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Sitemaps help search engines crawl your websites efficiently by showing them a list of your website URLs.
Online tools such as XML-Sitemaps.com can be used to create a sitemap for your website, however if your website was created using WordPress you may want to consider using a sitemap WordPress plugin instead.
In this article, I would like to show you how these two sitemap solutions compare.
What Are Sitemaps?
The sitemaps protocol was created to allow website owners to advise search engines of the URLs that they want to be crawled and indexed.
A sitemap is an XML file that shows a list of URLS on your website. You can curate this list to specify exactly which pages you wanted to be listed in search engines.
Sitemaps work together with the Robots.txt file. Whilst the Robots.txt protocol is normally used to advise what URLs to exclude, the sitemaps protocol is used to advise what URLs to include. You can, however, specify the location of your sitemap in Robots.txt.
Sitemaps are normally stored in your website’s root directory at www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml. Search engines will look for your sitemap, but you can also manually submit sitemaps to search engines.
The Sitemap File
A sitemap XML file is constructed using a number of XML tags.
Some of these tags, such as url and sitemapindex, are required. Other tags are optional, however they can be useful. For example, the changefreq tag advises search engines how frequently a page may change and the priority tag lets you state how they are.
Google XML Sitemaps
Once you have downloaded the plugin and activated it on your website, you will see a new “XML-Sitemap” page listed in the main WordPress settings menu.
Google XML Sitemaps lists all settings on this page. As you will see, there are a lot of options you can adjust, but the “Out of the Box” settings should be sufficient for most people.
This area also lists advanced options such as increasing the PHP memory limit.
Google XML Sitemaps automatically includes all published URLs from your WordPress website, however the plugin does support the inclusion of pages that were created outside of WordPress.
All you have to do is add the URL, its priority, how often the page changes and the date of its last change.
Posts are prioritised by the number of comments they have. This can be changed to comment average or you can disable automatic priority calculation altogether.
In the sitemap content section you can define what content on your website is included in your sitemap.
By default, Google XML Sitemaps will include your homepage, blog posts, static pages, categories and archives. You can also include author pages and and tag pages.
Blog post categories can be excluded from your sitemap. You can also exclude specific posts and pages by entering their ID.
The change frequencies section lets you advise search engines how often content on your website is updated. You can change the crawl frequency for each part of your website.
The available values are: Always, hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and never.
The homepage, for example, is configured to daily by default. These default settings should suit most website owners, but bloggers that publish content frequently might want to adjust some values.
In the last section, you can confiture the priority of your content. You can set any value between 0 and 1 e.g. 0.0, 0.1, 0.2 etc.
Google XML Sitemaps stores your sitemap index at www.yourwebsite.com/sitemap.xml.
The index lists all of the sub-sitemaps for your website. For example, www.yourwebsite.com/sitemap-archives.xml.
Google XML Sitemaps is a flexible sitemap solution that gives you full control over how your website sitemaps are generated.
Beginners should not be scared away by the additional settings as the default values are fine for most WordPress configurations.
Once Yoast SEO has been activated, you will see a new SEO menu in the WordPress admi area.
If Google XML Sitemaps is still activated on your website, Yoast SEO will display a warning in the main dashboard that explains that issues can arise if two WordPress plugins are generating website sitemaps.
The two buttons underneath allow you to either disable sitemap functionality in Yoast SEO or deactivate the Google XML Sitemaps WordPress plugin.
In contrast to Google XML Sitemaps, Yoast SEO does not allow you to configure your website’s sitemaps. The only option you have is to either enable or disable the sitemaps feature.
Clicking on the question mark symbol will show you a link to your sitemap, which is located at www.yourwebsite.com/sitemap_index.xml.
Yoast SEO will generate sitemaps for your posts, pages and post categories. The number of actual sitemaps that are generated will depend on the number of published URLs on your website.
From a usability point of view, Yoast SEO is straight-forward. All you have to do is enable the sitemaps feature and then verify search engines are tracking your sitemaps correctly.
Yoast SEO is a versatile all-in-one SEO WordPress plugin that offers many SEO tools and features, but from a sitemaps functionality point of view, Google XML Sitemaps is undoubtedly the best solution. The plugin gives you full control over what is crawled and what is not.
If you do not want to change the frequency or priority of content and do not want to exclude any pages from your sitemaps, it is tempting to just use Yoast SEO’s built-in sitemaps functionality, however it is important to remember that Google XML Sitemaps can also create sitemaps for additional areas of your website such as archives, author pages, tag pages and more.
Google XML Sitemaps can be used in conjunction with Yoast SEO by simply disabling the plugin’s sitemaps feature. In my opinion, this likely will be the best setup for most people.
Used/using either (or both) of these plugins? Thoughts?