Sitemaps can be an important way for search engines to learn about your site. While sitemaps do not affect your SEO, they can be helpful in assisting search engines to discover your site more quickly and more thoroughly. Since there is an upside to using them and essentially no downside to producing them, it’s a good idea to include one on your website.
There are many ways to build a sitemap. In the old days, it was a bulleted HTML list that served as a table of contents. Nowadays an XML list is the preferred format because search engines do a better job with those. It makes it easier for them to index the pages on your site and understand how quickly your site is updated allowing them to craw it most efficiently.
The Google XML Sitemaps plugin is a great way to add one to your site. Make sure you get the one we’re talking about; it’s “Google XML Sitemaps” with an “s” at the end. There’s more than a few that are very similarly named, but this is one that’s been around the block and does its job well. Once installed, you’ll find access to the plugin’s settings under Settings > XML-Sitemap. There are a lot of options to be found there, but don’t let that overwhelm you. Let’s walk through a few to see what this plugin can do.
The default options are a good place to start. It will let you know if you are blocking search engines, and it will help you notify the major search engines (including Bing and Yahoo! in addition to Google) about your sitemap when it’s ready. It adds the sitemap to the robots.txt file and even makes an HTML version to boot. Honestly, if you don’t change a thing on the settings page, you’ll do just fine.
If you want to take control of your sitemap, you’ve got lots of choices of what to include. If you have additional pages that may not exactly fit under your site’s hierarchy, you can specify what else you’d like include in your sitemap. You can also specify custom post types, custom taxonomies, or individual bits of the standard WordPress content such as author pages. Or conversely, you can identify specific things to exclude from the sitemap.
In addition, you can provide guidance to the search engine crawlers on how frequently they need to visit various portions of your site. However, crawlers do their own thing, so this is just a “guideline” and not a hard and fast “rule.”
Lastly, you can indicate the priority of various types of content. The homepage nearly always gets the highest priority, but you can fine tune whether Posts or Pages are more important and how they compare to things such as categories, tags, and authors.
The Google XML Sitemaps plugin is a great way to take control of your site’s portrayal to search engine crawlers. While they are notorious for obfuscating the rules of engagement, adding a sitemap is an easy way to play nice and reap whatever benefits that brings.