One of the first things any website owner needs to do is set up a sitemap. In the past, these were elaborate listings of every web page located within the site’s domain. Today, they are used for more than merely displaying that content to a visitor.
In fact, a WordPress sitemap could mean the difference in how successful your website is overall.
In this tutorial, I will show you how to set up a WordPress sitemap.
Why is a Sitemap Important?
Google uses the sitemap file to know where your content resides. This helps the search engine giant find your posts and place them into the results page. Without a sitemap, it could take far longer for visitors to find your website.
No one will visit your pages if they don’t know the content exists. And this goes beyond Google. Users of Bing, Yahoo, and many other search engines are less likely to find your website as well.
Now, you don’t need a sitemap to have your site listed in Google. However, it vastly improves the chances of appearing in search results.
This is because Google and other search engines will use the file to find every URL related to your site.
Without a sitemap submitted to Google, the only way the search engine will find your content is if another site links to it. This could take months if not years for a single page to get indexed.
It’s like building a house in a rural location. Visitors may have a harder time locating it unless you give out your address.
Setting Up a WordPress Sitemap
Today, I’ll demonstrate how to use a sitemap with Yoast SEO. This is a free plugin that will improve the searchability of your site, including how you develop content.
Yoast is a great all-in-one system that I use on almost every WordPress site with which I work. It provides the XML sitemap as well as many other tools like a readability score system to help you write better content for visitors to read.
Step 1: Install and activate Yoast SEO
Head over to the Plugins page in your WordPress admin directory. Search for the Yoast SEO plugin by name using the search field and install and activate it from there.
Step 2: Access Yoast SEO
Click the “SEO” option from the left admin panel in WordPress. It will have the Yoast icon of a “y” in front of a square.
Step 3: Find the XML Sitemaps Section
Click the “Features” tab on the top of the screen.
Click to turn on “XML sitemaps.”
Once you’ve enabled sitemaps, click the “Save changes” button on the bottom.
Step 4: Accessing the Sitemap
Next, we’ll need the XML sitemap’s URL. We’ll need this to give to Google so the search engine knows where to find the content.
To access your sitemap, click the question mark icon next to “XML Sitemap.”
Open the XML sitemap by clicking the link.
You want to take note of the address where the sitemap is stored. It’s probably a good idea to just leave this page open when following the next steps.
Step 5: Submitting the Sitemap to Google
If you don’t have a Google account, you’ll need to make one. It’s free and lets you use things like adding Analytics to WordPress and a slew of other tools.
You’ll also need to add your domain to Search Console. You can do this from the welcome page for Google.
When you have your domain added and verified, it’s time to add the sitemap.
Go to the Search Console tool for Google.
If you only have one domain in Google, it should display as your default. If not, use the drop-down list and select your site.
Click the “Sitemaps” option from the left tool bar.
Enter the URL of your sitemap. You can get this from the page you left open in the above step.
You’ll want all of the information after your domain name.
For example, Yoast will create the file as: “sitemap_index.xml”. So your URL of the page might look something like: yourdomain.com/sitemap_index.xml.
In this instance, you would only enter the file name into Google search console.
Click the “Submit” button on the right.
Once you click the submit button, Google will schedule and crawl your website.
How often will Google crawl your website?
While some tools will help “inspire” the Google bot to crawl a site more often, it really depends more on how frequent you create content. If you’re more active on the website, Google will crawl it more often.
How long does it take to show up in search results?
Showing up in search results depends on how often your site is crawled. It could take anywhere from a few seconds to several weeks. If you get into a regular posting schedule for creating website content, you’ll show up in search results more often as time goes on.
What is WordPress 5.5 XML Sitemaps?
In August of 2020, WordPress released its own built-in XML sitemap feature. This is a new feature that will give you a default XML sitemap URL found at /wp-sitemap.xml.
This sitemap index can hold a maximum of 50,000 sitemaps, and a single sitemap can hold a (filterable) maximum of 2000 entries. It should be noted that WordPress is off to a good start, but there is still work to be done.
Also, if you are using this, then other sitemap plugins like Yoast SEO will automatically disable it when installed.
Other Plugins to Try
Yoast is simply my favorite SEO tool, but it’s not the only one you can use to create a sitemap. In fact, there are a lot of plugins available for WordPress for this purpose.
Here are just a few that you can install right now.
Jetpack is a great plugin that comes with a variety of tools for WordPress, including a sitemap generator. However, you’ll need a WordPress.com account to use it. This is a free system and comes with a variety of great modules.
Google XML Sitemaps
Google XML Sitemaps is a free plugin that I used quite often in the past. It wasn’t until I started using Yoast that I stopped installing this tool. It’s an easy-to-use plugin with plenty of options for managing your sitemap.
Companion Sitemap Generator
Companion Sitemap Generator is a good tool to have on a website. Not only will it create XML files, but you can also create HTML sitemaps to show to visitors. It also comes with a robots.txt file editor so you can control what bots access your content.
Never Underestimate the Value of a Sitemap
The sitemap is probably one of the most important files for any website trying to attract an audience. It impacts how often Google will find your content and how people find you in search.
Make sure your sitemap is ready for Google. It should be the first step in any SEO strategy, and it will affect your online success.
What kind of SEO tools do you have installed on your WordPress site? Has there been a significant change in how many visitors are finding your material?