If you own a WordPress website, you should be familiar with the term Search Engine Optimization (SEO). And if by chance you are not, just know that the goal of SEO is to show popular search engines such as Google the content and structure of your website in an organized way so it can be indexed. And by indexed, I mean its ability to show up in search engine results, preferable on page one.
In an effort to keep up with the strict demands of search engines, Google introduced XML sitemaps in 2005 as a way to better show website content and structures to search engines. Google aimed to help search engines keep informed “about all of your new web pages or updates, and increase the coverage of your web pages in the Google index.”
XML sitemaps hold onto the URLs of your WordPress website, complete with recent updates and fresh new content, and lets Google know it exists. This way Google, and other search engines like Yahoo and Bing, are aware that your website exists and displays your site’s URLs in relevant search results.
What Is a Sitemap and Why Are They Important?
Sitemaps are files that list the web pages of your website for Google and other search engines about the content and organization of your website.
From there, search engine web crawlers read this file and alert search engines that information exists. Then when someone searches for information that your website has, it displays in the search results.
But do you really need to create an XML sitemap for your website?
Google says yes. And here are their reasons for saying so:
- If your website is very large and contains a lot of information, Google web crawlers may overlook some important information such as new content or updated pages.
- If there is a lack of interlinking within your own content, listing them on a sitemap will ensure Google indexes them and displays them in search results if necessary.
- If there are no external websites linking to your website, Google web crawlers may never discover your website and index the content you have. Having a sitemap guarantees your website is found and indexed properly.
- If your website contains rich content or appears in Google News, a sitemap will help show search engines additional information.
As you can see, having an XML Sitemap can be very beneficial to getting your website found and indexed by Google so site visitors can easily find the valuable content you work so hard to provide them.
How to Create an XML Sitemap for WordPress
As with most things WordPress related, there are plenty of plugins available for creating an XML sitemap. Today we will look at a few popular ones that you can choose from, and explore how to create one for your website using one of the options.
Google XML Sitemaps
Google XML Sitemaps is a WordPress plugin designed to help you create an XML sitemap that search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Ask.com will be able to find and index quickly and easily. Supporting all page and post types, Google XML Sitemaps also handles custom URLs. In addition, you can designate portions of your website to exclude from your official sitemap and specify the priority and frequency that web crawlers should re-index your website for changes. In the end, this plugin automatically notifies search engines every time you publish new content or update something on your website.
Google Sitemap by BestWebSoft
Google Sitemap by BestWebSoft automatically generates an XML sitemap for your WordPress website helping web crawlers to index your pages and place them into relevant search results. It conveniently adds to your Google Webmaster tools account and works with both WordPress pages and custom URLs. In addition, it adds a path to your sitemap file in robots.txt automatically. With a simple setup and no need to modify code, this plugin will definitely get your website’s sitemap up and running in no time.
That being said, we will look at how to create an XML sitemap using this versatile (and free!) plugin so that you can boost your SERPs immediately.
The first thing you need to do is install and active the Yoast SEO plugin from the WordPress Repository on your website. Now, although this plugin has XML sitemap functionality, it is important to remember that it does not automatically enable once you activate the plugin on your website. This is something you must manually enable for it to start working for you.
To enable the XML sitemap functionality on the Yoast SEO plugin, navigate to SEO > XML Sitemaps in your WordPress dashboard.
From there, toggle the tool enabling the XML functionality on your website.
Here you can also configure the maximum number of entries per sitemap page you would like to include. If you are unsure about how many you would like include, simply keep the default number, which is 1000.
And that’s it. Yoast SEO will now automatically create an XML sitemap for your website and continuously update it as you add new content and update elements on your website.
In addition, notice the section where you can view your website’s XML sitemap. After clicking on it, you will see how many sitemaps have been created since you initiated the sitemap creation, including every time you have made an update or added new content. Remember how to access this URL because you will need it later to submit your newly created XML sitemap.
How do Search Engines Learn About My XML Sitemap?
In general, most search engines are aware that you have created a sitemap and index it right away. However, it is recommended that you submit your sitemap to Google itself using Google Webmaster tools to ensure that all search engines see your sitemap.
To do this, first go to Google Webmaster tools and sign in with your Google account if you are not already signed in. Once signed in, you can now access Google Webmaster tools. There you will see a button labeled “Add a property”. Click on it and add the URL of your website.
Once you enter your website’s URL, you will be taken to a new screen where you will need to verify your website.
Here you can verify your website using one or more of the various options. After choosing the option that best suites you, and you have verified your website, you will be notified with a congratulations message.
Lastly, you have to submit your website’s XML sitemap to Google Webmaster tools. First, navigate to the tab labeled Sitemaps and select the Add/Test Sitemap tab button. Then add the URL to your website’s sitemap and click on Submit.
It may take some time for Google to crawl you website and properly index it once you have submitted your website. However, once it is submitted, it will look something like this:
You can then click on this submitted sitemap and get a ton of useful statistics about your sitemap such as the number of pages and images that have been submitted and indexed.
In the end, creating an XML sitemap, whether through a dedicated plugin or with your general SEO plugin and tools, is important. Indexing your website’s content and updates will significantly improve how readers find your website via their search results. In addition, accessing valuable information through Google Webmaster tools will help you tweak your website to become more user friendly and searchable so that its performance in search engines improves as well.
Have you ever created an XML sitemap for your WordPress website? I would love to hear all about it in the comments below!