XML sitemaps

What is an XML sitemap
and why should you have one?

What is an XML sitemap and why should you have one?

A good XML sitemap acts as a roadmap of your website which leads Google to all your important pages. XML sitemaps can be good for SEO, as they allow Google to quickly find your essential website pages, even if your internal linking isn’t perfect. This post explains what XML sitemaps are and how they help you rank better.

What are XML sitemaps?

You want Google to crawl every important page of your website, but sometimes pages end up without any internal links pointing to them, making them hard to find. An XML sitemap lists a website’s important pages, making sure Google can find and crawl them all, and helping it understand your website structure:

XML Sitemap Yoast

Yoast.com’s XML sitemap

Above is Yoast.com’s XML sitemap, created by the Yoast SEO plugin and later on we’ll explain how our plugin helps you create the best XML sitemaps. If you’re not using our plugin, your XML sitemap may look a little different but will work the same way.

As you can see, the Yoast.com XML sitemap shows several ‘index’ XML sitemaps: …/post-sitemap.xml, …/page-sitemap.xml, …/video-sitemap.xml etc. This categorization makes a site’s structure as clear as possible, so if you click on one of the index XML sitemaps, you’ll see all URLs in that particular sitemap. For example, if you click on ‘…/post-sitemap.xml’ you’ll see all Yoast.com’s post URLs (click on the image to enlarge):

XML Post Sitemap Yoast

Yoast.com’s post XML sitemap

You’ll notice a date at the end of each line. This tells Google when each post was last updated and helps with SEO because you want Google to crawl your updated content as soon as possible. When a date changes in the XML sitemap, Google knows there is new content to crawl and index.

If you have a very large website, sometimes it’s necessary to split an index XML sitemap. A single XML sitemap is limited to 50,000 URLs, so if your website has more than 50,000 posts, for example, you’ll need two separate XML sitemaps for the post URLs, effectively adding a second index XML sitemap. The Yoast SEO plugin sets the limit even lower – at 1.000 URLs – to keep your XML sitemap loading as fast as possible

What websites need an XML sitemap?

Google’s documentation says XML sitemaps are beneficial for “really large websites”, for “websites with large archives”, for “new websites with just a few external links to it” and for “websites which use rich media content”.

Here at Yoast, while we agree that these kinds of websites will definitely benefit the most from having one, we think XML sitemaps are beneficial for every website . Every single website needs Google to be able to easily find the most important pages and to know when they were last updated, which is why this feature is included in the Yoast SEO plugin.

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Which pages should be in your XML sitemap?

How do you decide which pages to include in your XML sitemap? Always start by thinking of the relevance of a URL: when a visitor lands on a particular URL, is it a good result? Do you want visitors to land on that URL? If not, it probably shouldn’t be in your XML sitemap. However, if you really don’t want that URL to show up in the search results you’ll need to add a ‘noindex, follow’ tag. Leaving it out of your XML sitemap doesn’t mean Google won’t index the URL. If Google can find it by following links, Google can index the URL.

Example 1: A new blog

Say, for example, you are starting a new blog. You will want Google to find new posts quickly to make sure your target audience can find your blog on Google, so it’s a good idea to create an XML sitemap right from the start. You might create a handful of first posts and categories for them as well as some tags to start with. But there won’t be enough content yet to fill the tag overview pages, making them “thin content” that’s not valuable to visitors – yet. In this case, you should leave the tag’s URLs out of the XML sitemap for now. Set the tag pages to ‘noindex, follow’ because you don’t want people to find them in search results.

Example 2: Media and images

The ‘media’ or ‘image’ XML sitemap is also unnecessary for most websites. This is because your images are probably used within your pages and posts, so will already be included in your ‘post’ or ‘page’ sitemap. So having a separate ‘media’ or ‘image’ XML sitemap would be pointless and we recommend leaving it out of your XML sitemap. The only exception to this is if images are your main business. Photographers, for example, will probably want to show a separate ‘media’ or ‘image’ XML sitemap to Google.

How to make Google find your XML sitemap

If you want Google to find your XML sitemap quicker, you’ll need to add it to your Google Search Console account. You can find the sitemaps in Search Console by navigating to ‘Crawl’ and then clicking on ‘Sitemaps’. You’ll immediately see if your XML sitemap is already added to Search Console. If not, click on the ‘Add/Test sitemap’ button which you see on the right of the arrow in the image below.

Google Search Console XML Sitemap Yoast

Yoast.com’s XML sitemap added to Google Search Console

As you can see in the image, adding your XML sitemap can be helpful to check whether all pages in your sitemap really have been indexed by Google. If there is a big difference in the ‘submitted’ and ‘indexed’ number on a particular sitemap, we recommend looking into this further. There could be an error preventing some pages from being indexed or maybe you need more content or links pointing to the content that’s not been indexed yet.

Yoast SEO and XML sitemaps

Because they are so important for your SEO, we’ve added the ability to create your own XML sitemaps in our Yoast SEO plugin. XML sitemaps are available in both the free and premium versions of the plugin.

Yoast SEO creates an XML sitemap for your website automatically. Click on ‘SEO’ in the sidebar of your WordPress install and then select the ‘Features’ tab:

XML sitemaps in Yoast SEO

In this screen, you can enable or disable the different XML sitemaps for your website. Also, you can click on the question mark to expand the information and see more possibilities, like checking your XML sitemap in your browser:
XML Sitemaps

You can exclude content types from your XML sitemap in the ‘Search Appearance’ tab. If you select ‘no’ as an answer to ‘show X in the search results?’ then this type of content won’t be included in the XML sitemap.
excluding post types xml sitemap yoast seo

Read more about excluding content types here.

Check your own XML sitemap!

Now you’ve read the whole post, you know how important it is to have an XML sitemap, because having one can really help your site’s SEO. Google can easily access your most important pages and posts if you add the right URLs to your XML sitemap. Google will also be able to find updated content easily, so they know when a URL needs to be crawled again. Lastly, adding your XML sitemap to Google Search Console helps Google find your sitemap fast and it allows you to check for sitemap errors.

Now go check your own XML sitemap and make sure you’re doing it right!

Read more: WordPress SEO tutorial: definite guide to higher ranking »

23 Responses to What is an XML sitemap and why should you have one?

  1. Karthik Ramachandiran
    Karthik Ramachandiran  • 1 year ago

    Excellent info Loved It Meike … Expecting a lot like this…

  2. Rey
    Rey  • 1 year ago

    Is XML sitemaps still in the free version… I download the plugin today and seems its missing.

  3. Haku Nguyen
    Haku Nguyen  • 1 year ago

    I have a question about Yoast Sitemap, how can i put the created day of the product? Your plugin help me a lot with sitemap than any plugins I’ve tried before. Thanks!

  4. rdelapena
    rdelapena  • 1 year ago

    Hi Meike,

    I recently deleted a wordpress plugin cause it’s giving me a duplicate title tag in google search console. My problem is that it is still showing in my XML sitemap after removing.

    How can I remove it there?

    Best regard,

  5. rdelapena
    rdelapena  • 1 year ago

    Hi Meike,

    I recently deleted a wordpress plugin cause it’s giving me a duplicate title tag in google search console. My problem is that it is still showing in my XML sitemap after removing.

    How can I remove it there?

    Best regard,

  6. Alexander Dolgan
    Alexander Dolgan  • 1 year ago

    What about css property background-image? How engines can recognize alt tag for them?

  7. Preeti Mittal
    Preeti Mittal  • 1 year ago

    XML site map gives an idea to google about structure of your website and webpages. It help google to index your website accordingly.

  8. Dominique Verniers
    Dominique Verniers  • 1 year ago

    Can a sitemap replace the href lang tags in your pages? I think I read that somewhere in the google search console support pages. Any tools to generate one?

  9. Mark
    Mark  • 1 year ago

    Hi Meike,
    Do you have to attent Google on a new XML-sitemap? Or do they know, once you have shown them the way?

  10. Saurabh tiwari
    Saurabh tiwari  • 1 year ago

    I should thank you for writing on this topic, very useful information about sitemaps you have given through this Post.

  11. Lrers
    Lrers  • 1 year ago

    Thanks for sharing great info with me

  12. Jase
    Jase  • 1 year ago

    Nice to finally see an article on this with clear instructions. Only 24hrs too late for me. Tried googling n thrashing thru Yoast help files for over 1.5 years on rare occasions til i gave up in frustration to suss this. I muddled onto it by trial n error just yesterday! yay – site fully seen by Google at last – just as you show.
    Put this in your help files please to help other lost souls – as Yoast attracts many beginners. ….
    Why clear instructions like this are not there already mystifies me.

    • Meike Hendriks

      Hi Jase,

      I’m sorry it’s too late for you! We will definitely consider your tip about adding a knowledgebase article about XML sitemaps. Thank you.

  13. joão l. b. almeida
    joão l. b. almeida  • 1 year ago

    Thanks for the post. I have created 4 properties for my domain (http with www), (http without www), (https with www) and (https without www). When I add the sitemap on Search Console, I have to choose one property. Which property should I choose? Or do I have to add the sitemap for each of the 4 properties?

    • Meike Hendriks

      Hi Joao,

      We recommend setting your actual domain as the preferred domain and also adding the XML sitemap to this preferred domain. Looking at your website, this should be the https version with www. Good luck!

  14. Jason Quinlan
    Jason Quinlan  • 1 year ago

    Nice post,I like how are you emphasized what doesn’t belong in your sitemap. It is such a newbie mistake thin pages and TOC pages to a site map. Great work!

    • Meike Hendriks

      Thanks, Jason!

  15. danilo alba
    danilo alba  • 1 year ago

    hi, i have the sitemap created by yoast and loaded in the GSC.
    However Semrush is pointing an error as it is not finding the /sitemap.xml, as the directory from the Yoast is slightly different.
    Do i have to install the /sitemap.xml in the root or it will give conflict with Yoast Sitemap? or i just disconsider semrush error?

    • Meike Hendriks

      Hi Danilo,

      I recommend checking if Google Search Console is giving any errors regarding your XML sitemap. If everything is indexed properly according to Search Console, I would ignore the Semrush error. Google is the one you want to understand your XML sitemap:)

  16. Adrian Lyons
    Adrian Lyons  • 1 year ago

    This is great and all but are you guys going to get talking with elegantthemes and fix your XML generator to work properly?

    • Meike Hendriks

      Hi Adrian,

      Please create an issue on GitHub if something isn’t working properly:)

  17. Daniel Boswell
    Daniel Boswell  • 1 year ago

    Meike I notice that in your Google Search Console example, you only put the XML index file. I’ve been adding each individual sitemap listed in the index file when I set up my sitemaps in GSC. I was under the impression I had to list each one individually. I would much rather just list the index file and be done with it. I just want to confirm its cool to just list the index XML file from now on.

    • Meike Hendriks

      Hi Daniel,

      Adding your index XML sitemap is enough! Google will automatically find all the XML sitemaps within the index.

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