How to Create a Sitemap for Your WordPress Website

Posted on October 6, 2016 by in Tips & Tricks | 40 comments

How to Create a Sitemap for Your WordPress Website

No matter how great at navigating you are, it always helps to have a map telling you where everything is, right? Well, it’s the same with search engines. They’re able to crawl your site by themselves, but you can make it a heckuva lot easier for them by creating something called a sitemap.

Essentially, sitemaps tell search engines like Google and Bing how your site is structured. This way, they can crawl and index your site more efficiently. They’re an essential part of your SEO strategy. And in this post, I’ll tell you why and how you can set up your sitemap for WordPress.

What Sitemaps Are and How They Help

To explain what a sitemap is, it helps to have a very basic understanding of how search engines index the web. Essentially, search engines send out robots called crawlers that follow links around the Internet. Each time they find a new link, the crawler will index that new page (of course, directives like noindex and nofollow can always alter this behavior). And from then on, people searching in Google or other search engines can see that page in the search results.

Sitemaps expedite this process by providing search engine robots with a detailed map of your site. Instead of having to crawl your site manually by finding internal links to all your content, the crawler can instantly know where every public page in your website is located.

While by no means a magic bullet for SEO, sitemaps will improve the indexing of your site. And that means it’s more likely that all your posts and pages get included in search results.

They also allow you to provide search engines with optional information like when a page was last updated, how often a page changes, and how important a page is. This information can further help search engines optimize how they crawl your site.

XML vs HTML Sitemaps

XML sitemaps are the most common implementation. They’re exactly what I discussed above – a map dedicated almost entirely to search engines. Their data isn’t really useful to humans, so the only reason to create one is to boost your indexing.

HTML sitemaps, on the other hand, can be used by both humans and search engines. It’s an actual page on your website where humans and search engines can get a high-level overview of all the content your site offers. Search engines can still crawl this page, but it also gives some curious visitors a better user experience.

So which type should you use?

The answer is BOTH. It’s not an either/or question. They don’t conflict and both types offer benefits. If you don’t believe me, check out former Google SEO guru Matt Cutts talking about why you should include both XML and HTML sitemaps:

How to Create an XML Sitemap with WordPress

Given the popularity of SEO plugins, there’s a good chance you already have all the necessary functionality to create an XML sitemap. If you use Yoast SEO, All in One SEO, or SEOPressor, you just need to find the relevant plugin setting to set up your XML sitemap.

For example, with Yoast SEO you just need to navigate to SEO → XML Sitemaps to enable and configure it:

yoast-xml-sitemap

One nice feature with Yoast SEO’s sitemap tool is the ability to include media attachments in your XML sitemap:

yoast-xml-sitemap-image

When enabled, this can boost your traffic from Image Search by increasing the indexing of your media uploads.

Creating an XML sitemap is similar with All in One SEO, just navigate to All in One SEO → XML Sitemap:

all-in-one-seo-sitemap

Creating an XML Sitemap with Google XML Sitemaps

If you don’t have one of those plugins, or want additional control over your XML sitemap, you can also easily create one with the aptly named Google XML Sitemaps plugin. It’s free and available at the WordPress.org plugin repository.

After you install the plugin, you can configure it by going to Settings → XML-Sitemap:

xml-sitemap-generator-plugin

Here’s what you’ll definitely want to configure on that page:

  • Post priority: Set how you want to calculate posts’ crawling priorities. You can have the plugin automatically calculate priority by the number of comments, or manually set the priority later on.
  • Sitemap content: Choose what types of content get included in your sitemap. For example, if you want to exclude category archives, you just need to uncheck that box.
  • Change frequencies: Set how often each type of content gets changed. This gives search engines an idea of how to prioritize their crawling. For example, you’ll definitely want to set the page which displays your recent posts to be crawled daily.
  • Priorities: Lets you set manual crawling priorities for different content. You definitely want your homepage and posts page (if different) to be high priority.

How to Create an HTML Sitemap with WordPress

To create an HTML sitemap, you’ll need to turn to a separate plugin right from the start. It’s called WP Sitemap Page and is also available for free at WordPress.org.

Once you install the plugin, you can customize it by going to Settings → WP Sitemap Page:

wp-sitemap-page-plugin

You can exclude certain post types, choose how post titles display, and choose whether or not to display posts multiple times if they appear in different categories.

Then, you can add your sitemap to any page via shortcode. The plugin includes plenty of custom shortcodes which allow you to do things like only display pages, tags, categories and more. You can also customize sorting options to have them display in the exact order you want.

It’s a good idea to place this shortcode in a page that’s accessible from your footer. That way, it’s easier for humans and search engines to find, but it doesn’t take up valuable primary menu space.

How to Tell Search Engines About Your XML Sitemap

Now that you’ve created your sitemaps, there’s one more thing you need to do:

Tell search engines exactly where they can find it.

By showing search engines where you keep your sitemap, you ensure they find it, which means they’ll know whenever you publish changes to it and your site.

To submit your sitemap to Google, you’ll need to sign up at Google Search Console (formerly called Google Webmaster Tools) and follow their instructions for submitting a sitemap.

The process is quite similar for submitting your sitemap to Bing. You’ll need to sign up at Bing Webmaster Tools and then submit your sitemap by following their directions.

Wrapping Up

Sitemaps are a quick and simple way to improve your WordPress site. Creating an XML sitemap will make it easier for search engines to crawl and index all of your content. And HTML sitemaps can similarly improve crawlability while also boosting the user experience for some users who prefer getting a bird’s eye view of your site.

At the very minimum, you should create an XML sitemap and submit it to Google and Bing. But if you have the time, I also encourage you to consider adding an HTML sitemap to cover all your bases.

Have you made a sitemap before? If so, what tools did you use?

Article thumbnail image by Aleksey Vanin / shutterstock.com

40 Comments

    • Care to elaborate on why Yoast gives you grief?

    • Why do you think so?

        • So what do you suggest. I need something that is as simple as possible. its no good showing me something with lots of feature as I’m more likely to fudge it up then make it better.
          I have tried a few but i felt I was clicking options with no knowledge of what I was doing.

        • I agree with the new design thing,, i dont even wanna browse that website ..

        • hi,
          interesting post. Can you suggest what to use? I’m new with seo things.
          Thanks,
          Goran

          • How about trying the all in one seo pack plugin. I like using that one.

            • I give my vote All In One SEO plugin.

        • Can you at least recommend an alternative?

    • Why Ron? I never use it

    • Nathan B. Weller

      Hey Ron, thank you for your active participation on the blog. I know I can usually count on seeing your thoughts in the comments of most of our posts and I think that’s awesome.

      After seeing you express the idea on multiple posts that we are “pimping Yoast SEO” I feel like I need to be frank with you:

      There is no conspiracy.

      We’re not secretly trying to get people to use this plugin or give it preferential treatment.

      Do you want to know why we mention Yoast SEO so often? Because almost everyone uses it. Simple as that.

      People tend to find content most useful when it shows them how to solve problems they’re having with the tools they possess. And so that’s what we do.

      Now that that is cleared up, I’d like to address your conduct in the comments:

      You opinion of this plugin, and it is an opinion, does not make it a bad plugin with poor code or whatever else you are accusing it of.

      If you have the technical chops to write a detailed audit of the Yoast SEO code that will show us all how bad it is, I invite you to do so. If you do not, then stop making baseless claims that you can’t back up. They will be deleted.

      Furthermore, this is not a platform for personal attacks. If you don’t like Joost or anyone else, keep it to yourself. Our blog and these comments are for education and encouragement.

      That said, thoughtful critiques and passionate disagreement are welcome; but they must also be respectful and constructive. Most of the time, yours are not.

      I value your participation and your passion, but your negativity–so often right at the top of a discussion–can really poison a thread, making the whole discussion negative and argumentative. That doesn’t make for great community.

      So I’m asking for your help as an active member of this community–can you help us keep things positive, respective, encouraging, and constructive?

      • Users like Ron (touching the baseline of being trolls) will tarnish the vibe of ETs posts.

        I used to came here and on the very most part the attitude was such a positive one to begin the day. Learn something, positive people and such a vibrant community.

        Now over the last couple of months, this Ron character has become more active and most of the time his attitude is questionable.

        Just his comments has fuelled me to write this and now I need to listed to some music to start the day off on a better note.

        ET – nip this on the butt. You guys don’t need such agro, negativity and a rude character in the blog posts.

      • Well said Nathan.

      • So it is Nathan

        • Nathan B. Weller

          Ron, in all honesty, if this is your response then I don’t think you understand the type of community atmosphere we’re trying to create here.

          I don’t know how I can be more clear.

          No, we do not want your version of “shooting straight” in the comments.

          If that is the only way you know how to communicate then please stop commenting.

          If you want to abide by the values I mentioned in my previous comment then by all means continue to do so.

      • Nathan, why has my comment been removed without explanation?
        It was in this thread and as far as I can tell there was nothing wrong with it in terms of the discussion rules.
        I’ve checked back here a few times and I dont see it.
        I take it my opinion is unappreciated here then?

      • Nathan,

        Excellent job handling this. I never saw Ron’s comment but just seeing his aggressiveness makes me recognize the type.

        Keep up the good work.

  1. My preferred plugin for sitemap is JetPack…The beauty with jetpack is that it eliminates the need to have multiple plugins…one plugin serves the purpose of multiple plugins.

    • New to wordpress and saw jetpack but it came with a lot of other stuff as well which was not going to be used and a lot needed to be upgraded/paid for. May be it is just better to get a individual plugin which is rated high rather then clicking the one stop shop but master of none.

  2. Now that a lot of users are moving to nginx, additional rewrite configuration is needed for most sitemap plugins to work.

    Not too hard to do, but just something to remember.

  3. Hi Brenda,
    if I must administer one site the method showed is very good. What should I do if I manage say 10 sites and each site publish an article every two days ?. Would be 50 updates every 10 days. There is an automated way to do this? I can write a program, if necessary. Thanks for your advice, and thank you for the articles published here in Elegant Themes.

  4. I think JetPack is better…with jetpack you eliminates the need to have multiple plugins

  5. I’ve been using Yoast SEO Plugin from the very beginning. Not to mention that I’ve tried other plugins too and I like Yoast from those and don’t find issues as such. For the HTML sitemap is there any other plugins? – since I don’t like the look and feel and it is very simple.

  6. Perhaps off topic but trying to read this blog on my smartphone the popups keep getting in my way. Cannot remove them out of my sight.

  7. Thank you very much. I’ve been researching on this lately and this post makes it better and lucid with the HTML sitemap tip. Kudos. ET for life.

    Cheers!

  8. Question: Yoast or Google XML Sitemaps ?

  9. Nathan, why don’t you provide links to the plugins mentioned in your article? I go to WordPress’ plugin site and type in their search but sometimes there are dozens of results with similar names. How can I know which one is exactly the one you are talking about??

    • (sorry, i meant to direct that at Brenda)

  10. Hi Brenda,

    Thanks for this article. It is VERY timely for me.

    I just wonder, do we need to submit html sitemaps to the Google? or will these get picked up as the search engine crawls the site and the xml sitemap (which the html sitemap will likely be listed in).

    Thanks again,

    John.

  11. I do have to share my discoveries regarding Yoast. I do use it currently but I patiently waiting for them to figure out the issues with regards to complete integration with Divi.

    While Yoast creates the XML sitemap pages, where it goes wrong is it doesn’t identify images within Divi components. As such, NOT all of the images in your site are tracked by Googles Search Console. This can be an issue when you are using image names in your SEO efforts.

    I’ve mentioned this issue to both ET and Yoast and so far Yoast has admitted that they have issues identifying images used within the Divi builder.

  12. hi,

    I have a question… Which sitemap is good in case of GOOGLE xml sitemap plugin?
    They have both static and dynamic xml sitemaps. Is there any advantage of using static sitemap?

  13. Hey Brenda,

    The sitemap is the key to guide the Google about all the posts and pages present on your blog.

    Most of the people like to generate the XML sitemap as it is easy to crawl nd index by Google.

    I would prefer SEO Yoast over All in one SEO pack.

    Thanks for sharing with us.
    ~Ravi

  14. I;m use sitemap from yoast SEO plugin. Very nice for my blog but i’m disable media. Now i want to try enable back media to boost traffic from image search. TQ

  15. Yep, thanks for this great article on sitemap. Thanks for advise of using both the xml and html sitemaps.

    The Yoast is a great plugin and I love your tutorials on it. Thanks

  16. Though I also know that yoast is great, buh If Jetpack has it, I don’t bother usinge any other plugin. So for me I prefer the sitemap feature in Jetpack.
    Also thanks guys

  17. Thanks for this. I have generated a sitemap in All in One SEO. However I’m struggling to follow the instructions on how to submit my sitemap to Google. Is there a video or detailed instructions on how to do this? Thanks

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