You’ve heard about it.
You know it’s important.
But what exactly is a sitemap? And, why do you need one?
It’s actually quite simple. You can even set it up easily in WordPress.
This post will tell you everything you need to know.
What is a Sitemap?
There are actually a couple of different types of sitemaps, such as a visual one that you can create before building a website, but we’re going to focus on the one that is most important for SEO.
This is known as an XML sitemap. It’s simply a list of the pages on your website.
Think of it as a map for your website. It shows what all of the pages are on your website.
A sitemap is a file where you can list the web pages of your site to tell Google and other search engines about the organization of your site content. Search engine web crawlers like Googlebot read this file to more intelligently crawl your site.
This also tells us why a sitemap is important:
It tells the search engines about the content that you have on your site so that they can find it more easily and when it was last updated.
The image below shows the sitemap for this site.
Clearly, this is important for your SEO. How would Google (or any other search engine) be able to send traffic to your site if it doesn’t know about your content?
Do I Need a Sitemap?
Based on the information above, it should be clear that, yes, you should have a sitemap.
Google has confirmed that “a sitemap can improve the crawling of your site,” especially if you have a large site, one with a lot of content, a new site, or one that uses rich media content.
However, just in case there’s any doubt in your mind or you’re not sure about why it’s critical, let me share with you what my experience has been with sitemaps.
Here’s what I’ve found:
It’s one of the most common – and easily fixable – problems that I see when I help people with their SEO.
To illustrate how critical this is for your SEO, take a look at the image below.
It’s from the Google Search Console for a client that I worked with a few years ago.
Do you see how the total number of pages indexed (the blue line) went from 0 to over 300?
Basically, Google hadn’t indexed the pages on their website, meaning that it hadn’t added those pages to its search results. Guess what happened to their traffic during that time?
The site didn’t get any traffic during that time.
You might be wondering what happened, why didn’t they have a sitemap?
This is unbelievable, but the designer who had been hired to redesign the site had not bothered to submit a sitemap!
Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. I’ve found that web designers are often focused on the design, which of course is important, but don’t pay too much attention to what’s needed to get traffic to the site.
In this case, because the designer neglected to submit a sitemap, the website was online for months before Google knew it was even there or indexed the pages on their site.
I discovered this as part of the SEO audit for the client, and one of the first things that I did was to submit a sitemap for them. The image shows how quickly Google was able to index hundreds of pages on their site once this was done.
This simple fix helped to increase traffic to their website immediately.
How To Create a Sitemap In WordPress
Fortunately, creating a sitemap in WordPress is easy.
I use and recommend the Yoast SEO plugin for this. It’s really the best SEO plugin that I’ve found.
Install the plugin, and then go to the Features tab. Change the “Advanced settings pages” to “Enabled” and save the changes.
After you enable the plugin, you’ll see some additional options appear on the SEO sidebar to the left. Select “XML Sitemaps.”
Make sure that the “XML sitemap functionality” is set to “Enabled.”
You now have a sitemap! You can now see what your own sitemap looks like by clicking on the “XML Sitemap” link.
However, we’re not done just yet. Once your sitemap has been created, the next step is to submit to Google. You can do this through Google Search Console.
How To Submit a Sitemap to Google
This involves several steps, but it’s really straightforward. I’ll show you how to do it, step-by-step.
The first step will be to let Google know that you manage this website, so you’ll need to login to the Search Console and select “Add a Property.” You’ll then be prompted to enter in your website.
After you click “Add,” you’ll be taken the page below. Choose “Alternate methods,” and then “HTML tag.” Copy the code in between quotation marks after content; this is blocked out in red in the image below.
Now go back to the Yoast dashboard, and select the “Webmaster Tools” tab. Paste the code that you had copied in the previous step into the “Google Search Console” box. Be sure to save your changes when you’re done. (Note that you can also use this to submit your sitemap to Bing and Yandex as well.)
Once you’ve added it to Yoast, then go back to the Search Console and click the red “Verify” button. If you’ve followed all of the steps, you should see the message below. (If not double-check to make sure you didn’t miss something.)
At this point, you’ve created your sitemap and let Google know that you manage this property.
You’re now ready for the final step: to actually submit the sitemap to Google.
Start by going back to the Yoast dashboard and clicking on “XML Sitemap.”
A new tab will open with your sitemap. The URL will be “http://www.yourdomain.com/sitemap_index.xml” (“yourdomain” will obviously be replaced by the name of your website). Copy the last part of the URL “sitemap_index.xml,” without the quotation marks.
Now go to back to the Google Search Console. Click “No Sitemaps” on the right-hand side of the page and then click the “Add/Test Sitemap” on the next page.
Copy the “sitemap_index.xml” into the box, then hit “Submit.”
Congratulations! You’ll be prompted to refresh the page, and then you should see that your sitemap submission is pending.
Be sure to log back into your Google Search Console later to make sure that your site has been indexed. Depending upon the size of your site, it might not take too long for it to show up.