What Is a Sitemap and Why Do You Need It?

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Sitemap is a file that helps search engines understand your website and its content.

It’s a list of all pages and posts that you have published.

Sitemap also allows search engines to quickly retrieve essential pages of your website even if internal links are broken.

Do I Need a Sitemap?

Most certainly, yes! A regularly updated sitemap is a great SEO tool that will immediately let search engines know when you publish or update posts and pages.

If you’re using WordPress, you can set it once and forget about it because specialized plugins will do all the heavy lifting for you.

Actually, there is not a single reason for not having a sitemap.

If you don’t already have it, keep reading to learn how to create it right now.

What Does Sitemap Look Like?

Sitemap is stored in XML format and here’s a short example of what a regular sitemap looks like:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">
   <url>
      <loc>http://www.example.com/</loc>
      <lastmod>2005-01-01</lastmod>
      <changefreq>monthly</changefreq>
      <priority>0.8</priority>
   </url>
   <url>
      <loc>http://www.example.com/catalog?item=73&amp;desc=vacation_new_zealand</loc>
      <lastmod>2004-12-23</lastmod>
      <changefreq>weekly</changefreq>
   </url>
</urlset>

Don’t worry if you don’t understand what it says. It’s not meant for you or your readers, it’s exclusively created for search engines.

Do I Have a Sitemap?

If you’re using WordPress 5.5 or newer, chances are that you have a sitemap that’s now a part of WordPress core.

To find out, try to navigate to this file:

  • yourdomain.com/wp-sitemap.xml

If you can’t see any content, you are probably using SEO plugins like Yoast SEO or All-in-One SEO.

These plugins will disable the default sitemap and replace it with their own implementation.

To find out if this is the case, try to navigate to these two files:

  • yourdomain.com/sitemap_index.xml (if you’re using Yoast SEO)
  • yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml (if you’re using All-in-One SEO)

Depending on your browser, you might get a blank page, but the sitemap might be still there, only not visible to you.

To find out in Chrome browser, click on View -> Developer -> View Source:

This will show you the XML code of your sitemap:

No sitemap? Let’s create it together!

How Can I Create a Sitemap?

It’s important to have your website running on WordPress hosting provider like Bluehost, DreamHost or SiteGround.

WordPress.com doesn’t allow to install most plugins so this guide probably won’t work for you if you use WordPress.com website.

Since the default WordPress sitemap is rather simple and it’s quite complicated to manage it, I suggest you use a plugin to create a sitemap.

It means that you must install either Yoast SEO or All-in-One SEO plugins. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose at this point.

How Can I Create a Sitemap with Yoast SEO Plugin?

Source: yoast.com

Once you installed and activate Yoast SEO plugin, you need to:

  • go to SEO -> General (1),
  • click on the Features tab (2),
  • check that XML sitemaps option is turned on (3):

When you click on the tiny question mark icon, you’ll see additional information including the link where you can see your website’s sitemap:

Your sitemap should be available at your domain’s URL inside the sitemap_index.xml file:

Unlike default WordPress sitemap which is simply a list of URLs in a text file, Yoast generates multiple robust sitemaps for all of your content types.

Here are some advantages of Yoast sitemap over default WordPress sitemap:

  • You have the option to determine what goes into the sitemap
  • The last modified date helps crawlers distinguish between what’s new and what’s old
  • Large sitemaps are broken into smaller ones to help keep everything fast
  • Yoast includes images in your sitemaps so crawlers can discover these in one go

How Can I Create a Sitemap with All-in-One SEO Plugin?

Source: aioseo.com

Once you installed and activate All in One SEO plugin, you need to:

  • go to All in One SEO -> Sitemaps (1),
  • click on the Enable Sitemap (2)

Your sitemap should be available at your domain’s URL inside the sitemap.xml file:

To reduce the time it takes to create each sitemap, All in One SEO limits each sitemap page to 1,000 URLs. If you have more than 1,000 URLs, it will be split into sitemap pages, with 1,000 URLs in each page.

You can also decide what content you want to include in your sitemap. There are two settings here, Post Types and Taxonomies.

You can include everything or select individual types including media and attachments.

How to Tell Google About My Sitemap?

To let Google know about your sitemap, you can either wait until Google crawls your website or you can tell it directly via the free service called Google Search Console.

If you’re new to this, here’s a quick tutorial on how to add your website.

Once you added your website, it’s very simple to submit your sitemap so Google will become aware of it.

First, click on the Sitemaps link in the left pane. Next, copy & paste the URL of your sitemap to the form and hit the SUBMIT button.

It will take a while, but when you come back after few days, you should see your sitemap in the list of submitted sitemaps.

Make sure that the Status column shows Success and learn how many URLs Google discovered.

You can click on submitted sitemap to get more detailed overview including the status of each individual sitemap:

Conclusion

A sitemap is a very important file that helps search engines understand your website.

Google reads this file to more intelligently crawl your site and to understand which pages and files you think are important in your site.

Sitemap also provides valuable information about these files like when the page was last updated, how often it is changed, and if there are any alternate language versions of a page.

There are two different ways to add a sitemap to your website. You can do it manually, which means that you need to update your sitemap anytime you add or modify the content.

Or you can let WordPress do it automatically for you either with its default sitemap or with the help of plugins.

In this article, I demonstrated how to create a sitemap for your WordPress website with Yoast SEO and All in One SEO plugins and how to let Google know about your sitemap.

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Jan Zavrel

Jan Zavrel is an author, teacher, online entrepreneur and Evernote Certified Consultant who runs multiple projects focused on productivity, fitness, web development and passive income. He is also active as an instructor on Udemy and Skillshare. His books are available via Amazon.