Many beginner bloggers spend lots of time trying to optimize their keywords using Google Keyword Tool and generate high quality content but they overlook other, much simpler SEO methods. One of the most underestimated ways to increase your website’s SEO is to generate sitemap file.
What is sitemap?
Sitemap is simple XML file containing list of the pages on your website. It is used by Google crawler and other robots to quickly discover and index your content. Sitemaps are optional but can really help bots crawling your site and schedule future visits. They don’t have to re-crawl all posts all the time too – they will get only pages that changed since their last visit. In your sitemap file you can define some additional parameters like pages’ priority or expected change frequency to further fine tune crawlers’ behaviour. Example Sitemap.xml looks like this:
If you are using WordPress you can create your website sitemap in matter of minutes thanks to Google XML Sitemaps plugin – Google sitemap generator.
How to use Google XML Sitemaps plugin for WordPress?
First you should install it (see instructions how to install WordPress plugins) – it is COMPLETELY FREE and you can find it HERE. Once it is installed, you should take look at configuration options and tune them to your needs. They are located in WordPress Settings Menu – XML-Sitemap entry.
At the very top you can find out some information about your sitemap – when was it last generated (with links to both raw XML file and zipped version), how long the building process took, were Google and Bing successfully notified about changes. There is also option to manually rebuild sitemap file and debug function that shows environment,WordPress and plugin raw configuration (may be useful when there are any problems with the plugin).
In Basic Options you can find these settings:
Sitemap Files – you should select at least one of the sitemap files to be generated. Gzipped sitemap is much smaller so you can save some bandwidth and increase loading speed – especially when your site is huge. Please keep in mind that in 2010 there were more than 2000 known spiders crawling the web! All big crawlers support gzipped sitemaps so it is safe option.
Building mode – rebuilding your site’s automatically is great option for small blogs, but once you get big it can take substantial time and large amount of resources to do it, so you may want to switch to manually generated sitemaps and do it once a day. Very useful option if you are publishing more than one post per day.
Update Notification – by default plugin automatically notifies Google and Bing everytime your blog content changes. When your blog is huge this can slow down process building the sitemap file, so you may have to turn it off. You may also add sitemap location to your robots.txt file generated by WordPress.
Advanced Options – you can change these options if you have problems generating sitemap. Some hosting services limit amount of resources available to you and sitemap generation is very memory hungry process. You can try to increase limits here – both for RAM and time. If plugin has issues with the database due to your hosting configuration you can try to use MySQL standard mode – it will take more memory but should not fail. To make XML file be better readable by humans you can define some custom XSLT stylesheet here too. Last but very important option allows you to build sitemap in a background process (otherwise you will have to wait every time you save the post).
Using Additional Pages panel you can define some extra pages to be crawled by spiders – sometimes you have some raw HTML files that don’t belong to WordPress. You will have to provide URL to page, it’s priority, change frequency (usually weekly is good enough) and time of last change.
Post Priority – Google XML Sitemaps plugin calculates post priorities automatically by default. You can turn it off here (all post will have the same priority defined by you with Priorities settings), set priorities based on number of comments or based on average number of comments. I use the second, default option.
Using Location of your sitemap file you can change path to the sitemap – I usually leave it as it is, so dumber crawlers can find my sitemap easily. After changing this setting make sure your sitemap.xml still works!
Sitemap Content allows you to define which WordPress pages should be included in your sitemap file – options are Homepage, Post, Multi-page Posts, Static Pages, Categories, Archives, Author Pages and Tags. You should be caution while enabling Categories, Archives and Tags as Google may penalize you for duplicating your content on different pages. Last option is Include last modification time and SHOULD BE TURNED ON – it will save you lots of bandwidth and prevent slowing your website down by robots.
If you want to exclude some content from your sitemap file you can do it using this panel – you can exclude single posts (separate multiple posts with comma) or whole categories.
Here you can change crawl frequencies or at least suggest frequencies for the robots. From what I’ve noticed Google Bot has it’s own schedule which works pretty good, so I leave all the values default. You can set them to one of the options: Always, Hourly, Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Yearly and Never.
By changing priorities on this panel you can tell the crawlers which pages are the most important for you (highest priority is 1.0). Please keep in mind that priorities can be used by robots to choose most important pages on YOUR website only – setting everything to 1.0 is not gonna help you in any way.
Google XML Sitemaps plugin for WordPress is one of the core plugins I install first on every new WordPress website. It serves its purpose well and I never had any problems with it (at least I am not aware of anything). I can highly recommend it to everyone who want to save some bandwidth and increase site SEO rankings a bit. And the best part – it is COMPLETELY FREE!