to your Google Search Console dashboard and click the Sitemaps link under the Index section:
Put in your sitemap URL under the Add a new sitemap field, and click the Submit button:
Keep in mind that it will take a bit for Google to crawl your entire website, but you should be able to see basic sitemap statistics quickly.
It will show the number of links Google found in your sitemap, how many were indexed, a proportion of images to web pages.
To submit your sitemap to Bing, head to Bing Webmaster Tools, and create a free account. Once you’ve added and verified your website, click on the Sitemaps link in the left-hand menu:
Next, click the Submit sitemap button:
Put in your sitemap URL and click the Submit button once completed:
Now that you’ve submitted your sitemap to Google and Bing, make sure to keep an eye on your sitemap statistics.
If you see many crawl errors and pages excluded from the search coverage – it means something is wrong with your SEO settings.
Make sure that you’re not blocking any content from your end. Google will, by default, skip duplicate content, pages excluded by the robots.txt file, pages with no or little content.