Since 2019, Google has been working with WordPress to incorporate the ability to generate XML sitemaps. Google’s Pascal Birchler recently announced that “in WordPress 5.5, a new feature is being introduced that adds basic, extensible XML sitemaps functionality in WordPress core.” Here’s what you need to know about this exciting new development and how to generate sitemaps in WordPress for your website.
What Does the WordPress XML Sitemap Do?
Sitemaps are important for your website because, as Birchler stated, “while web crawlers are able to discover pages from links within the site and from other sites, sitemaps supplement this approach by allowing crawlers to quickly and comprehensively identify all URLs included in the sitemap and learn other signals about those URLs using the associated metadata.”
The WordPress XML sitemap index can hold a maximum of 50,000 sitemaps, and a single sitemap can hold a maximum of 2,000 URLs. And now that you’ll be able to generate WordPress sitemaps, according to Yoast, “over 36% of the sites on the web will have [WordPress XML sitemaps] enabled by default. Crawlers will be delighted to stumble upon all of that fresh content.”
However, now that users can generate WordPress sitemaps, what does this mean for users who have Yoast XML sitemaps? Since one of the brand’s biggest features was offering fully-formed XML sitemaps, Yoast said in a Tweet that “Yoast SEO will automatically deactivate the native WordPress sitemap as [the Yoast XML sitemap] is more sophisticated and includes a number of enhancements and performance improvements.”
What’s the Difference Between the Core XML Sitemap in WordPress and the Yoast XML Sitemap?
According to Yoast, the WordPress XML sitemap is very basic, especially when compared to the Yoast XML sitemaps. Yoast XML sitemaps provide the option to choose what goes into your sitemap, including any pages or posts you noindex. Yoast sitemaps also have added properties to help search engines and crawlers easily identify new content, such as the last modified date and including images in the sitemaps. XML Yoast SEO will also break up larger sitemaps into several smaller ones to prevent your website from slowing down.
WordPress XML sitemaps, on the other hand, perform the basic functions of a sitemap: they help search engines and crawlers discover your content, including updated content. According to Yoast, “the current version of the XML sitemap in WordPress is very basic and supports only a small set of content types. There is, however, no way for you to control from WordPress itself what goes into the core sitemap — or what shouldn’t appear.”
How to Generate an XML Sitemap in WordPress
According to WordPress, the 5.5 version will automatically generate WordPress sitemaps “for all public and publicly queryable post types and taxonomies, as well as for author archives and of course the homepage of the site. The robots.txt file exposed by WordPress will reference the sitemap index so that it can be easily discovered by search engines.”
To be able to generate a sitemap in WordPress on the frontend of your website, you’ll need to install the SimpleXML PHP extension. If the extension isn’t available, an error message will display in place of the sitemap, and the HTTP status will be changed to code 501 (“Not implemented”).
If you already have a sitemap in place for your website, you might want to turn off the generated WordPress sitemap since you don’t want to confuse search engines and crawlers about which sitemap they should crawl for your website or potentially cause an indexing issue.