Ultimate Guide to WordPress SEO – Google Sitemaps

Several Weeks ago, I decided to take on the subject of WordPress SEO.  In my experience, setting up your WordPress installation for maximum search engine exposure hasn’t been terribly difficult, but I know that to many people, the task can seem overwhelming.

Today, I want to begin this series of posts by introducing you to the concept of using a Sitemap to give Google a “roadmap” to your blog.

The plugin

I’m not normally a person that recommends plugins for functions that WordPress themes should obviously be handling.  But in some cases, template files just can’t handle a certain task that a plugin can.  This is the case with the Google Sitemap Generator plugin.

Every single WordPress installation that I want indexed by Google has this plugin installed.  In my opinion, it’s a must.  It gives Google a set if instructions for indexing your site, telling it what content is more or less important and how often to crawl.

The Process

The First thing you want to do is download, unzip, upload and activate the plugin.

The Next step is to configure the plugin, and although there may seem like a lot of options, it’s actually quite simple to configure.

What you need to do after activating the plugin is navigate to the “Settings -> XML-Sitemap” page in your WordPress Admin.  Once you have this page pulled up, you’ll see some basic Status notifications.  Don’t worry about these for the time being.  They’ll be important later when you check the status of your sitemaps.

Scroll down to the “Basic Options” section.  It should look something like this:

The options you have selected may look slightly different.  Feel free to research what some of these options mean, but for the most part, if you choose the same options I have chosen in the image above, you should be in a good WordPress SEO position.  Here are some of the more important ones:

Sitemap Files: You definitely want to have at least one of these selected.  It will be important for our next step in the SEO process.  You’ll need to be able to tell Google (and the other search engines, if desired) the location of your sitemap.  I also recommend, due to compatibility issues, that you do choose the “XML File” option.  Most servers can generate an XML file without problem.

Rebuilding Mode: If you update your content regularly, then you’ll need to have your sitemap rebuilt when you do.  Only choose the manual option if you use an external program to publish your content.

Update Notifications: Although the benefits of doing this haven’t been clearly shown, it can’t hurt to notify as many search engines as possible when you publish new content.

Advanced Options: The only option I would check here is the “Build the sitemap in a background process” option.  This allows you to publish a post without fear of waiting forever for the sitemap to regenerate.

Setting the Other Options

Most of the other options are preferential.  But, that doesn’t mean that they are inconsequential.  In my opinion, the options you choose here could be extremely important in letting Google know what you consider your best content, and therefore what content should be indexed most often and with the highest priority.

Additional Pages
If you have pages that reside outside the WordPress installation you happen to be working in, and you want them included in the sitemap, feel free to specify them here

Post Priority
I generally don’t like to give posts priority over each other. But if, for instance, the number of comments on any of your posts is a good indicator of the strength of that post, you may want to use one of the other options to give those posts with more comments a higher priority.

Location of your Sitemap File
I prefer the default here, but you’re welcome to choose a custom location. There is no adverse effect to doing so.

Sitemap Content
In most cases (especially for bloggers) there should only be three options selected here, Homepage, Posts, and Static Pages. There’s really no reason to include the other options unless you specifically want those things included. And because content tends to duplicate many times over in the various archives, it’s best to leave them alone. But we’ll cover that in a later post as well.

Change Frequencies
Answer these questions as honestly as you know how.

Priorities
This is really where you have the advantage … being able to specify what you consider the highest priority content! I normally give the homepage and posts the highest priority, followed by static pages. Everything else I give a low priority. Really, the majority of search engine traffic will land on either your homepage, single post, or static page. The real power of this section is the ability to deprioritize the non-important stuff like archives.

Finally …

Once you have all your options set, click to save the options.

So now that we have a sitemap up and running, all we need to do now is get Google to find our sitemap and start using it. That’s what we’ll cover in the next post. Don’t miss it!!!

Comments

  1. John says

    Great post – perfect timing as I am about to download and use the Sitemap plugin. Looking forward to your next post about getting Google to find and use the sitemap. Thanks.

  2. Luigi says

    I’d perhaps differ slightly and suggest always use the gzip if your site is on any type of *nix server and (probably) xml if on a Windows server.

  3. Shankar says

    Hi Nathan, this was a very useful post. I wonder why this capability doesn’t come readily with WordPress. Maybe its in the works. Meanwhile, your posts are great. Keep them coming!

  4. elan says

    I am trying to install this plugn. But i could not change the file permission for the files sitemap.xml and sitemap.xml.gz

    not: my blog has been hosted in windows 2003.

    Can u plz help me in this regard.

  5. lhoylhoy says

    hi what it if i have a multiple wordpress installation in one hosting account, does that mean i have to install this plugin in each installation? if they generate a sitemap for each, they will store this file in the root directory right? they may conflict each generated files don’t you think?