How to Make a WordPress Sitemap and Improve SEO
Last Updated September 26th, 2021 · WordPress
Sitemaps are a common tool used in search engine optimization (SEO). Webmasters have been using them for well over a decade to maximize their websites’ exposure in the organic search results. By default, most WordPress sites don’t have sitemaps automatically generated for their content.
If you’re thinking about creating a WordPress sitemap you’re probably wondering how they work for SEO. We’ll go over the practical uses of a sitemap in terms of search engine optimization in this article. We will also discuss the best way to use a WordPress plugin to add a sitemap without any fuss or user input.
A sitemap is an Extensible Markup Language (XML) file containing information about a website’s pages, and in some cases, its images and videos. It acts as a digital directory by denoting where a website’s pages are located. Within a sitemap is a list of tag-enclosed URLs that correspond with the website’s pages. Sitemaps can include other information, but their primary purpose is to serve page URLs.
All XML sitemaps require a pair of opening and closing tags for each listed page URL. The tags are placed between a pair of opening and closing tags, which are considered parent tags.
Below is the format for a basic XML sitemap entry:
<url> <loc>https://www.example.com/first-page</loc> </url>
In addition to its location, sitemaps can denote when a page was last updated, the frequency at which it’s typically updated, the degree to which search engines should prioritize it when crawling, and more. Each of these optional pieces of information uses a separate pair of tags placed within the page’s tags. For a complete list of tags supported in sitemaps, visit sitemaps.org.
The SEO Benefits of Using Sitemaps
Better Search Engine Crawling
Sitemaps allow search engines to crawl websites more thoroughly, resulting in more indexed pages. Search engines can’t index a page until they discover it. When search engines find a sitemap on your website, they’ll have a list of all its pages. Search engines can then follow the sitemap’s URLs to visit and crawl your website’s pages.
Search engines don’t rely on sitemaps to discover pages. They can find pages by following traditional links and even unlinked URL mentions. Nonetheless, sitemaps make their job a little easier. With a sitemap, search engines can easily see where all of your website’s pages are located so that they can index them.
Improved Search Engine Rankings
Sitemaps can improve the search rankings of your website’s pages as well. Search engines don’t use sitemaps as a ranking signal, but they do use them for crawling purposes. Crawling, of course, is connected to rankings. If search engines rarely crawl a page, they may overlook updates to the page that would otherwise boost its rankings. If you updated a page with new SEO-friendly content, a sitemap can bring search engines back to it. Therefore, your website’s pages may rank higher if you use a sitemap.
Multimedia Content Analysis
You can use sitemaps to help search engines analyze your website’s images and videos. XML sitemaps support optional tags for both types of on-page media. If your website has a lot of images, you can create tags to specify their URLs, titles, licenses and geographic locations. Sitemaps support similar tags for videos but with a few extras, such as the location of thumbnails, durations, ratings, view counts, publication dates, geographic restrictions and more.
Search engines index other forms of content besides pages. Google and Bing, for example, have separate tabs for images and videos. Adding information about your website’s images and videos to a sitemap will help them rank in these tabs. Search engines will have a deeper understanding of the images and videos hosted on your website. As a result, they’ll know which keywords your website’s images and videos should rank for.
How to Create a WordPress Sitemap
Build a Sitemap by Hand
This is an offbeat option but there could be situations where you feel it is necessary. Using a standard text editor, you can create a sitemap by adding your website’s page URLs with the appropriate tags. A basic sitemap can consist entirely of page URLs with no other information. After adding your website’s page URLs, save the file as “sitemap” with the XML extension. Upload the file to your server and you’re done.
You can also use a web-based sitemap creator to automatically build a sitemap on the fly. Two of the most popular sitemap creators on the internet are XML-Sitemaps.com and My Sitemap Generator.
Regardless of how you create it, you should upload the sitemap to your website’s root directory. If you place it in a lower-level directory, search engines will crawl it less frequently.
Make a WordPress Sitemap with a Plugin
As we promised in the intro, building, and maintaining a sitemap by hand is not necessary for WordPress users. You can take out all of the busy work with some help from the community of WordPress developers.
If you have a large WordPress-powered site with hundreds of pages, you may want to use a different method. There are several good plugins to choose from that will generate a sitemap for you. One of the big upsides to this approach is that these plugins will keep your WordPress sitemap updated. Any time you publish new content it will be automatically included in your sitemap. You won’t have to lift a finger.
Most of the WordPress plugins that generate sitemaps come with a lot of other SEO-related capabilities. The two plugins we recommend the most to our clients are Yoast SEO and The SEO Framework. Each of these plugins has its own list of pros and cons. We suggest you try each out to see which one fits best for you. Yoast is the more popular of the two, by far, but it is very upselling focused and not everyone agrees that all of its SEO recommendations are valid. The SEO Framework, on the other hand, is not as well-known but its interface is less intrusive and bothersome.
Regardless of what you pick, they both handle sitemaps automatically though so no matter which you choose you will be all set. As an alternative, if you don’t want a full-blown SEO plugin, we suggest you check out the Google XML Sitemaps plugin instead. This is a no-fuss solution that only maintains a WordPress sitemap for you behind-the-scenes.
Let WordPress Handle Sitemap Creation for You
At this point you might be asking yourself:
“WordPress has been around for years and years. How come it doesn’t just make a sitemap for you on its own?”
Well, until very recently, that just wasn’t the case. You had to rely on yourself or plugins to get the job done. That all changed with the release of WordPress 5.5 which included a brand new feature that generates XML sitemaps automatically. As of this writing, this is a very bare-bones feature in WordPress core. You can make some changes through code modifications but there’s no interface to speak of to adjust settings.
The limitations of the XML sitemap feature means we still recommend our clients go with one of the plugin options detailed above. Our hope is that, in the future, the creation of sitemaps directly through WordPress itself will be robust enough to make the reliance on plugins unnecessary.
Tips on Using Sitemaps
Assuming you place a sitemap in your website’s root directory, search engines should find it with relative ease. However, you can provide search engines with the location of your website’s sitemap to ensure they don’t miss it.
To let Google and Bing know where your website’s sitemap is located, you’ll need to use their respective webmaster solutions: Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. From the dashboards of these webmaster solutions, you can enter the URL where your website’s sitemap is located.
Be conscious of duplicate content in your website’s sitemap. If a page contains duplicate content, and you use a canonical tag to prevent search engines from indexing it, don’t add that page to your website’s sitemap. Only the page to which the canonical tag points should be included.
Keep in mind, your website can have multiple sitemaps. If your website sells e-commerce products, you may want to create one sitemap for your site’s product pages and another sitemap for its category pages. You also can create a separate sitemap for your website’s images and videos.
Sitemaps are useful for SEO because they tell search engines where your website’s pages are located, while also conveying additional information about its images and videos. They consist of XML files with tags. By creating at least one sitemap, search engines will crawl more of your website’s pages, and they’ll have a better understanding of its images and videos.
If you need help getting a WordPress sitemap set up and running on your company website reach out with the form below and we can help. Link Software has been providing WordPress services to our clients for over ten years. We are familiar with most WordPress configurations and can get you sorted out quickly.