Something revolutionary happened in 2005: Google launched its sitemap protocol. It soon became one of the first things every website owner needed to set up.
Sitemaps are crucial for SEO, ensuring an enhanced customer experience and boosting your online presence. No matter how perfect your WordPress website is, you won’t be able to get any traffic if search engines don’t index it.
But why do you need a WordPress sitemap, and what is it for? Read on as I explain everything to you in detail to help you add a sitemap to your WordPress site.
Let’s get started!
What is a WordPress Sitemap?
A sitemap is a file that contains all your website URLs.
Search engine robots store your content in a database before it’s returned to the internet users through the search results. In turn, it becomes easier for the bots to “crawl“ your website, helping to improve your rankings.
Think of it as a road map of your entire site specifically designed for a search engine.
It’ll make it more accessible to users, help robots find information about your content structure, and accelerate your site’s indexing. In short, there are several benefits of adding a WordPress sitemap to your website.
5 Tools to Improve Your WordPress Sitemap
You must’ve now understood why creating a sitemap is a priority for every website owner. There are several facets to this, which also means there’s lots of scope for improvement.
I’ve compiled a list of tools that can help you improve your WordPress sitemap below. Let’s take a look.
For creating a sitemap for your WordPress website, you have to code your URLs after matching the importance in your file structure.
A text editor like Sublime Text lets you create an XML file, where you can then add the corresponding code for every URL, such as location, the priority of the page, last changed, and changed frequency. It’s a lightning-fast program that is stable, mature, and comes with tons of useful features that make it suitable for developers of all skill levels.
XML Sitemap Validator
XML Sitemap is a free sitemap generator. But you can get extended functionality to detect broken links by subscribing to the paid Pro version.
You can use this sitemap tool to validate your code to ensure the syntax is correct with no errors. For instance, if you forget to add an end tag, this software tool will identify it immediately, allowing you to fix it faster.
WordPress sitemap can be simplified further if you use plugins. This way, you won’t have to worry about editing the code. I’ve listed a few of the best sitemap tools to make the whole shebang easier.
As you already have a WordPress website, you can install and activate Yoast SEO (Premium) to create a sitemap for your website.
This plugin lets you turn your sitemap on and off with a simple toggle switch. It generates an XML sitemap that contains links to your website content, which is automatically refreshed every time you change your content.
All in One SEO
The All in One SEO sitemap module has several setup options. You can set the plugin to schedule updates, notify Google and Bing about new posts, and include or exclude post types and taxonomies based on your needs.
All this helps ensure your web pages and posts are indexes periodically. Plus, you can always tweak your sitemap for higher SEO rankings and eliminate Google search console errors by removing non-indexed content.
You can use the free version of Screaming Frog to make any coding changes you want without having to change the code. All you have to do is follow the displayed prompt, and the code for the sitemap file will be modified automatically. From there, you can navigate through the tabs to change settings, and the sitemap will be adjusted accordingly.
The Basics of WordPress Sitemap
There are certain nuances you must keep in mind when creating a sitemap for your WordPress site. Read on as I cover them in more detail to help you get a better understanding.
XML vs. HTML
You’ll find two kinds of sitemaps: XML and HTML.
XML contains metadata, along with the various URLs of your website and other crucial information, such as when a specific URL was last updated, how frequently the changes occur, and so on.
On the other hand, HTML provides a straightforward navigation process for your website visitors. It specifies where pages like ‘Contact Us’ or ‘Shopping Cart’ are, making your site more user-friendly for your visitors and simultaneously improving your search engine ranking.
The main difference between the two is that XML is designed for search engines, while HTML focuses on website visitors.
So which HTML sitemap should you choose? XML or HTML?
I recommend having both sitemaps to make sure you aren’t missing any essential elements, the absence of which could disrupt your ability to deliver an optimal customer experience.
Ensures Faster and More Prioritized Crawls
Improved crawlability is the main benefit of having a sitemap. In Google‘s own words, “Search engine web crawlers like Googlebot read this file to more intelligently crawl your site.”
What’s more, they can help search engine robots crawl the content faster when compared to crawling without a sitemap. Even your content will get indexed faster. Plus, you can ask Google to prioritize crawling certain web pages on your site by adding metadata.
An XML sitemap can be useful for WP websites that use lots of images and videos.
Not a Replacement for Internal Link Structure
You shouldn’t treat sitemaps as a replacement for creating an internal link structure. Otherwise, you can seriously damage your chances to score Google site links.
Google still wants your content to have internally and externally pointing towards it. According to the search engine, “Using a site map doesn’t guarantee that all the items in your site will be crawled and indexed.”
In other words, you shouldn’t assume that search engines will index your content just because you included it in your sitemap. They might, but then again, they might not.
Therefore, while you need to use a sitemap, don’t rely on it solely if you want your content indexed.
Submitting Sitemaps to Major Search Engines
Once you have a working sitemap, you’ll have to submit it to search engines like Google. Not only will this ensure Google knows where to find your site, but it also gives you access to useful data about how many pages Google has indexed.
This is where a Google Search Console comes into the picture.
You need a Google Search Console account to submit your XML sitemap in Google. You can submit your sitemap by clicking on Crawl followed by Sitemaps once your account is set up. Click on ADD/TEST SITEMAP on the top right-hand corner of your screen.
Once that’s done, add the location of your website and click the Submit button. Additionally, you can view the statistics too after Google processes your sitemap. This will give you helpful information about any errors that might be occurring on your site.
The submission process is slightly different for Bing.
Here, you’ll have to create an account in Bing Webmaster Tools. After this, you can submit your sitemap from your dashboard.
5 Tricks for WordPress Sitemap
Some tricks can help you improve the quality of your WordPress sitemap and the results of creating one. Below, I’ve compiled a list of the five best techniques that can help you to enhance your sitemap effectively.
Prioritize Your Web Pages
Google’s sitemaps protocol lets you rank your web pages and give them a score between 0.1 and one. The pages you give a higher score will be crawled more often than ones with a lower score.
A good rule of thumb is to assign higher scores to dynamic pages where you update the content more frequently. For instance, if you have an active blog where you keep updating your posts, give it a higher score. ‘Contact Us’ or ‘About Us‘ pages are generally more static, so you can give them a lower score.
It can be tempting to assign higher scores to all pages, but you must resist the urge.
Search engines are more objective, and therefore, won’t be able to differentiate between your dynamic and static pages, causing you to lose some of the benefits.
Maintain the High Quality of Your Web Pages
Overall site quality greatly influences your ranking.
If your sitemap directs bots to thousands of low-quality pages, search engines will think your website is one that people wouldn’t want to visit—even if the pages you add are necessary, like login pages. Instead, you can try to direct bots to the more important pages on your website.
While you’re at it, make sure your pages are highly optimized, include images and videos, contain unique content, and prompt user engagement through comments and reviews.
Analyze Sitemap Reporting
The Google Search Console contains lots of valuable data, but SEO experts consider the Index Coverage Report the most important. This page lets you check indexation trends, address errors, and compare your sitemap to a list of pages indexed by Google, among other benefits.
It’s also possible that Google may have a different opinion on what pages are valuable. If it has indexed duplicated pages or pages that are unnecessary for your SEO strategy, you must make it a point to fix them. Select ‘All Submitted Pages‘ in the dropdown menu, and check excluded pages.
Swap Robots.txt With Meta Tag Wherever Possible
You can use the meta robots “noindex,follow” tag when you don’t want a page to be indexed.
While Google won’t index the page, it’ll preserve your link equity—something that can be useful down the line for utility pages that are important to your site but shouldn’t be showing up in search results.
Using robots.txt to block pages is best when you’re eating up your crawl budget. So if you find that Google is re-crawling and indexing unimportant pages at the expense of core pages, you can use robots.txt.
Pick Dynamic Sitemaps Over Large Websites
Use dynamic sitemaps for large websites that contain too many pages and are frequently updated. They are the ones that have a set of rules that lets them get published when pages are added or removed automatically, keeping them up to date.
You can also create different rules and logic to make dynamic sitemaps “dynamic.“ For instance, you can make a rule that lets you identify when a page should be added or a rule that determines if a non-index page should be changed to a regular page.
Dynamic sitemaps are also faster to access, making them more convenient for crawling. The chances of being corrupted are fewer too, which is its biggest leverage over static sitemaps that are easily corrupted.