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

A good XML sitemap acts as a roadmap of your website that 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 they are and how they help you rank better.

We hope you’ll enjoy reading #5 of our best-read posts this year! Find out all about XML sitemaps and why it’s important that you have one. Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for another holiday countdown surprise!

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, also 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 don’t use our plugin, your sitemap may look a little different but will work the same way.

As you can see, the Yoast.com XML sitemap shows several ‘index’ 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 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 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 ones for the post URLs, effectively adding a second index sitemap. The Yoast SEO plugin sets the limit even lower – at 1.000 URLs – to keep your 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”.

While we agree that these kinds of websites will definitely benefit the most from having one, at Yoast, 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.

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 it. 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 in the search results, 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 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’ sitemap would be pointless and we recommend leaving it out. 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 sitemap

If you want Google to find your XML sitemap quicker, you’ll need to add it to your Google Search Console account. In the ‘Sitemaps’ section, you’ll immediately see if your XML sitemap is already added. If not, you can add your sitemap at top of the page:

Add sitemap index to Search Console
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. They 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
XML Sitemaps

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 sitemap in your browser:

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 it.

Read more about excluding content types here.

Check your own XML sitemap!

Now, 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 it. 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!

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Leave a reply

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

  1. havenr
    havenr  • 16 hours ago

    We had Yoast installed and I liked it, but it wouldn’t let me see the preview of the post.

  2. Ajeet Chaudhary
    Ajeet Chaudhary  • 1 day ago

    I have purchased this for my WordPress site. And after install, I realized the usefulness of yoast seo. My website rand was 76Lac and within 2days it reduced by 22Lac now my website rank is 54Lac. Thank you very much yoast seo

    • Meike Hendriks

      Good to hear you’re happy with our product, Ajeet! Thank you for your comment!

  3. Odogwu
    Odogwu  • 2 days ago

    I tried Using Yoast XML And Each Time I Check My Site Seo It Will Show That My Site Don’t Have A Sitemape. but if I activate Google Sitemape, Yoast will Say that I can’t use two sitemape plugins at ones

    • Meike Hendriks

      Hi Odogwu,

      Could you try following this ‘enabling guide’ for XML sitemaps in Yoast SEO: https://kb.yoast.com/kb/enable-xml-sitemaps-in-the-wordpress-seo-plugin/. Let us know when it’s still not working.

      Indeed, having two plugins outputting an XML Sitemap, they will conflict with each other. We recommend only having the Yoast SEO XML Sitemap enabled. Besides the conflicts it can cause, the more plugins you run, the slower your website will be.

      Good luck!

    • Readerface
      Readerface  • 1 day ago

      I agree with you “Odogwu” the same thing happened with me anyone can provide this solution then let me know,
      also I have a question: what is different between yoast site map and another sitemap, why we choose yoast sitemap ?

      • Meike Hendriks

        Hi Readerface,

        Could you try following this ‘enabling guide’ for XML sitemaps in Yoast SEO as well: https://kb.yoast.com/kb/enable-xml-sitemaps-in-the-wordpress-seo-plugin/. Let us know when it’s still not working.

        We recommend only having the Yoast SEO XML Sitemap enabled. The more plugins you run on your website, the slower your website will be.

    • Josh
      Josh  • 1 day ago

      You can run Yoast SEO and Google Sitemap, but you must turn off the Yoast ‘sitemap’ so Google Sitemap can run.