What Is a WordPress XML Sitemap and How to Set It Up
Sitemaps provide a means for search engines to easily understand your website’s content. If you use an SEO plugin on your site such as Yoast, then a sitemap will be generated for you by default. However, knowing where to find the sitemap can be a problem.
In this guide, we will explain what an XML sitemap means and then show you how to set up a sitemap using the Yoast plugin and other methods. In addition, we will show you how to submit your sitemap to popular search engine directories.
- What is a WordPress XML Sitemap
- Benefits of Using Sitemaps in WordPress
- How to Create an XML Sitemap in WordPress
- How to Submit Sitemap to Search Engines
What Is a WordPress XML Sitemap
The meaning of the word ‘sitemap’ has changed over the past decade or so. Internet technologies evolve constantly, therefore, it is completely natural that things change over time. Sitemaps are no exception to this rule. What once was WP HTML sitemap now is WordPress XML sitemap.
Back in the day, an HTML sitemap was simply a page containing links to all other pages and resources on your site. You will rarely see this today, but I have recently been working on a site with an old-fashioned sitemap. This kind of sitemap helps humans navigate the site, but that is now considered to be obsolete. The reason is that sitemaps are not intended for humans anymore. They now target a different crowd – search engines and search engine bots.
What does this change mean in practice? First off, the sitemaps are not made to be in HTML format anymore but rather stored as an XML file. The second thing is that modern sitemaps mean little to the human eye, as they are formatted to contain URLs and metadata that are useful to bots. The metadata saved in the sitemap is:
Last modified – When was the last time the page was changed
- Priority – What priority should search engines give to a page (expressed in percentage)
- Frequency – How often the page will change
Technical aspects of a WordPress XML sitemap
There is a maximum of 50.000 URLs per WordPress sitemap.
Number of sitemaps
You don’t necessarily need to have just one WordPress sitemap. You can have multiple sitemaps with one master sitemap (which would be the sitemap of all sitemaps). This can also provide a workaround for the maximum URL limit as you will have multiple sitemaps with 50k URLs as the limit.
How XML sitemap benefits your WordPress site
The sitemap for your WordPress site will help in the following ways:
- Search Engine Bots will crawl your website much quicker if you have a sitemap
- It will enable that bots prioritize crawling of certain pages based on the metadata
- Additional information will be taken from ‘Rich media content’ – in case you use a lot of videos and images on your posts and pages
- There’s no downside to adding a sitemap – the worst-case scenario is that you will not see any improvement, but certainly, nothing bad can come out of it
The sitemap, however, does not guarantee that all items in it will be crawled and indexed. For example, search engines like Google require a good internal link structure to index an item. There would have to be internal or external links pointing to that particular item on the sitemap.
How to Create an XML Sitemap in WordPress
WordPress provides several means of setting up a sitemap. Here, we will show you how to access the default WordPress sitemap and also show you how to set up XML sitemaps using plugins.
Default WordPress Sitemap
Since the release of WordPress 5.5 in august 2020, the WordPress core now features a sitemap that is available on every WordPress site by default.
The sitemap works pretty well out of the box and does not require any setup or plugin installation. The only downside to using the default sitemap is it doesn’t give you the flexibility to control how your sitemap works.
To access the default sitemap, simply add “/wp-sitemap.xml” to your web address. For example, if your site is example.com, then your sitemap will be available at example.com/wp-sitemap.xml.
Side Note: If you are using a plugin to generate your sitemap, then the default sitemap URL above will redirect to your new sitemap address.
How to Create a Sitemap Using a Plugin?
There are several plugins that can be used to create an XML sitemap for your WordPress site. Most SEO plugins automatically create a sitemap upon activating them on your site. So if you are already using an SEO plugin on your site, you do not need to install a new plugin to get started.
Creating a Sitemap Using Yoast SEO Plugin
One of the most popular SEO plugins for WordPress is the Yoast SEO plugin. It has a lot of features and one of them is the Sitemap Generator.
The Yoast SEO plugin usually auto-generates the XML sitemap in WordPress immediately after installation. Please check this guide to learn how to install WordPress plugins.
You can check to see if the sitemap is active by going to SEO >> General. Next, click on the ‘Features’ tab and then scrolling down to find the ‘XML Sitemaps‘ feature and turn it on if it isn’t.
In case there’s an error with the sitemap, toggle this feature off and on and the map will auto-generate again.
To access your sitemap, tick the button next to the XML sitemaps feature and then select the ‘See the XML sitemap’ link.
Since the release of version 7.0, Yoast SEO authors have drastically simplified the sitemap settings, or better yet, there are none left. You can basically just turn the feature on and off.
Additionally, you can set the search appearances for certain content types and decide should they be included in the sitemap or not.
For this, go to SEO >> Search Appearance. Next, click on the “Content Types” tab.
Many users have welcomed this change. There are those who prefer to have more options when setting up the site map.
Google XML Sitemap Generator
Unlike Yoast SEO, the Google XML Sitemap Generator for WordPress gives more control over the sitemap settings.
This plugin allows the users to specify frequency and priority parameters alongside the sitemap content settings (what to include and what to exclude).
To start, you need to install and activate the plugin from your WordPress dashboard.
You can find the plugin settings under Settings >> XML Sitemap. All of the plugin settings are on the same page which is very convenient in my opinion.
In addition to the normal sitemap URL, this plugin lets you create sitemaps for RSS feeds, HTML sitemaps, and news sitemaps as well.
Some other plugins you can check out are:
Other ways to create a sitemap
Some people don’t like to pile up WordPress plugins if they can help it. This is good thinking since WordPress plugins always slow down sites to a certain extent.
Luckily, there are other ways to create a sitemap, besides using the Yoast plugin. One of the tools that we can recommend is XML Sitemap Generator. The tool is available in the form of:
- Online generator
- WordPress Plugin
- Desktop program (Windows only)
We will explain how to use the Online Generator in this article.
Click on ‘Online XML Sitemap Generator’, which is on the left side of the screen. This will open a page where you need to:
- Enter your domain name
- Select the method of calculation for ‘Last modified’ date
- Choose the frequency of page changes
- Set the default priority for crawling
- Enter your email address
- Click on the ‘Generate Sitemap’ button
After you click on the Generate Sitemap button, you will have to wait for a while. Some sites will take longer to be crawled, therefore, this process can last. Be patient.
In the end, there will be an option to download a zip file containing the generated sitemap, logs, and a ‘readme’ file. All you need to do is unpack the archive and copy the sitemap to the root folder of your site using an FTP client such as FileZilla.
How to submit the WordPress XML sitemap to Google
If you haven’t added your site to the Google Search console, now is the right time. One of the fastest ways is to add your site using the ‘URL prefix’ option.
If your site is using both ‘HTTP’ and ‘HTTPS’ you will have to add it twice, once with the HTTP prefix and once with the HTTPS prefix.
This method might not be suitable for websites that have a lot of subdomains or are made available under different URLs, depending on the language (like example.com/fr/, example.com/en/).
But, if you have a website without a complex URL structure, this is the easiest way.
Enter your site URL (with https:// or http:// prefix) and then you will need to verify ownership.
The Google Search Console will generate an HTML file, which you will need to download and upload to the root directory of your site. After you have uploaded the file, click ‘Verify’. You will get the following message:
Next, go to Sitemaps and you will see the ‘Add a new sitemap’ form. Enter the URL of your sitemap. If you are using Yoast SEO, the sitemap is available at yourdomain.com/sitemap_index.xml.
If you are using a different plugin, you will need to enter a different sitemap URL. Every plugin specifies its own sitemap URL which is visible in the plugin settings (depending on the plugin).
It is possible that you will see a ‘Couldn’t fetch’ error after adding your WordPress XML sitemap. A lot of users have reported this error and it seems to be a bug in the Search Console itself.
The new Search Console actually shows ‘Pending’ as ‘Couldn’t fetch’. This will disappear after a certain period which can be anywhere between 24 hours and 24 days.
You can find more information here.
How to Submit Your Sitemap to Bing Webmaster Tool
Another popular search engine is bing. This platform works similar to the Google search console. It lets you monitor your site performance on bing search engine.
To start, go to Bing Webmaster Tool and then signup or log in to your account. Next, you will need to verify your domain ownership as we did in the google search option above.
After the domain verification, click on Sitemaps and then click on the Submit Sitemap button.
Enter your sitemap URL in the popup box, then click on Submit.
Generally, SEO optimization is a gray area with a lot of obstacles. No matter what you do, it can happen that Google will not index some of your pages and often, there will not be an obvious reason.
It requires a lot of trial and error and research, especially if you are new to this. If you want to save yourself some time and avoid frustration, we can install and configure Yoast SEO for you. Feel free to contact our professional WordPress support team.
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