Creating an XML Sitemap in WordPress: Advantages, Plugins & Webmaster Tools

Sven Scheuerle Last updated on 23.10.2020
7 Min.
create xml sitemap
Last updated on 23.10.2020

With an XML Sitemap, you help search engines understand the structure of your WordPress website in an easy way. You make it easier for crawlers to work with your site and you decide which content should be indexed by Google & Co. This article explains the long-term advantages of creating a sitemap, two useful WordPress plugins to help you and how to submit an XML sitemap.

What is a sitemap anyway?

When we're talking about the so-called "sitemap" of your WordPress website, we usually mean the XML sitemap. The acronym XML stands for "Extensible Markup Language". Put simply, it is a language for exchanging hierarchically structured data in the form of a text file.

The XML sitemap thus displays all URLs, or rather a list of all URLs (individual pages, documents). The main purpose of this list is that it can be read in an automated way. To be more precise, the search engine crawlers use this list to index the contents of your website quickly and easily. 

You don't have to create an XML sitemap in WordPress but it is recommended. It makes the work of Google and Co. easier and your content is usually listed faster in search results. To this end, you can also submit your WordPress sitemap to search engines such as Google or Bing. 

In addition to the so-called XML sitemap, which is primarily intended for machine readout, there is also the HTML sitemap. This is not a text file, but an HTML page, on which all subpages of a website are listed in a table. This sitemap is just there for visitors to gain an overview of your website's content.

In the following image, you'll find an XML sitemap of my blog. Here you can see that the sitemap lists single posts, pages and documents (images etc.). This sitemap was created automatically by the plugin Yoast SEO, which I use in my WordPress installation. 

XML sitemap Yoast SEO

Why is an XML sitemap so important?

As mentioned above, as a WordPress user or generally as a website operator, you're not obligated to create an XML sitemap for search engines. After all, search engines can index your website without a sitemap. Without an XML sitemap, however, the crawlers might not find all the individual pages or documents on your site.

With the help of a suitable WordPress sitemap you, as it were, facilitate the work of the crawlers. Because the sitemap lists all content to be indexed. There's still no guarantee that the search engine in question will actually index all content, however. Each search engine decides this for itself and according to its own criteria (for example, based on the quality of the content).

Below you can see what an XML sitemap for WordPress posts could look like: 

Creating an XML Sitemap in WordPress: Advantages, Plugins & Webmaster Tools

Benefits of a WordPress sitemap

  • You can submit all the individual pages of your website
  • You can monitor submission and indexing on Google and Bing
  • You can also submit pages that are not directly accessible
  • You make it easier for search engines to index all your pages and content

Tip: You should regularly review the XML sitemap of your WordPress site and check to make sure that only the content you've chosen to list is listed. The sitemap is visible for every user. If, for example, content has been included here that is not (or not yet) intended for the public, it can be accessed via the sitemap. 

You can exclude individual pages or posts from indexing with the help of SEO plugins like Yoast or Rank Math directly in the Gutenberg editor.

Creating an XML Sitemap in WordPress: Advantages, Plugins & Webmaster Tools
You could exclude this post from indexing by unchecking the box.

How to create a sitemap in WordPress

You don't need any expert knowledge to create a sitemap in WordPress. There are plenty of useful plugins out there to help you. Today, I'd like to show you two of the most popular SEO plugins,Yoast SEO and Rank Math, and illustrate how easy it is to create an XML sitemap in just a few steps. 

The good news right from the start: Both plugins create a sitemap for you during the installation, completely automatically. All you have to do is decide which content should be included in or excluded from the sitemap. 

Yoast vs. Rank Math

If you want to learn much more about the two plugins Yoast SEO and Rank Math, I recommend the article "WordPress SEO plugins" by Dominik.

Yoast SEO

Creating an XML Sitemap in WordPress: Advantages, Plugins & Webmaster Tools

The Yoast SEO plugin is available in a free or paid version. The free version is sufficient for creating a sitemap and for all basic SEO settings. 

You can enable or disable the creation of XML sitemaps in theYoast SEO settings under GeneralFeatures. By default this option is set to "on".

Creating an XML Sitemap in WordPress: Advantages, Plugins & Webmaster Tools

Under the item "Taxonomies" (post types), you can define which content or pages should be listed by Yoast SEO in the XML sitemap. This includes categories, keywords, and formats. 

Under Display in searchtaxonomies, you can select these post types or exclude them from being displayed in the search results. 

Creating an XML Sitemap in WordPress: Advantages, Plugins & Webmaster Tools

As a rule, it's always recommended to exclude categories and other special formats from the search results. Quite simply to avoid "duplicate content". 

Rank Math

Creating an XML Sitemap in WordPress: Advantages, Plugins & Webmaster Tools

The SEO plugin Rank Math is also available free of charge and is mainly used for the search engine optimization of your website. In addition to numerous functions, you will also find settings for XML sitemaps. 

Under the menu item Sitemap settingsGeneral, you can choose from all the setting options. Just like with Yoast, you can determine which content should be listed in the sitemap and which should be left out. You'll also find a direct link here, which you can use to access your sitemap. 

Creating an XML Sitemap in WordPress: Advantages, Plugins & Webmaster Tools

With Rank Math, it's also possible to exclude individual taxonomies (post types) from being listed in the WordPress sitemap with just a few clicks (categories, keywords). To do this, simply turn the corresponding slider on or off. 

Creating an XML Sitemap in WordPress: Advantages, Plugins & Webmaster Tools

In addition, you have the option to exclude posts, pages, and shortcodes as a rule under the item "post types". However, you should only ever exclude posts and pages in individual cases and as needed because his type of content should usually always be included in an XML sitemap. 

Important to know

The path to the sitemap can be different depending on which plugin you used to create it. For Yoast SEO and Rank Math the paths are the same. This means you can access your WordPress sitemap via the following path: https://YOUR-URL/sitemap_index.xml

XML sitemap feature in WordPress 5.5

The next major update to WordPress 5.5 will bring a sitemap feature to the WordPress core files. This means that from WordPress 5.5 onwards you won't need a separate plugin to create a basic sitemap. The new integrated sitemap feature does not, however, provide an interface to make further settings, for example to exclude certain posts or pages. For more complex sitemap requirements, additional plugins will continue to provide the best solutions. More information about the new feature can be found on the official WordPress blog.

Submit your WordPress sitemap to Google and Bing

Once you have created your XML sitemap as described above, you can submit it directly to Google and Bing. This has the advantage that you can monitor the indexing status of your website at any time and view the corresponding statistics. 

Google Search Console

Creating an XML Sitemap in WordPress: Advantages, Plugins & Webmaster Tools

In Google, you can submit your sitemap in the Google Search Console Once you've verified your site, click on the "sitemaps" option under Index. 

Creating an XML Sitemap in WordPress: Advantages, Plugins & Webmaster Tools

All you have to do is enter the path to your sitemap and then click on the "submit" button. It can take several days for the submission to be checked and until you're able to view the statistics. 

In the example above you can see the submitted sitemap for my blog. By clicking on the "Diagram icon" you can see detailed statistics. If there were problems with indexing one or more URLs, for example, it would be displayed here.

Creating an XML Sitemap in WordPress: Advantages, Plugins & Webmaster Tools

Bing Webmaster Tools

Creating an XML Sitemap in WordPress: Advantages, Plugins & Webmaster Tools

In Bing Webmaster Tools you also have the option to submit your sitemap. As with the Google Search Console, you first need to verify your website. Once this step is completed, you can submit the sitemap directly on the dashboard under the item "Sitemaps". 

Creating an XML Sitemap in WordPress: Advantages, Plugins & Webmaster Tools

With one click on the button "Submit sitemap" you can enter the corresponding path and confirm it by clicking on the button "Submit". 

Creating an XML Sitemap in WordPress: Advantages, Plugins & Webmaster Tools

After the WordPress sitemap has been processed successfully, you'll also have an overview of your site in Bing Webmaster Tools in the form of statistics or website activity. 

Creating an XML Sitemap in WordPress: Advantages, Plugins & Webmaster Tools

Final thoughts

Although creating a sitemap isn't mandatory, it's still beneficial to submit one to at least the most important search engines like Google and Bing for the reasons mentioned above. This way you always have control over your site and have access to useful statistics. 

With the help of the two plugins mentioned above, you'll complete the entire task within a few minutes. Even beginners in this field should have no problem finding their way around. 

To make sure that nothing goes wrong in the long run, you should check your sitemap at regular intervals to any find faulty URLs or exclude URLs not intended for everyone from indexing. 

Do you have further questions or feedback?

Feel free to use the comment function. You want to be informed about new posts on WordPress, Online Marketing & Co.? Then follow us on Twitteror Facebook , or subscribe to our newsletter.

Sven Scheuerle – Independent freelancer and passionate affiliate marketer has been working in online marketing for many years. He is also a blogger and regularly posts on his blog BLOGGiraffe.de about self-employment in online business.

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