From Google itself – “In most cases, your site will benefit from having a sitemap, and you’ll never be penalized for having one.”
In other words, having a sitemap can only help your SEO efforts so there's really no excuse not to have one.
You can easily create one using the Yoast SEO WordPress plugin.
In this article, you will find out:
- What is Yoast SEO
- What is a sitemap
- When you need and don't need a sitemap
- General sitemap guidelines by Google
- How to create a Sitemap in Yoast SEO
- How to add a sitemap XML to Google Search Console
Let's continue with the article!
What is Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO is one of the most popular WordPress plugins of all time.
And for good reason.
The plugin has over 5 million active installations and is used by WordPress users of all proficiencies.
Whether you're a hobbyist blogger or an SEO professional, Yoast SEO can help you optimize your site and make it more attractive to search engines.
One of the biggest reasons behind Yoast SEO's popularity is certainly the fact that's it's free.
Yoast SEO has a paid version with more functionality, but if you're new to the WordPress world, the free version is going to be all you need for a long time.
To install the plugin on your WordPress site, simply go to Plugins > Add New on your WordPress dashboard and search for "Yoast SEO."
Once you find it, click on the Install Now button and right after that, click on the Activate button.
Yoast SEO has quite a few useful functions, but, in this article, we'll focus on how it can help you to create an XML sitemap for your website.
What is a sitemap
A sitemap is a file that search engine crawlers visit first when they come to your website.
It helps them to more intelligently crawl your website and thoroughly index it.
You don't want to risk one or more of your pages not to get indexed by the search engines.
If that happens, you're losing potential traffic.
This is not very likely to happen, but why risk it, right?
Another benefit of having a sitemap and helping the search engine crawlers to do their job more efficiently is re-indexing your updated pages more quickly.
Some of the advanced benefits of sitemaps include video and image entries where you can specify things like video running time, category, image subject matter, type, or license.
All this provides search engines more information about your content and the more the search engines know about your content, the better.
When do you need a sitemap
In the majority of cases, search engine crawlers will discover your site and all the pages on it, but there are a few scenarios where hiccups might happen and having a sitemap is a good idea.
So, it's advisable to create a sitemap if:
1) You have a large website.
It's simply a numbers game – if your site has hundreds, or even thousands of pages, some of them might get overlooked by the search engine crawlers.
It's as simple as that.
Pages that aren't linked from anywhere on your domain or externally are especially at risk of not being indexed by the search engine crawlers.
In this case, doing everything you can to aid search engine crawlers in performing their job is a good idea.
2) A LOT of your pages are not interlinked or have any backlinks pointing to them.
There are types of websites where a lot of pages are not interlinked at all nor do they have any backlinks pointing to them.
And since search engine crawlers depend on links to successfully get to pages, they might simply miss the pages that aren't linked to at all.
If you have a website with a few such pages, it's not the end of the world.
But if you have a lot of pages like that, you really need a sitemap that hand-holds the crawlers and points them in the direction of every page you want to be indexed.
3) Your website is new and has no links pointing to it.
When you create your website and start publishing content on it, one of the first thoughts you have is probably "How will Google even know my website exists?"
Your concerns are valid.
It might be difficult for search engine crawlers to discover your website and index it.
In this case, it's best to create a sitemap and manually upload it to Google Search Console.
When might you not need a sitemap
There are scenarios where it's technically unnecessary to create a sitemap.
To be clear, I still suggest you create one even if one of these examples apply to you.
Like Google said, a sitemap can only benefit your website and it will never hurt it.
Cases where you might not need a sitemap are:
1) You have a small website.
Google considers a website to be "small" if it's 500 pages or less.
Under the assumption that there are links elsewhere on the Internet pointing to your website.
2) You're using a simple site hosting service like Wix.
Such services usually automatically create a sitemap for your website, but you should always manually check and make sure that's the case.
3) You're properly interlinking your pages.
Every page of your website should have a link pointing to it from at least one other page.
Since crawlers follow links, this would mean they'd be able to get to every page of your website with ease.
4) You don't need videos or images from your site to appear in the search results.
Remember how Google offers Image, Video, and News categories in the search results?
If you don't need your multimedia to appear in those categories, you might not need a sitemap.
How do you create a sitemap in Yoast SEO?
There are many sitemap generator tools out there.
But since having Yoast SEO plugin on your WordPress website anyway, why not install it and use it to generate an XML sitemap for you?
Follow these easy steps to install Yoast SEO and generate a sitemap with it:
Step 1) Go to your WordPress dashboard
Step 2) Hover over "Plugins" in the menu and click on "Add New"
Step 3) Enter "Yoast SEO" into the search box and press Enter
Step 4) Click on the Install Now button to install Yoast SEO
Step 5) After the installation is done, click on the Activate button that will appear in the same spot where Install Now was
You're done installing and activating Yoast SEO.
Yoast SEO should automatically create a sitemap for your website, but we're going to confirm this in the next steps.
Yoast SEO button should have appeared on your dashboard menu.
If it hasn't, try refreshing the dashboard.
Step 6) Click on the SEO button in your WordPress dashboard menu.
Step 7) Click on the General button that appears underneath.
Step 8) Click on the Features tab.
Step 9) Make sure that the "XML Sitemaps" is toggled "On" – if it isn't, toggle it On and click on the Save Changes button bellow
Step 10) Click on the little question mark icon next to XML sitemap and a line of text with two links will appear underneath
Step 11) Click on the "See the XML sitemap" link
Your XML Sitemap should be successfully generated and it should look something like this:
Now that Yoast SEO has generated an XML sitemap for you, let's continue with the article.
Does Yoast SEO submit a sitemap to Google?
Yoast SEO does not submit the sitemap to Google.
You have to do this manually.
It's very simple and it only takes a few steps.
How do you add an XML sitemap to Google Search Console?
Step 1) Go to Google Search Console and sign in
Step 2) Add your website to the tool by clicking on the Add Property button
Step 3) Click on the Sitemaps button in the menu on the left side of the screen
Note #1: if you closed the sitemap window in your browser, perform Step 11) from the "How do you create a sitemap in Yoast SEO" and open your sitemap again.
Copy the sitemap URL.
Important: just to be sure, do not copy the URL from this screenshot because this is the sitemap URL of my website. You need the sitemap URL of 'your' website.
Note #2: If there are any invalid or outdated sitemaps connected to your Google Search Console, you need to remove them
Step 4) Submit the sitemap to the Google Search Console by pasting the URL into the "Add a new sitemap" field
Note: When prompted to enter the Site property URL, enter only the missing part of the URL. And when prompted to enter the Domain property sitemap, enter the entire URL.
And that's it.
You now have a working sitemap for your website that you added to the Google Search Console.
Search engine crawlers now have a starting point of reference when indexing your website either for the first time or when you make updates.
How often should you submit a sitemap to Google Search Console?
The idea is to get the changes you make to your website indexed as quickly as possible.
This is why it's advisable to re-submit an updated sitemap to Google Search Console whenever you make substantial changes or addition to your website.
Here's where the Yoast SEO plugin comes in handy.
Every time you change or add something to your website, Yoast SEO pings Google and Bing search engine crawlers to index the changed or added pages.
This enables you to practically set the sitemap and forget it.
Still, you should check Google Search Console from time to time and make sure your new pages are getting indexed.
Right there on the Overview page, there's a Coverage section that shows you how many pages have been indexed.
If this number is rising as you publish more pages, everything's fine.
If it's not, something might be going wrong and you should try creating and submitting an updated version of your sitemap.
Just go through the process described in this article again if necessary.
A sitemap is basically a collection of links to all the pages on your website.
Since search engine crawlers depend on links to get to all the pages on a particular website, creating a sitemap is a good idea.
This way you will minimize the risk of your pages not getting indexed which, in turn, leads to them not existing in the search engine results pages.
Creating an XML sitemap with Yoast SEO is not only very easy but it has an added benefit of Yoast pinging the search engines whenever changes or additions have been made to your website.
That way you don't have to keep resubmitting the sitemap over and over again to make sure everything gets indexed ASAP.