What is an XML sitemap?

An XML sitemap functions as a roadmap for search engines to discover the content on your site. Sometimes, pages on your site aren’t discoverable through your menu or other means, but you’d like search engines to index those pages. This is where an XML sitemap comes in. In this article, we’ll take a look at what XML sitemaps are, how they work, how you can add one to your site, and why you’ll be glad you did.

What is an XML sitemap and how do I get one?

Using Extensible Markup Language (XML), a sitemap provides search engines with a list of page URLs on a website. This way, the search engine knows which pages to crawl. Many popular SEO plugins — including Yoast SEO, The SEO Framework, All In One SEO Pack, etc. — provide the option to include an XML sitemap. It’s easy to find a tutorial for the plugin you use. For example, Yoast SEO has an XML sitemap tutorial on their website.

Do I really need to add an XML sitemap to my site?

Google specifically recommends an XML sitemap sites with large archives or new sites. If you’re sure you can navigate to every page on your site through your menu and internal linking, it’s not necessary to add a sitemap to your site. However, it’s never a bad idea. Even if you specifically have publicly published pages on your website that you don’t want search engines to find, you can exclude those from your sitemap. Most SEO plugins will allow you to pick and choose which pages you add to your sitemap.

Which pages should you include in your sitemap?

While it might be tempting to simply add every page on your site to your sitemap — after all, the more pages you have, the better the chance Google will show your site in search results, right? — you might want to apply further strategy to your choice. Consider which pages are best as initial landing pages for visitors to your site. Obviously, you’ll want to include your home page. Your blog is essential too, if you have one — especially if you’ve optimized your posts for SEO. But is an about page a good choice? Maybe not so much.

What else will help make the most of a sitemap?

Once you’ve created a sitemap, you’ll want to be sure search engines find it. Thankfully, there’s a good chance they’ll find it without any further action, but you can always use Google Search Console to tell Google you’ve added an XML sitemap to your site. Once your sitemap is ready, check it in your SEO plugin and make sure it is displaying the pages you want search engines to find.