What is a Sitemap and How to Create It with Yoast SEO Plugin on WordPress

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Every website owner and blogger wants to drive more organic traffic to their website. If you are one of them, you have likely struggled with search engine optimization (SEO). You have worked hard to identify the right keywords and optimize your content. You may even have received a few authentic backlinks.

However, even the best SEO strategy won’t yield any results unless search engines know that your web pages exist. In other words, you need search engine bots to index your web pages, so that they show up in relevant search results. One of the most effective ways to help search engine spiders crawl through your website is to create a sitemap.

If you are new in the world of SEO, the term sitemap might sound intimidating. However, creating a sitemap can be extremely beneficial for your website. Moreover, if your website is on WordPress, you can easily create a sitemap using the Yoast SEO Plugin.

Before we discuss how to create a sitemap on WordPress, let us delve deeper and understand what a sitemap is.

Decoding Sitemaps

The term sitemap has often baffled SEO experts and website owners. However, it is nothing more than a roadmap of your website. Simply put, a sitemap is a publicly available list containing URLs of different pages on your website. Its primary purpose is to help visitors and search engines navigate your website and find relevant information.

There are two types of sitemaps: HTML sitemap and XML sitemap. An HTML sitemap is usually a page or section of your website that links to every other web page on the site. It is meant to guide visitors through your website and find the information they came looking for. Having a sitemap is especially helpful when your website has a ton of content, such as blog posts, product categories, podcast episodes and many more – depending on the type of site you run.

More often, you will find an HTML sitemap in the footer section of a website:

Image via Kinsta

On the other hand, an XML sitemap is created to help search engines crawl your website. It contains a list of all the URLs on your website. Additionally, you can include metadata in an XML sitemap to tell the search engines what each web page is all about. You can add data such as when the page was last updated and how often it is likely to change.

If your website contains a lot of rich media, you can include this data in your XML sitemap as well. Likewise, sitemaps also inform search engines if you want Google to index new content on your site on a priority basis. The primary purpose of an XML sitemap is to help search engine bots navigate your website and index the required web pages.

Here is an example of an XML sitemap:

Image via Yoast

It is worth noting that the above sitemap has a separate column indicating when each page was last updated. Having a sitemap helps search engine spiders crawl through any new content and index it as soon as it is updated. Therefore, an XML sitemap is crucial for SEO, irrespective of the size and nature of your website.

Each XML sitemap has a limit of 50,000 URLs. If your website has a lot of content, you can create individual sitemaps for similar content along with the main sitemap. Include the URLs of individual sitemaps in the main XML sitemap. Or you could just submit multiple sitemaps to Google’s Search Console.

While HTML sitemaps improve user experience by a little, it doesn’t have a significant impact on your SEO strategy because HTML sitemap pages are usually rather basic looking. On the contrary, an XML sitemap can greatly benefit your website’s SEO by telling search engines which pages need to be indexed.

Now, you must be waiting for the steps that will guide you through using a sitemap plugin for WordPress. However, let us first understand why an XML sitemap is so important after all.

Why You Need an XML Sitemap

The most significant advantage of having an XML sitemap is that it aids crawlability and indexability. It helps search engine spiders to crawl your website quickly and intelligently. This, in turn, enables you to get any new content indexed as soon as it is uploaded. Once a web page is indexed, it is more likely to show up in relevant search results.

Moreover, you can control how your website is indexed by adding metadata in the sitemap. You can also remove certain pages from your sitemap if you don’t want them to appear in SERPs. Additionally, an XML sitemap allows you to include crucial information about any rich media on your website.

It is crucial to understand that an XML sitemap may not have a direct impact on your website’s search engine ranking. However, it can strengthen your SEO strategy by getting your content indexed. It doesn’t matter if you are producing world-class content, in the absence of proper indexing, your website will never see the light of the day in search engine results.

Also, remember that an XML sitemap is not an alternative for internal linking. Search engines may not index a web page just because the sitemap includes it. Search engines will consider other factors, including the internal link structure and external link profile as well. Therefore, you shouldn’t ignore aspects such as link building and keyword research, even if your website has an XML sitemap.

The XML sitemap is an extremely crucial part of your SEO strategy. While it may not improve search engine ranking directly, it ensures that your web pages are correctly indexed. It is now time for us to see how we can create an XML sitemap.

Creating an XML Sitemap

If you are starting with your search engine optimization journey, creating an XML sitemap might seem like a daunting task. Fortunately, there are a few online tools and plugins that can automatically generate XML sitemaps. One of the simplest ways is to use a cloud-based tool called XML Sitemap Generator.

If your website is on WordPress, you can install a plugin to generate the XML sitemap. Some of the most widely used plugins for this purpose are All in One SEO Pack, Google Sitemap Generator, and The SEO Framework. However, the most popular sitemap plugin for WordPress is Yoast SEO. We use it ourselves and this post will guide you through the steps to create a sitemap with Yoast.

Image via WordPress

Developed by a Netherlands-based firm, Yoast SEO is like a one-stop destination for all your search engine optimization needs. You can use it to improve the readability of your content and optimize it for search engines. You can even add a title and meta description to every web page. The plugin has both a free and a premium version, with the latter having a few advanced features.

The best part of Yoast SEO is that it allows you to generate an XML sitemap in just a few simple steps. You can also edit the sitemap and control which web pages are in it.

Here are the steps to create an XML sitemap using the Yoast SEO Plugin:

1. Install the Yoast SEO Plugin

The first step is to log in to your WordPress dashboard and install Yoast SEO on your website. Navigate to the “Plugins” section in the left-hand menu and click on “Add New.”

Install the Yoast SEO Plugin

Image via WordPress

Next, type “Yoast SEO” in the search box and click on “Install Now.” Once the installation process is completed, click on the “Activate” button to get it started.

Yoast SEO

Image via WordPress

2. Enable XML Sitemaps

After you have downloaded the Yoast SEO plugin, a section named “SEO” on the left navigation menu of your WordPress Dashboard can be seen. Hover your mouse over it.

Enable XML Sitemaps

Image via WordPress

Now, go to the General > Features tab. Scroll down to the “XML sitemaps” section and use the toggle button to enable it.

XML sitemaps

Image via WordPress

Once that is done, click on “Save Changes.” Once you complete this step, Yoast SEO generates an XML sitemap for you.

3. View Your XML Sitemap

There are alternative ways to check out the XML sitemap of your website. The simplest way is to navigate to the “XML sitemaps” section using the instructions described in the previous step. Click on the small question mark next to XML sitemaps.

View Your XML Sitemap

Image via WordPress

The next step is to select “See the XML sitemap.” It looks something like this:

Image via Hustlr

The above XML sitemap contains various index sitemaps such as post-sitemap.xml and page-sitemap.xml. You can click on each index to view the URLs in that particular sitemap.

Alternatively, you can enter “yoursite.com/sitemap_index.xml” in your web browser to view the index sitemap. If it doesn’t appear, purge the cache and try it on Incognito mode of your internet browser. Give it a try!

4. Edit Your XML Sitemap

Apart from generating an XML sitemap, you can also edit it using the Yoast SEO plugin. This lets you exclude certain types of content from the XML sitemap.

Scroll to the “SEO” section in the left navigation menu and click on  “Search Appearance.”

Edit Your XML Sitemap

Image via WordPress

Next, click on the “Content Types” tab and toggle the on/off switch in each section to specify what appears in the sitemap.

Content Types

Image via WordPress

Now, head to the bottom of the page and click on “Save Changes.”

Yoast SEO also allows you to exclude specific web pages and blog posts from your sitemap. Scroll down to the Yoast SEO section on the page you wish to remove from your sitemap. Select the “Advanced” tab and click on the drop-down menu for “Allow search engines to show this page in search results?”. Select “No” from the drop-down menu and save your changes by clicking on “Update.”

Image via WordPress

Consider excluding pages such as Privacy Policy, Terms & Conditions from the sitemap because they don’t affect search engine ranking in any way.

5. Validate The Sitemap

Creating an XML sitemap is of no use unless you upload it on search engines. However, before you do that, it is crucial to ensure that the XML sitemap is working correctly. The simplest way of checking this is to use a sitemap validator tool. A quick Google search shows you a plethora of free tools to check your sitemap’s validity.

Validate The Sitemap

Image via Google

Most of these tools require you to upload an XML file or enter the sitemap URL. If you have used Yoast SEO, enter the following URL: “yoursite.com/sitemap_index.xml”.

You will be able to access a detailed report pointing at errors if any. However, crawl and indexing errors will only show up after a week or so if you have a fresh site.

Image via Yandex Webmaster

Likely, if you have used the Yoast SEO plugin, you will not encounter any significant errors.

6. Submit the XML Sitemap

The final and most crucial step is submitting your XML sitemap to search engines. If you omit this step, search engines will never know that you’ve created a sitemap. Consequently, they won’t access it to crawl and index your website. Submitting the sitemap to search engines also lets you monitor the indexing of your web pages.

Let us first see how you can submit your XML sitemap to Google.

To do this, you need to create an account on Google Search Console and verify your website. You can go ahead and sign-up using your Google account. Next, you have to add your website as a property to Google Search console. The final step is to get your website verified by adding an HTML file in the source code or using Google Tag Manager.

Once your website is verified, you can add your XML sitemap. Login to your Google Search Console dashboard and scroll to the “Crawl” section on the left navigation menu. Then, click on “Sitemaps.”

Submit the XML Sitemap

Image via Kinsta

Click the “Add/Test Sitemap” button on the top-right corner of your dashboard. On this page, you have the option to enter the location of your sitemap. If you have used Yoast SEO, then you just have to enter “sitemap_index.xml”. Then, click on the “Submit” button.

Submit the XML Sitemap

Image via Kinsta

After that, Google validates your sitemap to check if all the URLs are working. It also notified you of any errors. In case there is an error, you can also resubmit the sitemap after making the necessary corrections.

Likewise, it’s a good idea to submit your XML sitemap to Bing by creating an account on Bing Webmaster Tools. Login to your account and select the website for which you want to submit the XML sitemap. Next, navigate to “Configure My Site” in the left-hand menu and select “Sitemaps.”


Image via Breaking The One Percent

Next, you just have to enter the sitemap URL and click on the “Submit” button. 


Image via Bing Webmaster

Alternatively, you can also use the “Sitemaps” widget on your Webmaster Tools dashboard to submit the XML sitemap. You can even include a “Sitemap:” directive in your robot.txt to advertise your XML sitemap to Bing.

It’s also a good idea to do the same thing for Yandex and Baidu on their webmaster tools if you serve Russian and Chinese speaking audiences.


The XML sitemap is an indispensable part of your SEO workflow. Having a sitemap available can influence the way search engines crawl your website and index individual web pages. You even have the power to control what type of content is in your sitemap. However, it is by no means a replacement for other SEO activities such as internal link building and keyword research.

While the process of creating an XML sitemap seems intimidating, it can be simplified using a WordPress sitemap plugin like Yoast SEO. All you have to do is download the plugin on your WordPress dashboard and enable XML sitemaps. You can edit the sitemap further to exclude certain web pages or content types.

Once your XML sitemap is ready, you have to validate it and check for any errors. The final step is to submit it to search engines such as Google and Bing. Submitting your sitemap ensures that search engine bots will discover and index new content on your website.

Did you have a different experience with creating sitemaps? How did you go about creating an XML sitemap for your website? Share your views in the comments section below.

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