There are a handful of things you must do on your WordPress site to create a solid foundation for SEO. For example, to be successful with SEO, you should have great content and links to perform well in the SERPS.
With that content, though, you want to make sure that Google knows about your content so it can properly crawl and index your website and pages of content.
What is a WordPress Sitemap?
This is where WordPress Sitemaps come in. They help communicate to Google that your content exists on your blog.
A sitemap is essentially a document that communicates to Google and other search engines that certain pages, posts, products, etc. exist on your WordPress site.
It’s a list of all your content on your WordPress blog or website, which gives search engine bots the heads up so they can crawl and index your content, so it is accessible to searchers.
WordPress HTML Sitemaps vs XML Sitemaps
HTML sitemaps are a little old school; however, they are still great to implement for user experience. HTML sitemaps use to be much more common, but after XML sitemaps had come along, they became the gold standard for SEO.
XML sitemaps are much better for Search engines, as it allows them to gain more information than a simple HTML sitemap.
I recommend that you use XML sitemaps and HTML sitemaps in WordPress. The reason is that XML sitemaps fill the need for search engine bots, and HTML is great for user experience. HTML sitemaps can also help search engine bots crawl your content as well.
For WordPress users, HTML sitemaps are either manually or dynamically created by a WordPress plugin. The same goes for XML sitemaps.
Why you should create an XML sitemap for WordPress
Back in the day, some people didn’t really think it was necessary to use XML sitemaps. As time went on, XML sitemaps came a standard in the SEO world.
XML sitemaps are all about making it easier for the search engine bots to find and crawl your content any faster and more efficient way. Though Google will likely crawl and find your content without, you definitely still want to have an XML sitemap.
This is especially true if you want your content to be indexed more quickly, ensuring that your newest blog posts in WordPress are being indexed on the Google SERPS more quickly. Its also great to have an XML sitemap on your WordPress blog because it alerts Google to any changes in your content.
XML sitemaps help communicate with Google what content you have on your site, what content is changed, and what parts of your WordPress blog you don’t want to be indexed in Google (along with noindex).
WordPress sitemaps will not directly increase your search engine rankings. However, it will allow Google to crawl and index your site faster.
Sitemaps may prevent Duplicate content issues in WordPress
Oftentimes many SEO’s will lump the duplicate content issue with panda. However technically duplicate content is completely separate from panda, it is still something that you need to be wary of.
Whatever specific part of the Google algorithm that the duplicate content issue stems from, most SEOs will agree that duplicate content is a real concern. Though there is some debate on whether duplicate content or is a myth or not, most SEOs would agree that duplicate content can hurt your rankings.
XML Sitemaps are a great way to claim ownership of your content. The reason is you will likely have an earlier timestamp if another website syndicates are content. Content syndication is very common, whether you give permission or not, people are likely to syndicate and curate your content on other websites. You want to make sure that you have your XML sitemaps in place, and continually updated to claim ownership of your content.
WordPress sitemaps are great for new blogs
One of the main ways that search engines like Google discover and crawl your WordPress blog content is through backlinks. That’s why both internal links and backlinks are so important for a good SEO strategy.
However, when you have a new site, you won’t have many backlinks. This can be discouraging when you spend hours crafting the perfect blog post, and two days later, Google is still not indexing your content!
That’s where a WordPress sitemap comes in handy.
It essentially says “hey, there is new content, come crawl me!”
WordPress sitemaps are great for established blogs as well
Sitemaps allow search engines to see when you update new content much quicker, even if you have a decent amount of backlinks pointing to your website. It also allows search engines to see how often you update your content.
This is important because the freshness of content is going to have a positive effect on your overall search rankings. Google likes to see blogs that have new content delivered consistently.
This makes sense right? A blog that only posts a new post every three months isn’t going to be very useful to users. So it makes sense that Google adds a freshness of content factor in their algorithms.
WordPress sitemaps are great because when you are writing consistently on your blog, it communicates this to Google and other search engines.
How to create a sitemap for WordPress?
The old way of creating a sitemap was to manually create one or to have a free sitemap tool that you find online to create one.
These methods are inferior to what we can do with popular WordPress plugins. The reason is that the manual methods are static. Meaning you need to manually update the sitemaps as you add new content.
With WordPress though, there are many plugins that will not only create the sitemap for you, but it will also dynamically and automatically update them to include your new content. There is no need to go back into your sitemap and add new content when using a WordPress sitemap plugin.
What are the best sitemap plugins for WordPress?
You have two choices here. You can either download and install a standalone sitemap plugin for WordPress, or you can install a full featured SEO solution that also includes a sitemap functionality.
I prefer going the full featured SEO plugin route because it also includes many other key default SEO implementations, along with a great sitemap functionality.
When dealing with full featured SEO plugins for WordPress, the two most popular options are Yoast and All in One SEO pack. Both of these have similar settings and sitemap functionality.
I prefer Yoast, and I think it has the slight edge regarding default SEO settings, advanced SEO settings, and beginner friendly settings. Basically, out of the box (without changing any settings), Yoast is slightly better for your WordPress SEO efforts.
Not only does Yoast have a ton of other great SEO, social and other settings, it also seems to have better sitemap functionality than most other standalone sitemap plugins for WordPress. It also allows you the ability to customize your sitemap and includes a video sitemap.