Google Sitemaps for SEO are VERY important to content indexing in the overall scheme of things. Ok, if you’ve got a good text-based CSS menu system and the links to and between pages are easily followed, you’re in better shape than some. However, on a larger site, especially without a 100% inclusive menu structure, and minimal use of anchor text hyperlinks to/between internal pages, Google et al may have trouble finding all your content. Worse, your visitors might have trouble finding what they want, and leave disappointed, or earlier than you’d like…
HTML & XML Sitemaps can assist in overcoming both those indexing problems.
It’s really important that you have a version for each problem… when using WordPress as your Content Management System, there are plugins that solve both issues very effectively.
Google XML Sitemaps
A Google XML sitemap is a file aimed specifically at the search engine spiders. These are a less-than-pretty list of pages in XML data format, with last update, priority and change date indicators. The major search engines all agreed to a specification and location format. The convention is that;
- the file should be called sitemap.xml or sitemap_index.xml
- it should be located in the root directory
- it should be referenced in the robots.txt file e.g.; Sitemap: http://www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml
If you have either the All in One SEO or Yoast SEO plugins installed, both automate the generation and update of Google XML Sitemaps, so another plugin is not required.
Once you have an XML Sitemap generator operating, you should complete two additional steps;
- Ensure that you have a robots.txt file which specifies the full path to the sitemap, generally: http://www.mysite.com/sitemap.xml
- Submit the sitemap within your Google Search Console account
An HTML sitemap is internal website page that provides an overview of the internal page structure of the site. This page can be accessed by visitors who are not sure what is where – and also provides additional clues to search engines. There are several real-time sitemap generators available for WordPress, I usually use the “Simple Sitemap” plugin.
- Once installed and configured, this automatically manages your HTML sitemap generation.
- Add the plugin’s shortcode to a page named Sitemap
- Add the Sitemap page to your Footer menu
Table Of Contents
If you have some large posts with detailed Topic coverage, you should also run a TOC Generator such as the “Easy Table of Contents” plugin. This auto-builds a fully hyperlinked list of Sections based on the H2, H3, H4 etc headings used within the page. Example:
The plugin has a variety of parameters;
- To include TOCs in Pages and/or Posts
- Open or closed TOC list by default
- Several colour themes
- Hierarchical list structure, indented sub-sections
Automated Hierarchical Sub-Menus
For very large sites with hundreds of pages divided into sections via the parent/child settings in Page Options, it can be impractical if not impossible to get every page into the menu structure. Fortunately, there are a couple of ways to achieve this with sidebar widgets that show sibling pages etc.
- Flexi Pages Widget – is a highly configurable WordPress sidebar widget to list pages and sub-pages, with user friendly widget control options
- Hierarchical Pages Widget – with pages, always displays the current page, the pages above it back to the home page, and the current page’s children.
Sitemaps & Content Indexing Tools Summary
Providing sitemaps helps ensure that even the largest site is fully indexed – and an HTML sitemap gives any visitor fast access to any are they have not been able to locate via the menu or sub-links. Building very useful Table of Contents is incredibly simple, and hierarchical section menus further ease the difficulty of finding key pages on large sites.