The Complete Guide to WordPress Sitemaps

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When you hear “WordPress sitemap,” your first reaction might be to run away screaming “too technical!” But don’t fear, a WordPress sitemap is easy to create and maintain—and it’s part of creating a great website experience for your users and fantastic for technical SEO reasons. We get into everything you need to know about WordPress sitemaps and more below. 

Why A Sitemap Is So Important

Sitemaps are usually published in an XML format and tell search engines like Google, Bing, or Yahoo about every page on your site in a search-engine-friendly format. A sitemap also lets search engines in on crucial insights about your website, like the most important links or how often you update your site. 

Once you create a sitemap, it’ll help improve your user’s experience. If your user experience is excellent, it ultimately helps your site rank higher in search engine results. 

In one case study, FTF Agency increased one of its client’s SEO traffic by over a million visits per month once it revised their sitemap as part of its overall strategy. FTF Agency modified its client’s sitemap by limiting individual sitemaps, nesting sitemap files, and testing them for errors. This small but essential part of their strategy ultimately led to the client’s SEO success.  

Now, we know this sounds like technical jargon and potentially advanced. But you don’t have to jump straight to advanced sitemap strategies to see results. Next, we walk you through quick tips you can apply to improve your sitemap and some long-term strategies you can use to maintain it. 

Quick Tips to Improve Your WordPress Sitemap Today

Without a sitemap to help your site communicate with search engines, it is harder for search engine crawlers to discover and index your content. The first tip is to use sitemap creation tools like YoastSEO. 

With Yoast SEO, you can easily create a sitemap to ensure the search engine gods smile down on your site. Once you’ve created your sitemap with Yoast, here are some additional tips to ensure your sitemap is everything it can possibly be (and more). 

Exclude Pages You Don’t Want Crawlers To Index

Do you have content on your site you don’t want Google indexing? You can leave it out of your sitemap. How? Easy.

Using your Yoast plugin, once you’ve uploaded and activated it on your site from your WordPress dashboard, navigate to the post or page you want to leave out of your sitemap. From there, scroll to the bottom of your post to see the section titled Advanced. 

Under “Allow search engines to show this post in search results?” select No. Now that post will not be included as part of your XML sitemap. You can easily do this for all pages and/or posts you don’t want or need search engines to index. 

For example, many sites create a “links” post on their website that serves as the landing page for the link on their Instagram bio. This is a great way to avoid using a paid third-party service like Linktree to create a landing page for all of your most important links.  

However, it isn’t necessary for search engines to crawl and index posts like this. With a plugin like Yoast SEO and the steps we just went through, you can easily exclude specific posts from being indexed. 

It’s good practice to take the time to make a list of posts and pages that simply don’t need to be indexed but that you still need published as part of your site. If your website is a bit more established with pages in the triple digits, you’ll want to take the time to look through any posts or pages you might have forgotten about or gotten lost in the shuffle. 

Keeping a simple Google Excel spreadsheet of all your posts and pages can be an easy way to track everything in one place. 

Make Sure Your Site Is Well Structured

The better your site structure, the better your sitemap. How do you make sure your structure is good for the best sitemap results? 

For starters, the general order of a solid site structure starts with the homepage, then you’ll have categories, and finally, you’ll have posts and pages within each category.

Here are a few things to check for when you’re revising the structure of your site: 

  • Categorize any uncategorized published posts to make sure it’s “filed” correctly.
  • Include a main menu (usually at the top of your site) that’s easy to navigate with all major categories or pages listed.
  • Add relevant tags to posts that further describe each page or post.
  • Resubmit your site to the Google Search Console after making structural changes.

Google uses the structure of your site through the sitemap to determine which pages are important and how and where they should be indexed. A well-structured site always equals better usability—an SEO factor Google is doubling down on as its algorithm grows smarter. 

Once you’ve double-checked your site structure and activated your XML sitemap with the Yoast plugin, you’ll be one step closer to a more user-friendly site that ranks higher. Now let’s look at internal linking. 

Improve Your Internal Links

Internal linking is another short-term improvement you can make to your site to improve your sitemap. A strong internal link profile lets Google know your site has valuable information and has been created to be useful to its intended audience. 

You might know the importance of creating a site with strong internal links, but how do you go about doing it? As you look through your content, try to find areas within the text where you can naturally link to other relevant posts on your site. 

You can also add a “related posts” section either in the middle or at the end of each post where you link to other internal pages. It’s up to you if you’d like to do this manually or if you prefer to do it with a plugin. 

Create a list of your content first to see which ones make the most sense to interlink. This can help avoid confusion and create a more systematic linking strategy that’ll make sense for your users.

One more idea is to take your pillar content, the most important posts on your site, and add them to your main menu. From there, you can also add relevant contextual links and related links. Though it’s important to remember not to overdo interlinking— it’ll start looking fishy to search engines (like you’re trying to game the system), and you definitely don’t want to be penalized for that. 

Long-Term Strategies To Improve Your WordPress Sitemap

Let’s dive into a few long-term strategies you can implement to ensure your sitemap stays in good shape. 

Personalize And Optimize Your Yoast Sitemap Settings

To ensure your Yoast plugin sitemap settings are what they should be, navigate to SEO, then click on General. From there, click on the Features tab.

Here you can ensure your XML sitemap is on, and it is also where you can designate cornerstone content. 

You can also navigate to the Tools section under SEO to access the File Editor if you want to add more advanced customization to your Robots.txt file. 

Learn To Use Google Search Console To Check Your Sitemap

Sometimes things break. That’s when you want to make sure you’re keeping an eye on your sitemap to catch anything that might need fixing. This is where the Google Search Console is your best friend.  

Google Search Console is so helpful that we wrote an in-depth guide to walk you through everything you need to know to use it like a pro. With it, you can find crawling errors, see if certain pages are returning a 404 error message, and see if any pages aren’t being indexed. 

Submit Your New & Revised Pages Manually For Faster Crawling

Depending on your SEO strategy, you might be after getting results very quickly. One way to accelerate the indexing of new content you create ahead of Google’s indexing schedule is to manually submit them to the Google Search Console.

Here’s how: 

  • Copy your new post’s URL
  • Head to your Google Search Console and paste the URL into the search bar 
  • Once pasted, under URL Inspection, click on Request Indexing
  • From there, you’ll receive a success message notifying you that indexing has been requested

You can do this any time you create a new piece of content to ensure Google indexes it ASAP. Keep in mind that submitting it more than once isn’t going to speed up the process. So once you submit your page, rest assured Google will take care of it as soon as it can. 

Optimize Your Robots.txt File

Why should you optimize your robots.txt file? Let’s take it back a step. A robots.txt file is a text file you can create for your website that tells search engines with pages on your site they should and shouldn’t crawl and index. 

If your site is brand new, optimizing your robots.txt file might not be necessary. But once your site starts growing and you’re dealing with more content, you’ll want to get a handle on your robots.txt file for better crawling results. 

One of the best ways to optimize your robots.txt file is to make sure it’s only crawling the valuable posts and pages on your site. This is because search engine crawlers have what they call a “crawl quota.” They crawl a certain number of pages in each session.

As your site grows and crawlers recrawl your site as scheduled, more critical pages on your site might not be indexed as fast as they should if search engine crawlers fill their quota by crawling unnecessary pages first. 

What are unnecessary pages on your site that don’t necessarily need to be crawled or indexed? They can be pages like disclaimers, affiliate policies, landing pages, or images you don’t want Google to index. 

Earlier, we went through an easy way to exclude pages and posts from being crawled by Google crawlers using the Yoast SEO plugin. You simply open the page or post you want to exclude, scroll down to the section labeled “Advanced,” and choose the “No” option under the “Allow search engines to show this post in search results?” section.

Schedule Regular Site Checkpoints

It’s easy to think that once you set up and optimize your sitemap, you’re set forever. But that isn’t the case. Any website you create will need regular maintenance if you want to keep it healthy and see it rank on search engine results. 

We recommend you schedule regular maintenance checkpoints every few months. It’s the best way to stay in the know of everything happening with your site, whether you’re finding broken links, there are sitemap errors that need fixing, or maybe something isn’t mobile-friendly that needs attention. The Yoast plugin and the Google Search Console are two great tools you can use to do this periodically. 

Next Steps

If you’ve gotten this far, you know how sitemaps work, why they’re necessary, and how you can make sure you create the best sitemap possible. But as with all things WordPress, the fun doesn’t stop there. 

There’s plenty more to learn about, including learning how to identify and fix crucial WordPress errors. Ever wondered what people do when they land on your site? Here’s how to download the Crazy Egg plugin to learn more about your target audience through heatmaps and click reports.  

And as far as SEO is concerned, a slow website is almost as bad as no website. Learn how to optimize your WordPress site speed with this ultimate guide.  

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