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A WordPress Sitemap: Why You Need It and How You Can Make It

This post is a comprehensive guide on WordPress sitemaps. You will learn why you need a sitemap, what types of sitemaps exist, and how you can create one yourself.

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There are different kinds of sitemaps, as well as various opinions on their importance for SEO rankings. In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • Types of sitemaps
  • Reasons for creating or not creating sitemaps
  • Ways of creating WordPress sitemaps
  • Main methods of submitting XML sitemaps to search engines

As WordPress is one of the most common CMSs, we’ll consider it in more detail here. Yet, the general notions about sitemaps and their submission are valid for all websites.

Let’s give sitemaps some thoughts, so continue reading. 

What Are the Most Known Sitemap Types?

First of all, it’s necessary to define the basic types of sitemaps. You may probably have already heard about two types of sitemaps:

  • HTML sitemaps
  • XML sitemaps

Though these sitemap types have much in common, they also have their specific differences.

What Is an XML Sitemap?

An XML sitemap is an informative file aimed at search engines. This file lists URLs available for crawling. It can also contain additional data about each URL, such as the date of the latest update, the frequency of changes, and its relative importance compared to other pages.

What Is an HTML Sitemap?

An HTML sitemap is a page on your website aimed mostly at users, functioning as a roadmap or as a book’s table of contents. This page:

  • Contains links to all important pages on the site
  • Improves website navigation
  • Provides additional interlinking
  • Is accessible and understandable to search engines

In other words, an HTML sitemap provides visitors with organized information about the site’s structure. As Google Search Central channel states, HTML sitemaps are ‘a fantastic way to distribute page ranks throughout your site’.

Differences Between an XML and HTML WordPress Sitemap

Although both sitemap types have the same aim (to list available URLs), their functions are different. An XML sitemap is intended for search engines, and it doesn’t help website visitors.

An HTML sitemap mostly serves users who can see it on the website. Due to the HTML sitemap’s formatting, website visitors can easily explore the site’s structure and navigate to essential pages. Often, you can find links to such sitemaps in the footer.

Search engines can understand both sitemaps types. If you place the link to the HTML sitemap in the footer, bots can easily access all links available to them.

Do You Really Need an XML Sitemap?

There are many articles claiming that you must have an XML sitemap to improve your website ranking. However, the importance of a sitemap is often overestimated. Here are the reasons why.

Firstly, search engines can discover URLs without a sitemap. According to Google documentation, if your website is small and has well-thought navigation where all pages are interlinked, there’s no need to create a sitemap. Crawlers will be able to discover all links without it.

Secondly, the fact that you created and submitted an XML sitemap doesn’t influence website rankings. It’s up to search bots to crawl and index the pages, so you can’t make this process faster just by providing an XML sitemap.

Advantages of Creating an XML Sitemap

At the same time, there are certain benefits that you get with an XML sitemap.

1. Assisting Search Bots in Discovering the Content

Sitemaps facilitate crawlers’ job in finding the links. When you create and submit a sitemap, you are inviting search bots to come and crawl your website. In other words, you are directly announcing your site’s existence to search engines.

If you don’t submit a sitemap, sooner or later, search engines will still find your website and inspect the pages. If there are links to your website on other resources, search engines will access your pages. Nevertheless, for new sites that have no or few backlinks, submitting a sitemap can make page indexing faster.

2. Easier Page Indexing

Sitemaps usually contain such valuable information as the time of the last update. Consequently, search engines can retrieve this data and ‘see’ the need to crawl updated content. This feature is especially important for dynamic, fast-changing websites that regularly add new content.

3. Prioritizing Crawling

Large websites greatly benefit from sitemaps as the latter help search engines to prioritize what pages to crawl, according to Google Search Central. Besides, you ensure that search bots don’t overlook some of the pages if they aren’t naturally interlinked.

4. Providing Information about Specific Types of Content

Besides a general XML sitemap, there are several sitemap extensions that provide additional information about such specific types of content as:

  • Video 
  • Images
  • News

For instance, you can tell search bots about the video category, its running time, or age appropriateness. Likewise, news websites can specify an article title, its publication date, and language. Giving search engines a better understanding of the content increases its chances of appearing higher in search engine results.

Sitemap Guidelines

There are various recommendations about XML sitemaps. Here, we’ll consider the basic ones that you should know.

Limits to the Number of URLs and File Size

Each sitemap shouldn’t exceed 50MB in size. You can use gzip compression to reduce file size. Also, the sitemap can contain 50,000 URLs at most. If your site is bigger than 50,000 URLs, you should create various sitemaps and unite them with a sitemap index file.

Location

You should place your sitemap at the root directory of your HTML server. In other words, your sitemap should have an address similar to http://example.com/sitemap.xml. 

Additionally, all URLs included in the sitemap must have the same protocol (http or https, for instance) and be placed on the same host. So, if the sitemap’s location is http://www.example.com/sitemap.xml, it shouldn’t contain such URLs as https://www.example.com/ or https://example.com/.

Similarly, you should create separate sitemaps for your site’s subdomains, such as http://subdomain.example.com/sitemap.xml. 

Creating XML WordPress Sitemaps

Now, it’s time to speak about different ways of how to create a sitemap in WordPress. We’ll start with XML sitemaps.

Method 1. How to Create an XML Sitemap in WordPress Without a Plugin

The first way is to generate an XML sitemap without any plugins. You can do this using:

  • WordPress automatic sitemap creation
  • Online generators

Using the CMS to Create a Sitemap

The WordPress 5.5 version features the automatic creation of XML sitemaps. You simply need to add ‘wp-sitemap.xml’ to your domain name.

Advantage: it’s a fast and easy method. New WordPress users, even if they don’t know how to add a sitemap to WordPress, can generate it without much effort.

Disadvantage: the default WordPress sitemap isn’t flexible. It’s not easy to adjust the file and delete URLs if you don’t want them to appear in your sitemap.

Using Online Generators to Get an XML Sitemap

Numerous online resources, such as an XML Sitemaps Generator, can generate a sitemap file. 

Advantage: you don’t have to install anything to your WordPress admin panel, as you can do everything online.

Disadvantages

  • Downloading/uploading the file
  • Updating sitemaps
  • A limited number of links in free accounts

You have to download the sitemap file generated online and manually upload it to your website. Afterward, when your website changes, it’s necessary to create a new sitemap and upload the file again.

Furthermore, many online generators are free for only small websites (up to 500 pages). If you have more URLs to include in your sitemap, you’ll have to purchase a pro account.

Method 2. How to Create an XML Sitemap in WordPress Using Plugins

Various WordPress plugins can help you create a custom sitemap. Firstly, SEO plugins, among other functions, let you generate sitemaps. So, if you have an installed SEO plugin, check its features to see whether sitemaps are available there. Secondly, there are specialized plugins for creating sitemaps for those who don’t want to install an SEO plugin. 

Creating an XML Sitemap with SEO Plugins

Numerous SEO plugins that create sitemaps are available in WordPress. Here, we’ll consider just three of them.

Yoast SEO

As one of the best SEO plugins for WordPress, the Yoast SEO plugin has had more than 5 million installations since 2008. It’s compatible with WordPress 5.6 or higher. Regular updates extend its functionality, and XML sitemaps are one of the free features you get.

After installing the plugin, you’ll see ‘SEO’ on the left-hand side of the WordPress dashboard. Open the General section and go to the ‘Features’ tab. Then, you’ll see the line ‘XML sitemaps’ and the switch ‘On/off’ that you can toggle. Make sure that sitemaps are turned on, and save the changes. The plugin will generate the sitemap automatically.

If you want to see your WordPress sitemap, click the question mark and, in the description, choose ‘See the XML sitemap’.

You’ll notice that Yoast SEO adds various sitemaps for all content types to the index sitemap file. By default, there are pages, posts, categories, tags, etc. We recommend checking all sitemaps carefully and excluding links that shouldn’t be indexed (we’ll talk about that a bit later).

The sitemaps by Yoast SEO have /sitemap_index.xml extension, not /sitemap.xml. It means that you don’t have to open the plugin’s settings to see the sitemap, as you can add /sitemap_index.xml to your domain. Additionally, if you can still find a sitemap by adding /sitemap.xml, it means that another plugin or WordPress itself generates the sitemap. Make sure you choose only one option and create one WordPress sitemap.

AIOSEO

Another plugin, All in One SEO, also started quite long ago, in 2007, and has more than 3 million installations. It works with WordPress 4.9 or higher and is updated regularly. The free AIOSEO version lets you create a general sitemap. The Pro version includes advanced sitemap options, such as video and news sitemaps.

After installing the AIOSEO plugin, you’ll see the option ‘Sitemaps’ under All in One SEO on the dashboard. The plugin automatically generates the sitemap, replacing the default WordPress sitemap. Make sure that the switch ‘Enable Sitemap’ is turned on, and preview your sitemap.

It’s possible to customize your WordPress sitemap and choose what to include in it. To do this, find the Sitemap settings section and select the necessary options.

SEOPress

SEOPress is also a convenient tool to create an XML sitemap even in its free version. This plugin is compatible with WordPress 4.7 or higher, has more than 200.000 installations, and gets regular updates.

To create your WordPress XML sitemap, go to the XML Sitemap section in SEO (after installing the plugin, surely) and click ‘Enable XML – HTML Sitemap’. Remember to save the changes. There is a button ‘View your sitemap’ so that you can check what the file contains.

The SEOPress plugin also lets you customize the sitemap. By default, all your posts, categories, pages, etc., will be added to the sitemap. If you don’t want to include specific links, select the necessary options in Post Types and Taxonomies tabs.

Excluding Pages from XML Sitemaps 

As we mentioned above, it’s essential to decide what pages your sitemap should contain. Sometimes, automatically generated sitemaps include thin content pages – the ones that are not valuable for visitors. Depending on your website’s type, such pages can be:

  • Post tags
  • Post types
  • Category pages
  • Product pages
  • Author pages

Moreover, other WordPress plugins can create additional pages that also get to the sitemap. For instance, in the screenshot below, you can see a sitemap that contains a Jet popup, Jet Menu, Jet Engine, and Jet WooBuilder sitemaps. The pages are created by JetWidgets and don’t have to be added to the sitemap.

To exclude such sitemaps from the index sitemap file, you should check Content Types and switch off unnecessary types in the Yoast SEO plugin.

Sitemap settings in AIOSEO also let you exclude post types and taxonomies (categories and tags) when you create a sitemap.

So, if you have created a small eCommerce website with several products and posts on the blog, your sitemap generated by Yoast SEO will look like this:

Using Specialized Plugins to Generate WordPress Sitemaps

If you don’t wish to install SEO plugins with various features, you can also find specialized ones, such as Companion Sitemap Generator. It’s suitable for WordPress version 4.6.0 or higher and has more than 9.000 installations. You can generate an XML sitemap, adding or removing pages, categories, posts, post tags, etc.

Creating an HTML Sitemap in WordPress

Similar to XML sitemaps, there are several methods of generating an HTML sitemap.

1. Use Online Generators

The XML Sitemaps Generator mentioned earlier can also create HTML sitemaps. Just enter your website’s address, generate a sitemap, scroll the page down, and download your sitemaps (including an HTML sitemap) as a ZIP file. Before downloading, you can preview your HTML sitemap.

2. Generate an HTML Sitemap with Plugins

Similarly to generating XML sitemaps, you may use plugins to create a WordPress HTML sitemap. The Companion Sitemap Generator described above lets you get both an XML and HTML sitemaps.

You can also use other plugins, such as WP Sitemap Page, that specialize in generating an HTML sitemap (not an XML sitemap). This plugin works with WordPress 3.0 and it was updated 2 months ago.

Which Method Should You Choose?

Google Search Central recommends finding a way of automatic sitemap generation rather than creating it manually. So, choose the best sitemap generator for WordPress that you like and enjoy the ease of sitemap creation.

How to Submit Your XML Sitemap to Search Engines

After you have created, modified, and checked your XML sitemap, it’s necessary to submit it to search engines. Let’s discuss the advantages of submitting a sitemap and the ways of doing it (for Google and Bing) briefly.

Benefits of Submitting a Sitemap to Search Engines

After you submit the sitemap, you can do the following:

  • Check if the sitemap was processed successfully
  • See the time of the latest crawl
  • Monitor URL index coverage in search engines

For instance, in the screenshot below you can see that the sitemap has a ‘Success’ status, which means that it was fetched by search crawlers. Moreover, you can check when it was read last.

Later, you can see more detailed reports about indexing your website’s URLs. Particularly, it’s possible to inspect how many URLs are valid and which pages (if any) have errors.

If any links are excluded from indexing, you can get information about the reasons for that.

Search engines can find sitemaps themselves; yet, it’s better to submit the sitemap manually to make sure it was fetched and processed.

Submitting Your XML Sitemap to Google via Google Search Console

To add your website’s sitemap to Google, you can use a free tool – Google Search Console. After creating an account, you have to select a property type (either domain or URL prefix), and verify your property. You can choose from various methods, and an HTML tag method is the easiest one. You can copy the code and add it to the homepage using AIOSEO and Yoast plugins.

After adding the HTML tag to the website and verifying the property in the Google Search Console, you can add the sitemap. Simply do the following:

  • Find ‘Sitemaps’ on the left-hand panel
  • Add your sitemap’s URL
  • Click ‘Submit’ and wait

Search bots will need some time to crawl and process URLs. Afterward, you’ll see the results and statistics.

Submitting Your XML Sitemap to Bing with Bing Webmaster Tools

To submit your website to Bing, you should use Bing Webmaster Tools. The good news is that you can use your Google account to import your site to Bing. Therefore, if you have already submitted your sitemap to Google, doing this with Bing will be fast and easy.

Alternatively, you can submit your website to Bing manually. It’s necessary to verify the property (similar to Google Search Console).

Submitting Your XML Sitemap via an HTTP request

It’s also possible to submit the sitemap to search engines with the ping tool. Go through these steps:

  • Open the browser and type the address of the search engine where you want to submit your file (https://www.google.com/, https://www.bing.com/, or any other).
  • Add the ping request for the sitemap to the address: ping?sitemap=.
  • Type the full address of the sitemap (such as https://www.example.com/sitemap.xml) and press ‘Enter’.

The address will look like this: https://www.google.com/ping?sitemap=https://www.example.com/sitemap.xml. If the request is successful, you’ll get an HTTP 200 response code. It means that the search engine has got your sitemap.

Submitting Your XML Sitemap via a robots.txt File

If you have a robots.txt file, you can easily add a line specifying the sitemap’s location. It should look like this:

Sitemap: https://www.example.com/sitemap.xml.

The next time search bots crawl your robots.txt file, they will discover the sitemap.

How to Utilize XML Sitemaps to Grow Your Website?

Besides the benefits that we’ve already discussed (controlling page indexation and identifying any mistakes), sitemaps have more advantages. They are significant for growing websites.

Regulate Relative Importance of Pages

While customizing the sitemap, you can set the priority of page scanning. Thus, you’ll instruct search engines and control indexing efficiently. You can be sure that the most important pages are scanned first.

Get Indexation Faster

If you have dynamically-generated pages, the sitemap helps you inform search engines about them. In other words, the sitemap ensures that newly-created pages won’t be overlooked by bots.

Add Regional Website Versions

In case you plan to extend your website and add other pages in different languages, you can inform search engines about regional versions with your sitemap. You should use special hreflang attributes when enumerating page versions.

Conclusion

To sum up, XML sitemaps are an efficient tool to inform search engines about your website structure, ensure that all pages are indexed and have no mistakes, and prioritize crawling. HTML sitemaps serve to improve website navigation for visitors.

The easiest way to generate a WordPress sitemap is using various plugins. They let you customize the file by adjusting the settings.


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Dmitriy Maschenko

Dmitriy is the Head of a division at PSD2HTML, an experienced web developer, and a prolific author of in-depth technology and business-related posts. He is always eager to share his years-long expertise with everyone who wants to succeed in the web development field.