An Extensible Markup Language (XML) Sitemap is a list of all content on your website that you would like the search engines to crawl and index. Consider an XML sitemap to be your website’s resume. You wouldn’t show up to a job interview without a resume. We feel the same about providing the search engines with an XML sitemap. It’s not essential, but it sure is helpful as a means of communicating what content is important to you.
Get in the Search Engine’s “Rolodex”
The goal of an XML sitemap is to provide the search engines with a list of the pages on your website that you would like indexed. Having a page indexed is the equivalent of having it in the search engines rolodex. In order for them to display a page, they must first know about it. Then, they choose whether or not to include it in their vast index of web pages. Thus, we think of an XML sitemap as being a foundational component of your SEO process.
Most content management systems create an XML sitemap for you. That’s a great start. But, you still need to configure and customize your website’s XML sitemap.
Let’s take a closer look at XML sitemaps in WordPress and establish which ones are important for your website.
WordPress XML Sitemaps via Yoast SEO
If you are utilizing WordPress and the Yoast SEO plugin, then you’ll have a solid XML sitemap out of the box. It’s available at https://www.mywebsite.com/sitemap_index.xml. By default, it includes commonly used content types such as pages, posts, and various taxonomies.
The sitemap created by Yoast SEO is an index file which contains multiple sitemaps. An index file is better than one massive XML sitemap with all content types.
The question to ask is “What XML sitemaps are important?” Yoast asks this same question in the Search Appearance settings — “Show Posts in search results?”
It’s your turn to jump in with an answer. The easiest way is to open each XML sitemap from the index list and evaluate the type of content that appears. Is that content valuable? Typically, pages and posts are an easy yes. But, sometimes taxonomy and archive pages may take further evaluation.
Let’s look at some of the common questions we see.
Should I Include the Author XML Sitemap?
If you have a multi-author blog, then yes. If not, then perhaps no. An XML sitemap for a multiple author blog looks like this:
If I open each of these URLs, I find the list of each author’s blog posts. And if these pages are good, there may even be an author bio, social media links and a photo. Thus, these are valuable pages for the search engines and my business.
If you only have one author, then it’s likely that you only have one URL in this list with all of your blog content. In this case, we face a duplicate content issue with mywebsite.com/blog. Because of this, change the setting in Yoast to “No”.
Should I Include the Category and Tag XML Sitemaps?
Yes, if you are utilizing categories and tags in your blog (and we think you should), then you want the search engines to index these pages. The Yoast SEO plugin does this by default. And we agree. Check out this Ask Joost video about why taxonomies are good to include in your XML sitemap.
What to Do When in Doubt
If you are in doubt of whether or not to include an XML sitemap in your index, err on the side of yes. It’s a powerful statement to change the setting to “No”, as this setting does two things. First, Yoast removes the content type’s XML sitemap from the sitemap index. Second, Yoast adds a meta directive to that content to further communicate to the search engines that you don’t want the content indexed. We’d rather see too much content than too little shared with the search engines about your website.
That being said, do your best to get the XML settings right for your site. If you are a Pathfinder SEO subscriber, we’ll walk you through this process in greater detail in our SEO Checklist. And then, you can schedule a one-on-one review with your dedicated SEO coach to ask any questions.
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Lindsay Halsey is a co-founder of Pathfinder SEO. She has over 10 years of experience working in SEO with small to large businesses. Lindsay focuses on teaching business owners and freelancers how to get found in Google, Yahoo, and Bing via a guided approach to SEO. Stay in touch on Twitter - @linds_halsey.