Optimizing your organic search traffic is a critical task for any site owner so anything you can do to make it easier for search engines to find your content should be high on your priority list.
Maintaining well-organized sitemaps is one of the simplest ways of ensuring your content (both new and old) can be easily found. Google actively encourages sitemap submission and a range of online tools means it’s never been easier to set your sitemaps up quickly without needing too much technical knowledge.
In this article, we’ll look at handling sitemap generation in WordPress and take you through our picks for the seven best sitemap plugins out there. We’ve broken these into three distinct categories to make things a little simpler.
Before we hit the list, though, let’s get some basics out of the way.
An Introduction to Sitemaps
If you’re coming to the subject of sitemaps for the first time, their value might not be immediately obvious. Originally introduced in 2005 by Google – and supported by Microsoft and Yahoo shortly thereafter – sitemaps play a huge role in helping search engines crawl a website in its entirety and thus index the content better.
The basic idea is simple. Ideally, a website’s sitemap should contain all the page URLs of your site along with associated data such as the date content was last modified, how frequently the content changes, and whether a particular URL should be given priority over other content. Sitemaps can be created for each type of content available on a site such as blog posts, images, videos and so on.
Google is powerful enough these days to get to the majority of your content eventually on its own but maintaining well-organized sitemaps makes it that much easier and quicker for search engines to index all of your content – and notify them when it changes – so it’s a step well worth taking.
The simplest possible sitemap is an XML document listing all the URLs to be crawled. You could, of course, create this by hand but it’s a job best left to automated tooling and that’s what we’ll be looking at for the remainder of the article.
If you’re looking to dive a little deeper into the technicalities behind sitemaps, check out the official Google sitemap pages, our own previous article on the importance of sitemaps, or the sitemap protocol documentation itself.
We’ve split our selection of plugins into three broad categories to keep things simple. Let’s start with the sitemap functionality offered by a number of popular SEO plugins.
SEO Plugins with Sitemaps
Given the importance of sitemaps in the indexing of a site by search engines, it’s no surprise that the most popular SEO plugins for WordPress tend to include the ability to automatically generate sitemaps.
1. Yoast SEO
With over one million active installs and an overall 4.5 star satisfaction rating, Yoast SEO continues to be one of the most popular SEO plugins in the WordPress ecosystem and made the cut for our 14 best WordPress plugins for 2015.
Based on years of in-depth SEO research from Joost de Valk and his team, the Yoast SEO plugin puts you in the driving seat in terms of WordPress SEO and includes some of the most advanced XML sitemap functionality of any WordPress plugin.
Creating XML sitemaps automatically with this plugin couldn’t be easier, it’s a simple matter of checking a box. Additionally, the plugin can notify both Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools of sitemap changes so they are easily found (you’ll need to register with these services to enable this obviously).
With no extra work on your part, Yoast SEO can also include images from your posts and pages in the sitemap, helping your visual content to also rank highly in search engines. You’ve also got options for controlling how categories, tags and other taxonomies are handled.
If you run a Multisite network, you’ll be happy to know that the Yoast SEO sitemaps feature also works smoothly in this context. You can even copy sitemap settings from one site to another, or have new sites default to the settings of a specified site.
Developers of larger sites can rest easy knowing that their needs will be covered as well. Yoast SEO uses the sitemap index feature of the sitemap protocol to create a sitemap for each 1,000 URLs, thus elegantly sidestepping the maximum sitemap size of 50,000 URLs issue.
Yoast SEO also comes in a premium version which includes handy extensions to consider if your website has additional content types that you want to be indexed. Premium extensions such News SEO, Local SEO and Video SEO enable you to create additional dedicated sitemaps to help your rich content be displayed more accurately in search engine results.
XML sitemaps often need debugging and tweaking to ensure the correct results are being crawled by search engines. Recognizing this need, the Yoast SEO plugin comes with XSL stylesheets for XML Sitemaps to help you easily manually review for errors and missing data.
All in all, it’s hard to fault Yoast SEO for either its general SEO options or its sitemap features. The only real risk with this plugin is that it may be a little overwhelming for less technical users.
Another very popular option for general SEO purposes, the All in One SEO Pack also has over one million installs with a solid overall 4.4 star satisfaction rating.
Though somewhat simpler in its implementation, and a little less fully featured, this plugin is a solid competitor to Yoast SEO and stood up well in our recent comparison of the two plugins.
Much like Yoast SEO, an XML sitemap generator is just one of a wide range of features All in One SEO Pack brings to the table. As with Yoast’s offering, the creation of the XML sitemap is automatic and invisible to the user, as are the notifications sent to both Google and Bing. However, All in One SEO Pack does include some useful settings worth mentioning when it comes to sitemap customization.
A series of checkboxes on the main settings page of the All in One SEO plugin enable you to include or exclude not just post types and taxonomies, but also categories, date archives, and author pages. The plugin also enables you to set the priority and update frequency of posts, taxonomies, and the website’s front page. You can also easily include non-WordPress pages in your sitemap by adding URLs to a list from the back end.
More and more plugins these days offer premium versions and All in One SEO Pack is no different. Amongst other features, the All in One SEO Pro version adds support for video XML vitemaps, enabling your videos to display with thumbnails and a snippet of text content in search results.
The All in One SEO Pack plugin is extremely simple to use and flexible in terms of its configuration. It’s a great choice for smaller sites with less technical developers or site owners.
Given the availability and widespread use of the two previous plugins – both free and providing excellent value with their premium versions – it’s not surprising that the number of sales of this next plugin only number in the thousands.
Premium SEO Pack is a relatively new entrant to the SEO plugin market but is already maintaining a solid average satisfaction rating of 4.25 stars.
As with our previous selections, Premium SEO Pack offers a wide range of features to help optimize your overall SEO, of which XML Sitemaps are one. The plugin generates sitemaps for posts and pages automatically and also handles images, custom post types, and custom taxonomies. Settings are available to exclude specific content, including options to exclude by category and post type.
Premium SEO also includes modules to handle local content and video sitemaps in its base price. Like Yoast SEO, Premium SEO Pack uses the sitemap index option to generate files for larger sites. You can also enable XSL stylesheets to make the sitemaps more human-readable.
For the budget-conscious developer or site owner who is interested in premium features like video sitemaps, it may well be worth checking out Premium SEO pack.
Dedicated Sitemap Plugins
If you’re currently using one of the SEO plugins described above, you’re most likely already comprehensively covered for your sitemap needs. If you’re still lacking automated sitemap functionality, however, you should consider adding a dedicated sitemap plugin to your site to solve that critical piece of the SEO puzzle.
The Google Sitemap plugin has been knocking around for nearly five years and is a stable and mature sitemap generation option. The plugin does exactly what its description says and enables you to easily create a sitemap file and add it to Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools).
The plugin has been downloaded over a million times and reports over one hundred thousand active installs with an overall satisfaction rating of 4.3 stars.
You’re able to select which post types and taxonomies to include in the sitemap from the fairly limited amount of settings made available to you. Custom post types can be included via a simple hierarchical checklist for selection under the plugin’s Extra Settings page. Once you authenticate with your Google account, you can select to add the sitemap to Google Search Console or delete it.
As with Yoast SEO and All in One SEO Pack, a premium version of the plugin is also available. By purchasing the Google Sitemap Pro version, you gain the ability to exclude specific pages and posts from the sitemap file and can specify the frequency of sitemap updates. The pro version also adds Multisite compatibility and provides premium support options.
The Google Sitemap plugin is a simple, no-fuss way to add sitemap functionality to your site if that’s all you need.
With an overall rating of 4.1 stars and over 100,000 active installs, Better WordPress Google XML Sitemaps is a popular alternative to the Google Sitemap plugin but includes more advanced functionality.
The basic settings enable you to select which sitemaps you want to generate, including taxonomies (custom or otherwise), date archives, author archives and external pages. Better WordPress Google XML Sitemaps is also Multisite-compatible by default.
The plugin also has built-in functionality for creating sitemaps to submit to Google News. You can choose to include or exclude posts in certain categories in this sitemap, assign specific categories to predefined genres from Google News guidelines, and map categories to Google News’ suggested keywords.
Where this plugin really stands out is in the flexibility of its customization options. Filters can be added to customize the SQL queries used to build the sitemaps, excluding specific posts or terms for example. Custom XSL stylesheets can also be added to improve the display of sitemaps. Developers can take things even further by creating custom modules to define custom sitemaps using a powerful module API.
Better WordPpress Google XML Sitemaps is a very fast and flexible plugin that’s a great fit for developers looking to really take charge of their sitemap generation. Image and video sitemaps are unfortunately not available in the current version but are scheduled for an upcoming release.
6. XML Sitemaps (Free)
Produced by the same people responsible for the Semiologic SEO plugin, XML Sitemaps is a lightweight but powerful option for automatically generating sitemaps and notifying search engines when they’re updated.
Simple configuration options are provided to include or exclude date archives (for specific years and months), authors, categories and tags in the sitemap generated. Specific pages can also be excluded by ID. This plugin is one of the few which provides cached sitemaps (in the wp-content/sitemaps folder) and uses a rewrite rule to direct search engines.
Where this plugin differentiates itself is in its use of actual website data to assign the frequency of updates and the weight of URLs. Additionally, the plugin determines the number of blog, category and tag pages on your site so that the sitemap works well with custom query strings or other plugins – like Semiologic SEO, for example – which also use that information.
Image Sitemap Plugin
Some of the plugins described above include options for non-standard sitemaps such as images or videos either by default or as a paid extension. If you’re using a plugin which doesn’t provide that functionality – or if you have a site that primarily consists of image or video posts – you might want to consider a specialized solution like our final pick.
The Udinra All Image Sitemap plugin is a recent arrival on the WordPress scene but, with over ten thousand active installs and an overall 4.8 satisfaction rating, it’s clearly already filling a real need for site owners.
The basic functionality of the plugin lies in creating an XML sitemap for images on your website and automatically notifying Google, Bing and Ask.com of their whereabouts. Doing this helps ensure your website ranks well in the image search results of these search engines and image SEO optimization is not something you should ignore.
The plugin automatically updates sitemaps when posts and pages with images are published and you also have the option of making this happen on a set schedule. Images mapped will include featured images (not strictly speaking part of post content) and the image sitemap generated includes the image title, location, and caption all formatted to match Google’s image sitemap standards.
Udinra All Image Sitemap stands out for its overall speed. The interface is simple and easy to zip around in, while all database queries and code have been optimized to reduce server resource usage and overall load. Sitemap generation also produces a gzipped version of the image sitemap which keeps things manageable even if the site includes thousands of image URLs.
A Pro version of the Udinra All Image Sitemap plugin is available if you want to step things up a notch. The Udinra Image Sitemap Pro further improves image SEO by automatically generating image alt text. The plugin will also scan post content for images added directly by image tag instead of attached to posts or pages via the WordPress Media Upload. The Pro version of the plugin also enables large site support through the use of sitemap index files.
The Pro version includes support for NextGEN Gallery – the most widely used WordPress gallery plugin – and detects images and galleries including those added by shortcode. The premium version also integrates nicely with e-commerce plugins like WooCommerce, WP eCommerce, and Easy Digital Downloads to prioritize product images.
If your website is especially image-intensive, this plugin is definitely worth considering.
Selecting the Right WordPress Sitemap Plugin
Choosing the right WordPress sitemap plugin is a crucial step in optimizing your website for search engines. As we’ve outlined above, the best one for your site will depend on what else you’re using for SEO and the specific type of functionality you want. Other key factors to consider are the size of your site and how critical non-text content is to your strategy.
If you just want one solution for your SEO and sitemap needs, both Yoast SEO and the All in One SEO Pack are solid choices, with the latter being a better option for less technical users. Premium SEO Pack is a good fit if video sitemap generation is a priority and you don’t mind paying for all the basic functionality.
If you are looking for a sitemap-only plugin, both Google Sitemap and XML Sitemaps are simple starter solutions. For more advanced customization options, Better WordPress Google XML Sitemaps is the obvious choice.
Finally, if images are a huge priority for your site (with e-commerce or image gallery functionality a big factor), Udinra All Image Sitemap is the tool to turn to.
Sitemaps are a classic example of the amount of time and effort plugins save busy site owners on a daily basis. Both in terms of initial sitemap setup and ongoing updating, using a plugin to handle sitemap generation in WordPress is an absolute no-brainer.
Anything that helps search engines index your sites more effectively is very much to be desired and the more the process can be automated, the better. Every site is different of course so we’ve outlined a range of solutions above that we hope will hit the sweet spot for potentially every use case.
We’d also love to hear your thoughts on the plugins we’ve highlighted. Is there a particular sitemap plugin you always go with? Or a new plugin you think is worth considering? Get in touch via the comments and let us know!
Article thumbnail image by Nobelus / shutterstock.com.