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WordPress Sitemap Instructions: What It Is And How To Use It
If you've ever sat down and read an article on SEO, you're probably stuck with the terms Sitemap and or XML sitemap encountered. But while sitemaps are a widely used SEO recommendation, there isn't much on how XML sitemaps work specifically with WordPress.
To change that, we're going to take a deep dive into WordPress sitemaps. Here is everything you will learn in this post:
What is an XML sitemap?
An XML sitemap is basically just a list of URLs that you want to make publicly available. Similar to robots.txt, it helps search engines like Google and others to better crawl your website by giving them a "map" of all of your content. That's it!
In addition to the mere list of URLs, you can also add other helpful “metadata” to your sitemap to help search engines index your website. These options are described in the Sitemaps log and allow you to specify things like:
- When a page was last changed
- What priority the search engines should give the page (although the search engines won't necessarily follow this)
- How often the page will change
In addition to this central metadata, it is also possible to provide search engines with information about your video and image content.
What does an XML sitemap look like?
Are you wondering what an XML sitemap actually looks like? Here's what our WordPress post sitemap looks like at Kinsta:
Example of an XML sitemap
As you can see, it's really just a list of URLs with some extra metadata. It's not particularly helpful to humans!
Is there a limit to how many URLs you can include in an XML sitemap?
Yes there is a limit. But most WordPress websites will never reach that limit.
Technically, sitemap.xml files have a limit of 50,000 URLs. But even if your website has more than 50,000 URLs, you can include a “sitemap of your sitemaps” to increase that number. That said, you can include a master sitemap that links to more specific sitemaps (each with their own 50,000 URL limit).
That's the way we do it at Kinsta (and also how Yoast SEO does it by default - more on that later). The screenshot above was specially made for our WordPress posts. But if you look at our master sitemap file, you'll see that it actually only links to other sitemap files:
A sitemap of the sitemaps
How an XML sitemap can help your WordPress site
The main benefit of an XML sitemap is its improved crawlability. In Google's own words, "Search engine web crawlers like Googlebot read this file to crawl your website more intelligently." Here are some specific ways that XML sitemaps can improve your website's crawlability:
- Faster crawl times - Sitemaps can help search engine robots crawl your content faster than they would without a sitemap. This can also result in your content being indexed faster.
- Prioritized crawling - Sitemaps allow you to ask Google to prioritize crawling certain pages on your website by adding metadata.
- Rich media content - if you use a lot of media such as videos and images, "Google can use additional information from sitemaps for the search where it is appropriate."
In addition to crawlability, there are also some back doors through which sitemaps can provide you with helpful information. If you submit your sitemap to the Google Search Console (you will learn how to do this later), you can use your sitemap to quickly determine how effectively you are indexing your pages in Google:
Sitemap index statistics
Can adding an XML sitemap harm your website?
Nope! Do not worry. The worst scenario is that you don't see positive results. The Creating an XML sitemap will never harm your website.
You do not believe me? Here's what Google itself says on the subject: “In most cases, your website will benefit from having a sitemap, and you will never be punished for it.“
However, a sitemap does not mean that you can ignore the internal link structure
While a sitemap is beneficial, it is not: It is not a substitute for building a solid internal link structurewhich, among other things, increases your chances of getting Google sitelinks. That said, don't assume that search engines will index your content just because you put it on your sitemap. you could, but neither could they.
Google still wants to see that your content has internal or external links pointing to it. As Google says, "Using a sitemap doesn't guarantee that all of the elements in your sitemap will be crawled and indexed."
So while you should definitely use a sitemap, you shouldn't rely solely on a sitemap to get your content indexed.
How to create an XML sitemap for your WordPress site with Yoast SEO
Now that you know what an XML sitemap is and how it can benefit your website, how can you create a WordPress sitemap for all of your content? The easiest way is to use Yoast SEO, which is our recommended plugin.
To create an XML sitemap with Yoast SEO, all you have to do is install and activate the free Yoast SEO plugin. By default, Yoast SEO creates a sitemap at:
That's easy enough! But what many don't know is that Yoast SEO also lets you customize how your XML sitemap works. Here's how you do it:
Go to SEO → Features and activate the pages with the advanced settings:
How to enable the advanced Yoast XML Sitemap control
Make sure you save your changes. Once you've done that, you can move on to the new one XML sitemaps Option under the SEO Access the menu in your dashboard sidebar:
Access to Yoast SEO XML Sitemaps
There you can use the tabs at the top to:
- Choose whether you want to include a sitemap of your authors or not
- Choose which post types / taxonomies to include in your sitemap
- Manually exclude individual pieces of content from your sitemap using their Post ID - this is particularly helpful if you have tagged certain pieces of content with a noindex tag.
Configure Yoast SEO XML sitemaps
Other WordPress plugins to help you create an XML sitemap
While Yoast SEO is our recommended tool for creating an XML sitemap for WordPress, it is far from the only option.
Would you like to know how we increased our traffic by over 1000%?
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Other high quality plugins are:
- Google XML Sitemaps - a popular plugin that deals specifically with XML sitemaps and not SEO in general.
- The SEO Framework - an emerging SEO plugin that includes XML sitemap functionality.
How to create a sitemap for your website with the XML sitemap generator
Not a fan of WordPress plugins? Or are you using something that is not WordPress? Don't worry - you can also create an XML sitemap using a stand-alone tool called the XML Sitemap Generator. With this tool you can create an XML sitemap for your website:
- A cloud based tool
- A desktop program (only for Windows)
- A WordPress plugin (if you've changed your mind about not using a WordPress plugin!)
Here you can find out how to use the cloud tool to create your sitemap:
Go to XML Sitemap Generator, scroll down and click on the option Online generator:
Use the XML sitemap generator
On the next page…
- Enter the URL to the homepage of your website
- Choose how you want the last modified date to be calculated
- Choose the frequency of change (how often your pages change)
- Choose the default crawl priority
- Enter your email address
- Click on Generate sitemap
Configure XML sitemap generator
You can also click the button More settings click to configure advanced options:
More configuration options
As soon as you on Generate sitemap click, there will be a delay while the XML Sitemap Generator crawls your website. If you have a small website it will only take a little while for large websites it may take longer. Once it's done you can download your various sitemaps:
Once you've downloaded the sitemap file, you'll need to upload it to the root directory of your website.
How to submit your sitemap to Google and other search engines
Once you have a working XML sitemap you should go a step further and register the sitemap with the most important search engines. This:
- Make sure Google knows where to find your sitemap
- Gives you helpful data on how many pages Google has indexed (I've already shown you this screenshot)
To submit your XML sitemap to Google, you need a Google Search Console account. If you don't already have one, here's how to sign up and verify your website with Google Search Console. Once you've set up your Google Search Console account, you can submit a sitemap by going to Crawl → Sitemaps go and hit the button ADD / TEST SITEMAP clicks:
How to submit a sitemap to Google
Then add the location to your sitemap and click Send. If you have used Yoast SEO to create your sitemap, all you have to do is insert "sitemap_index.xml":
Add your sitemap location
As soon as Google has processed your sitemap, you can also view statistics in this area. This includes helpful information about errors (such as 404 errors) that may appear on your website, such as in the following example.
When we tested a sample of the URLs from your sitemap, we found that some URLs were not reachable by the Googlebot due to an HTTP status error. All accessible URLs are still transmitted.
WordPress sitemap error
How to submit your sitemap to Bing
Although Google is king, there is still Bing. For more reach, you should also submit your sitemap to Bing. Here's Bing's guide on how to do that. The process is pretty similar to Google - you need to sign up for a Bing Webmaster Tools account. Then you can submit your sitemap directly from your dashboard.
How to add an HTML sitemap navigation to WordPress
In this post, we have focused specifically on XML sitemaps. But that's not the only type of sitemap you want to add to your WordPress site. HTML sitemaps are a more human version of a sitemap. You've probably seen them before - they're basically a list of links to help people find their way around your website.
For example, here is our (partial) sitemap at Kinsta:
Kinsta sitemap in the footer
HTML sitemaps don't necessarily contain every single page on your website - but they allow visitors to quickly navigate to all of the important pages. While you can always create an HTML sitemap navigation area manually, a more automated approach is to use the Simple Sitemap plugin. With this plugin you can create a sitemap by:
- Include only certain types of post
- Limitation of the number of displayed sub-pages
- Exclude certain entry IDs
- Arrange your pages in different ways
The plugin also includes ready-made templates that you can use to quickly create popular sitemap types. Once you've set your options, you can display your sitemap anywhere on your website with a simple shortcode.
To use it, install and activate the plugin. Then go to Settings → Simple sitemap. You can either click on one of the demos to get a pre-made shortcode or create your own shortcode using the various shortcode attributes:
How to create an HTML sitemap
Get started with sitemaps for WordPress today
An XML sitemap is one of the things every WordPress site needs. While it won't catapult your website straight to the top of the SERPs, it's a great way to crawl your website faster and more thoroughly. The easiest way to create an XML sitemap in WordPress is through the Yoast SEO plugin, but you can also find many other plugins to help you with this.
Recommended Tutorial: The Best SEO Plugins for WordPress (And Must-Have SEO Tools)
And once you've created your sitemap, you should submit it to Google Search Console for valuable insights into how Google is indexing your website. We hope you enjoyed our guide and would be happy to leave a comment if you have any further questions about working with WordPress and Sitemaps.
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