Google XML Sitemaps is a very popular WordPress plugin for generating XML sitemaps. Sitemaps are nothing but XML documents, that contains the URLs of a blog in a formatted manner. The sitemap tells the search engines about the URLs that should be crawled from a blog. The search engines then uses this information to index the pages for displaying them in the search engines. Think of it this way; there are trillions and trillions of individual pages online, Google needs a way to find all the pages worth indexing. If you want to find out more about how Google crawls and indexes sites you can check out more information here.
An important thing to note here is sitemaps don’t play a role in how are pages are ranked. They are only used to supply the information to the search engines. How your pages are ranked, that depends completely on the search engines. Let’s make it easier on Google and provide them with a sitemap to make the process easier. Provided you are using WordPress; you can use the Google XML Sitemaps plugin.
Configuring the Google XML Sitemaps plugin is very easy and takes only minutes. There are a lot of options available. However, they are very easy to understand. Even a beginner who has some blogging knowledge will find it easy. Don’t worry if you have almost no WordPress experience it really isn’t that hard to configure the plugin.
The basic options include some simple configurations. Whenever, you write a new post on your WordPress blog, the new URL is automatically added to your sitemap page. The sitemap page is generally represented by an URL like “https://yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml”. This page will have the list of all your URLs.
The two major search engines in the world are Google and Bing. So, you have the option of notifying them whenever you have published a new post. The notification (known as a ping) will inform their crawlers that a new page has been added and it’s ready to be crawled for indexing.
You also have something called the “Robots.txt”. This file acts as a guide for the search engine crawlers. They will tell the crawlers (bots) what they should crawl from your site and what to ignore. In WordPress, there is also the concept of virtual ‘robots.txt’ file. It’s like a secondary file which informs the crawlers how to crawl your site. Since, there are so many webpages online we need a file that gives Google directions.
Google XML Sitemaps plugin also comes with the option of compressing the sitemap page. Compressing the sitemap helps in faster rendering. However, in a few cases you might also get encoding errors. So, only enable this option when you really need it.
The plugin also gives webmasters the option of setting priorities for each types of pages on your WordPress site. It’s been said that Google might or might not actually follow these priorities, but to give our pages the best crawl frequency it’s important to adjust these settings. The post priority comes with 3 options. The first option is automatic priority calculation. It basically means all posts will be assigned the same priorities based on how they are defined in “Priorities”. The “Priorities” is a separate option that you have to assign priorities to different types of pages on your WordPress site. We will come to that a little later.
The second option is setting priorities based on the comment count. Basically, more the comments you have on a single page, more will be it’s priority. The third option is setting priority based on average comment count. So, basically it will count the total number of comments you have on your site and divide it by the total number of posts. The calculated average comment count will be used to set the priority to your posts.
It’s very important that you engage your readers to get the most out of this settings in Google XML Sitemaps.
Sitemap content is a very easy thing to configure. It basically tells you what will be included in the sitemap for the search engines to index. The options you get with the plugin are homepage, posts, static pages,categories, archives, author pages and tag pages.
Most WordPress users and webmasters only include homepage, posts and static pages. For the others, if you decide to include them, they might have a negative effect on your sites SEO. Categories and tag pages are generally not very informative. They will only have a bunch of links with some snippets of the posts. So, it is advisable to exclude them from the sitemaps.
If you do decide to include categories, you have the option of adding specific categories. There’s an option to exclude certain categories which you don’t want them crawled. You also have the option of excluding specific posts from the sitemap.
The Google XML Sitemap plugin also provides the option of setting frequencies. You can set frequencies to each type of pages based on Always, Hourly, Daily, Weekly, Monthly and Yearly.
However, in saying that, it is upto the search engine crawlers to respect your wishes. Sometimes the crawlers may crawl the Yearly marked pages more frequently than the Monthly marked pages. There is no rhyme or reason for it.
The last option that you have for the plugin is setting priorities for each type of pages. The priorities range from 0.0 to 1.0. For posts, the lowest priority is 0.2 and for pages it’s 0.0. Pages are mostly static. Once published, they rarely get updated. Posts may get updated frequently. However, it varies from site to site. So, it’s upto you what priorities you want to set for each of them.
Hopefully if you were not or was considering an XML Sitemap plugin this article has helped you on setting up the Google XML Sitemaps. I should note that once you create your site maps with this plugin you want to submit it to Google Webmaster Tools. Also, sitemaps are just one aspect to helping Google crawl your site. There are many other factors that help Google determine what your website is about. I wrote a post about the All In One SEO Pack WordPress plugin that should help you in making your website SEO-friendly. You can view the Google XML Sitemaps plugin here.
So have you used Google XML Sitemaps on your WordPress site? Please leave your comments down below.