Back in the old days (the early 2000s), you may recall the popular sitemap link located in the footer of your favorite websites. In most cases, it opened an HTML page that listed all the pages of the website. The idea was that a user could visit the page and navigate the site and get a better understanding of the website’s content. But thanks to advancements in web design, you will seldom see a modern website that includes an old-fashioned sitemap. However, most serious WordPress installations have a “hidden” sitemap known as an XML sitemap!
What is an XML Sitemap?
Well the name itself is kind of a giveaway! Basically, a sitemap is a map of your website that contains a list of your site’s URLs. It helps search engines like Google and Bing crawl your website by providing a “map” of the content you would like to index. A more effective way for search engines to index your site, rather than having to follow internal links.
The list is stored in an XML file. XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language. XML was designed to store and transport data. It is both human- and machine-readable.
Furthermore, sitemaps can store “metadata” which provides engine bots with additional information about your content.
Here is a sample XML sitemap that contains just one URL.
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
Notice the information stored between the tags? Well, let’s dig a little deeper into what they mean.
- <urlset> (required) → Encapsulates the file and references the current sitemap protocol standard.
- <url> (required) → Parent tag for each URL entry. The remaining tags are children of this tag.
- <loc> (required) → URL of the page.
- <lastmod> (optional) → The date of last modification of the file.
- <changefreq> (optional) → How frequently the page is likely to change. This value provides general information to search engines and may not correlate exactly to how often they crawl the page. Valid values are:
- <priority> (optional) → The priority of this URL relative to other URLs on your site. Valid values range from 0.0 to 1.0. This value does not affect how your pages are compared to pages on other sites—it only lets the search engines know which pages you deem most important for the crawlers. The default priority of a page is 0.5.
So what does a sitemap look like in WordPress? Well, here are two screenshots and a link to our sitemap! We use the popular Yoast SEO plugin (more about that later on).
Our website has two sitemaps, this is the overview:
And this is our post sitemap, containing a list of our posts and helpful metadata.
Benefits of Adding a Sitemap to your WordPress Site
Now that we have a better understanding of what XML sitemaps are, the benefits should be a little clearer.
- Improve crawl times – Sitemaps can help search engines crawl your content faster than if they would have to follow your website’s internal links. Modern sitemaps are also updated dynamically. Overal, you should see your content getting indexed faster.
- Prioritized content – Thanks to sitemap tags, you can prioritize important content over other content on your website. For example, your homepage could have a priority of 1.0 while your terms page could be attributed with a lower priority of 0.2.
- Media content – For content-rich websites that feature plenty of images and videos, you can create a separate sitemap to improve their indexation as well.
- Monitor search engine performance – From your Google or Bing search console, you can use your sitemap to quickly ascertain how effectively you are indexing your pages in the search engines.
Sitemaps do not affect search rankings. However, if there are pages on your website that are no indexed, a sitemap can help notify search engines of their existence.
Well, that’s the basics about sitemaps, next we will review the best WordPress plugins!
The Top 6 XML Sitemap Plugins for WordPress
1. All in One SEO Pack
One of the most popular WordPress plugins of all time!
The All in One SEO Pack optimizes WordPress websites for SEO. It’s easy to use and works out of the box for beginners and has advanced features for developers. The plugin ships a free and a premium version.
Among the plugin’s numerous features are two sitemap settings. The first is a regular XML sitemap for your site’s pages. The second is an XML sitemap for your images which can be submitted to Google and Bing.
By default, an XML sitemap will not be added to your application. To add one, simply visit the Feature Manager and activate the XML sitemaps extension.
2. Yoast SEO
The number SEO plugin in the world!
Just like the All in One SEO Pack, Yoast SEO is an all in one SEO solution for WordPress. Yoast is used by some of the most popular websites in the world and small businesses alike.
Among the plugin’s many features is an XML Sitemap.
To get your XML sitemap link, visit the General page and select the Features tab. Where you will have the option to enable and disable the sitemap.
Fixmysite.com uses Yoast SEO!
3. Google XML Sitemaps
If you don’t want to install and configure an SEO plugin on your website, then the Google XML Sitemaps plugin is a wonderful stand-alone solution.
The plugin has been refined over 9 years and is rated as one of the best plugins in the WordPress repository.
It does exactly what it advertises – provides a complete XML sitemap for search engines. It will not break your site, slow it down or conflict with other plugins.
You can also submit the sitemap to Bing and any other search engine.
4. Google Sitemap by BestWebSoft
Google Sitemap plugin automatically generates an XML sitemap for your WordPress website and helps search engines index your blog. The plugin helps web crawlers to extract the structure of your website more effectively.
The plugin supports default WordPress pages as well as custom URLs. Which is ideal if you uploaded custom files to your server which are not part of your WordPress installation.
The sitemap can be submitted in your Google and Bing Webmaster account.
5. Simple Wp Sitemap
Simple Wp Sitemap is a sitemap plugin that generates both an XML and an HTML sitemap. Both sitemaps are updated automatically every time you publish a post or page. Which means they’re always up to date and that you only have to install and activate the plugin once.
Simple Wp also supports the option to add pages to the sitemaps that aren’t part of your original WordPress site. For instance, if you create a little HTML file and upload to your server and want it to be included in them, it’s easily done. You can also block pages that you don’t want to be included.
6. Simple Sitemap
Simple Sitemap adds a good old-fashioned HTML sitemap to your website! There are flexible options to include only the content you want to include, and to format the output.
It takes just seconds to add a sitemap to your website. Simply include the [simple-sitemap] shortcode on a page to display a dynamically generated sitemap. It’s that easy!
This gives your visitors an efficient way to view ALL your site’s content in ONE place.
For advanced users, the developers also offer a premium version with a starting of $29 USD.
How to Submit your XML Sitemap to Google & Bing?
Now that you have created your sitemap using one of the above plugins, it’s time to submit it to the popular search engines. For Fixmysite.com we submitted one to Google and the other to Bing.
First, you will need a Google Webmaster Account. If you haven’t created one yet, you are missing out!
Once you have signed up, in your dashboard visit the Crawl tab and select Sitemaps.
Then click the ADD/TEST SITEMAP button and enter your sitemap’s URL.
By submitting your sitemap, Google will provide you with a suite of helpful statistics. You will be able to monitor:
- Indexed URLs and Images
- Search Analytics
- Crawl Errors
A task often overlooked by webmasters is to submit their sitemap to Bing! Yes, Google rules the web, but Bing is the default search on all Microsoft products! So, it’s well worth the effort.
Bing has its own webmaster panel. If you don’t have an account, you can sign up for one here.
In the control panel, navigate to “Configure My Site” and click on Sitemaps.
Enter your full sitemap URL in the form on the top of the page, and submit it.
Now Create your Sitemap ASAP!
I hope you enjoyed our overview and found one of our listed plugins to be helpful! An XML sitemap is a must for every WordPress user that is serious about their SEO and SEM efforts. Though it doesn’t guarantee better rankings, it can help search engines like Bing and Google crawl and index your website.
Since it’s soo easy to setup, go create one ASAP! And if you have any question, please don’t hesitate to ask them in the comment section below!