How to Create & Add an XML Sitemap to WordPress

If you visit a website in search of some information, you’ll probably look at the homepage, check out the menus there, maybe click on the sitemap link for a more organized approach. But if you are a search engine, things don’t work quite like that. Search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo have their own way of looking at websites. And if you want your website to rank high on their searches, you need to build your website in a way that makes crawling and indexing it easier for search engine bots. One of the things that SEO experts suggest to help that is creating an XML sitemap and adding it to WordPress. And that’s what we’re talking about today!

What is an XML sitemap?

As always, it’s best to start with the basics. Like every map, an XML sitemap makes navigating a website easier. Unlike most maps, however, it’s not intended for people – it’s there for search engine bots. It’s an index of your website content in an XML format which makes it easier for search engines to discover and index your pages.

4 colorful bots.
XML sitemaps are there for search engine bots.

Among other things, it tells search engine crawlers about which pages on the site are important and lets them know about any changes you make in the structure. This is especially useful for large websites that are not very well structured and new websites without much interlinking yet because it tells search engine bots which content to focus on helps them do so more efficiently.

Is it the same as an HTML sitemap?

As a part of your website design process, you may have already created a sitemap. That, however, is an HTML sitemap, which is completely different from what we’re talking about right now. An HTML sitemap is a neatly organized list linking to every page on your website and intended to make navigation easier for your users. While it will make your website more user-friendly and is therefore highly recommended, it won’t affect the work of search engine bots.

Why do you need an XML sitemap for your WordPress website?

At this point, you may be wondering: do I really need an XML sitemap? Perhaps your website already has history and reputation. Or maybe you already use professional search engine optimization services to improve your rankings. Even so, adding an XML sitemap to your website is always a good idea. The mere presence of it won’t affect your search ranking. But it can help by:

  • letting search engines know about a page that isn’t indexed
  • making it easier for search engines to discover new websites’ content when it still doesn’t have a lot of backlinks
  • highlighting important content on big websites with a lot of pages
  • letting search engine bots know about frequent changes to some areas of the website which need to be visited and indexed
  • leading to a more thorough and frequenting indexing of pages

Ultimately, anything that makes the finding and crawling of your website easier is a good thing.

Desktop showing growing statistics.
XML sitemaps can help with your optimization.

How do you create an XML sitemap and add it to WordPress?

So now you know what an XML sitemap is and why you need one. But how do you get one? As ever, there are a number of ways to go about making and adding a sitemap in WordPress. For now, we will focus on the two most popular ones. First, we will explain how to create a sitemap using WordPress’s own Yoast SEO. Then, we will talk about how the process goes with a Google plugin. One is not inherently superior to the other. So you can choose whichever one works best for you!

Using Yoast SEO

Yoast SEO is currently the best and most popular WordPress plugin on the market. And for good reason! In the right hands, it can work real magic for your search engine optimization. And one of the things that it can help with is the creation of XML sitemaps. Here’s how to add one to your website using this plugin:

  1. First, you must install and activate the Yoast SEO plugin (if you haven’t already, that is).
  2. Next, navigate to SEO – General from your WP dashboard. You are looking for the “Features” tab.
  3. Then, find the feature “XML sitemaps” and turn it on.
  4. Don’t forget to save the changes!

…and that’s about it! It really is quite simple.

graphic representation of a sitemap.
Yoast SEO makes adding a sitemap to WordPress easy.

Of course, you should check that everything is working as it should. So click on the question mark next to the XML sitemaps feature and then follow the link “See the XML sitemap”. This will show you the map Yoast SEO has made for you. You can also navigate to the map by adding sitemap_index.xml at the end of your website address.

Using Google XML Sitemaps Plugin

If you’d prefer not to use Yoast SEO, the Google XML Sitemaps Plugin is an excellent alternative. It is easy to use and works well with a variety of search engines and different types of websites. It also automatically notifies all major search engines about new content. The process is quite simple – all you need to do is install and activate the plugin. It will automatically generate a sitemap for your website. You can then view the map by adding sitemap.xml at the end of your website address or following a link you’ll find at the top of the page when you navigate to Settings – XML-Sitemap from your WP dashboard.

Although the plugin works well with most websites and blogs, it’s worth checking that it’s working well for you. So remember to check Settings – XML-Sitemap for information and configuration. Here, you will see if there are any issues, review some basic options, adjust what the plugin prioritizes, and even decide what to include or exclude from your sitemap.

Don’t forget to submit your XML sitemap to Google!

Search engine bots are pretty clever and can find your XML sitemap themselves. But we still recommend submitting to be sure, especially since it’s quite simple to do so. You will first need to verify you are the website’s owner through Google Search Console. Once you’ve done that, find your website through the console. Then navigate to Index – Sitemaps, enter your sitemap URL and click submit. And that’s it – you’re done!

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