An XML sitemap is a digital roadmap to tell search engines where to find your pages.
Eventually, by clicking every link on your website, Google (and other search engines) can put together their own map, but creating an XML sitemap provides all that data to search engines up front. This makes your indexing process much more simple (and quicker!).
What does an XML sitemap look like?
The designer inside you won’t be very excited— the XML sitemap is a pretty simple table with text providing the URL of each of your pages (and posts) as well as the last modified date.
While it might not be much to look at, your sitemap gives search engines the exact coordinates of all of your webpages, which is extremely valuable in getting your pages indexed (so they can be shown in search results).
How to create an XML sitemap
Creating an XML sitemap is as easy as installing an SEO plugin (like Yoast, SEOPress, or RankMath to name a few). If you already use an SEO plugin, reference your plugins documentation to find out how to enable your sitemap (often, this is done by default).
If you’re unsure if your sitemap already exists, try typing in your domain to the omnibar, followed by ‘/sitemap.xml’ or ‘sitemaps.xml’. If your sitemap already exists, it will likely be in one of those two places.
I have a sitemap, now what?
After your sitemap is created, you’ll want to let the search engines know it’s there. Your sitemap can be submitted to Google through Search Console, or with Bing through Webmaster Tools. You should get some sort of validation after submitting your sitemap that the search engine has it, but it might take a few days before they crawl the whole thing.
Over time, search engines will continue to reference your sitemap to crawl your site more efficiently. This is key for a website that regularly publishes new content they want available via search quickly.
Some people choose to link to their sitemap in their website’s footer, but as long as your sitemap has been indexed it isn’t necessary. It’s unlikely visitors will get much use out of an XML sitemap, and implementing proper navigation will create the best user experience.