In version 5.5, WordPress finally announced that it would automatically generate XML sitemaps for the website. Sitemaps have been used for years to inform search engines about pages on your site. Without that, there would be no way for a crawler to discover all the pages unless they were linked to by others. And if a page was deeply buried in your site with perhaps just a single link, it would be lost entirely. A sitemap helps with this by detailing every single URL for search engines to crawl.
Before mid-2020, WordPress websites need to create their own sitemap files through a plugin. As you may expect, a large number of plugins sprung up on the repository fulfilling this need. These plugins went beyond merely listing the URLs, and also added additional features. Then WordPress 5.5 was announced, where Automattic explained that WordPress would generate a sitemap automatically, going forward. So the immediate question is – do you need to get rid of the plugins that generate sitemaps, now that WordPress does so automatically?
The answer is, no. And here’s why.
The Default WordPress Sitemap is Basic
While WordPress 5.5 now includes a sitemap, it’s pretty much nothing more than a text file with URLs. But isn’t this what we want? At a base level, yes. But a sitemap can have many more features that significantly improve the crawling of your website.
What are these features?
Last Modified Time Stamp
Robots, including web crawlers, probably make up the majority of your traffic. It’s a real problem for sites that would like to conserve their resources for real visitors, but at the same time, they need to allow access to at least search engine crawlers. For a large site, this can take a lot of time. Include category, tag, and date archives, along with pagination, and your site can easily have hundreds upon hundreds of unique URLs. Now consider that each search engine has a separate crawler. The bot visits pile on!
A good sitemap can help alleviate this stress by giving search engines the “last modified” date for each URL. So if a crawler sees that a page hasn’t changed since the last time, it doesn’t need to crawl it again. To me, this is one of the biggest benefits of a specialized sitemap plugin.
Excluding “Noindex” Pages
Following up on what I said before, we want to minimize useless crawling by bots as much as possible. So if you “noindex” your date archives for example, you don’t want them appearing in your sitemap. If it does appear, Google will see that it’s “noindex” only after it has crawled the page. Not ideal! A specialized sitemap plugin will make sure that noindex pages don’t appear in the sitemap.
The Yoast Sitemap is Pretty Good
You probably already use the Yoast SEO plugin (almost everyone does). Yoast generates a sitemap that’s perfect for SEO purposes. It’s got all the above features, and more. So I suggest you keep allowing Yoast to generate your sitemap – it will automatically disable the default WordPress one, so there’s no need to worry about a conflict between the two. Normally, I like to keep things simple, but a good sitemap is too great a benefit to pass up!
I’m a NameHero team member, and an expert on WordPress and web hosting. I’ve been in this industry since 2008. I’ve also developed apps on Android and have written extensive tutorials on managing Linux servers. You can contact me on my website WP-Tweaks.com!