How to Create Sitemaps for WordPress to Help Search Engines Rank You
Sitemaps are one of the keys to gaining recognition from search engines and getting a better ranking for your WordPress site.
Have you ever wondered how popular search engines pick up on brand new websites and include them in their search? (Hint: You don’t have to bribe them!) Sitemaps help search engines crawl your website efficiently and effectively; discovering posts and pages that might otherwise have lain in hiding.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about sitemaps for WordPress. We’ll look at why they’re so important, take in popular methods for creating these essential files, and finish up with a tutorial on how to submit sitemaps to Google and Bing.
What Sitemaps Are and Why You Need Them
Sitemaps enable webmasters to inform search engines about the pages on their site that are (and aren’t) available for crawling. They are like maps that tell a web crawler where your site’s pages are and how to reach them.
Back in the day, sitemaps were hand-coded in HTML format, and their central purpose was to assist users and make site navigation simpler. Sitemaps have evolved a lot since then. Today they are published in XML, and their goal is to improve search engine optimization by enabling search engines to crawl the site intelligently.
XML sitemaps are basically documents that contain information about the pages and posts on your site, when a particular page was last modified, the priority of pages and how frequently a page is expected to undergo change.
Aside from improving your site’s user experience, adding a sitemap to your site will also:
- Require less reliance on external links to bring search engines to your site.
- Give new sites a solid start in terms of their content being crawled and indexed.
- Aid in classifying your site’s content.
The importance of sitemaps should not be overlooked – now is as good a time as any to create your own.
Best Practices for Implementing XML Sitemaps
At a bare minimum, XML sitemaps are lists of URLs with some metadata attached to them. Search engines look for two pieces of information in your sitemap:
- The URL: In XML sitemaps, every URL should be able to be fetched by Googlebot & Co. Don’t include URLs that are disallowed by the robots.txt file. All of your URLs should be canonical. You should avoid including URLs of duplicate pages in your XML sitemap.
- The last modification time: Specifying a last modification time against each URL is important. It should be updated every time a meaningful change is made to the page or post the URL relates to.
Generating XML sitemaps is a great way to optimize crawling of a site for search engines. The key information in these XML files is the canonical URL and the time of the last modification of pages within the website. Setting these correctly and informing Google and other search engines through sitemap pings will enable your website to be crawled optimally and be represented better in search results.
But fear not! As you’re probably aware, none of this is work you need to do yourself. Let’s move on to our list of the best automated sitemap solutions for WordPress.
Best Sitemap Plugins for WordPress
With over one million downloads, Google XML Sitemaps is the most popular sitemaps solution for WordPress. It generates an XML sitemap to help major search engines – such as Google, Yahoo, Bing and Ask.com – to index your site better.
The plugin supports WordPress-generated pages and custom URLs and enables you to notify all of the search engines every time you create a new post. You’ll have to build the sitemap the first time after installation, but after that the plugin will take care of maintaining it dynamically as you make changes to your site.
Let’s recap and round up Google XML Sitemaps’ key features:
- Easy-to-use and friendly user interface.
- Generates special XML sitemaps for all major search engines.
- Supports all kinds of WordPress generated pages and custom posts.
- Dynamically edits the sitemap as more pages are added or removed.
PS Auto Sitemap is an easy-to-use plugin that automatically generates a sitemap page based on your WordPress site. The plugin supports all WordPress-generated pages in addition to posts and categories.
Anyone with a little programming knowledge can fully customize their site’s sitemap by changing the display settings and adding built-in CSS skins to it. The plugin also enables users to limit the depth of the sitemap and set the display order for both pages and posts.
Let’s recap and round up PS Auto Sitemap key features:
- Choose from 12 different designs for your sitemap’s display style.
- Option to cache your sitemap content.
- Select which pages, posts and categories should not be added to the sitemap.
- Limit the depth of the sitemap.
Page-list is a plugin that generates sitemaps for WordPress sites. It works straight out of the box.
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One of the best things about Page-list is that it supports shortcodes. You’ll find an extensive list of parameters to go with them – 56 to be exact. There are four main shortcodes:
- [pagelist] – a tree of all pages.
- [subpages] – a tree of all subpages to the current page.
- [siblings] – a tree of all sibling pages to the current page.
- [pagelist_ext] – list of pages with featured image and excerpt.
Let’s recap and round up Page-list’s key features:
- Works right out of the box.
- Customizable content for sitemaps.
- Shortcode integration with over 50 parameters.
- Option to display pages with featured image and excerpt.
WP Sitemap Page enables users to add a sitemap to their page using one simple shortcode. Adding the shortcode automatically generates a sitemap of your site and displays it on the page.
The plugin generates an HTML sitemap, which means that it cannot be submitted to search engines. However, it can improve your site’s user experience, helping visitors to find pages and posts easily.
Let’s recap and round up WP Sitemap Page’s key features:
- Displays all pages, posts, categories, custom post types and taxonomies in the HTML sitemap.
- Customize the look and feel of the sitemap.
- Option to exclude pages and custom post types from being displayed.
- Available in different languages and enables you to add your own translation.
Simple Sitemap generates an HTML sitemap for your WordPress site. You can choose to display the content as a single list of pages and posts, or in a group format sorted by taxonomy using a drop-down box.
The sitemap is created in one column, which fits nicely on pages, posts, and even on sidebars. You can add the shortcode to text widgets as well. Simple Sitemap enables you to select the order in which pages and posts are displayed in its configuration settings.
Let’s recap and round up Simple Sitemap’s key features:
- Generates an HTML sitemap.
- Supports shortcodes which can be added to pages, posts and sidebars.
- Customize the display order from the configuration settings.
- Displays sitemaps as lists or in group format.
How to Submit Your Sitemap to Search Engines
In most cases, a search engine will automatically detect your site’s sitemap if you place it in the root of your domain.
In other cases, it’s a good idea to submit your submit your XML sitemap directly to Google and Bing to take advantage of analytics – pages indexed, pages submitted and any errors that it encounters.
Submitting Your Sitemap to Google
Google Webmaster Tools enables you to submit your site’s sitemap to Google. Here’s how:
- Login to Google Webmaster Tools with your Google account
- Select your site from the Search Console home page
- Click Sitemaps on the right side of the screen
- Click Add/Test Sitemap
- Type the name of your sitemap file into the text box
- Click Submit Sitemap
- You will see a notification once your sitemap is submitted
Submitting Your Sitemap to Bing
We’ll submit the XML sitemap to Bing using Bing Webmaster Tools:
- Log in to Bing Webmaster Tools with your Microsoft account
- Select your site from the home page
- On the next screen, give it the location of your XML sitemap on your site in Add a sitemap
- Enter any further credentials that validate you as the site owner
- Click Save
Adding a sitemap to your site not only increases user experience by improving site navigation but enables your site’s content to appear in search engine results more easily, thus improving your site’s SEO. Like a boss.
Now it’s over to you. Does your WordPress site have a sitemap? Which plugins do you use to create sitemaps? Let us know in the comments below.