What is an XML Sitemap?

A sitemap is a list of URLs that search engines and users can find across your website. If the sitemap is XML, then it is considered natural for robots to read and hard for users to understand. However, some plugins that generate sitemaps will often format them to be webmaster friendly.

With an XML Sitemap, there is a standardised format that you can find on Sitemaps.org. If your sitemap is not formatted the same as these specifications, it will be unreadable to Google.

XML Sitemap for RowanSEO.com

How can I find my XML Sitemap?

To check your XML Sitemap, you will first need to check whether one exists. There are a few ways to test this, and it will mostly depend on your webmaster or content management system.

There is no standardised location to place your sitemap, except that it should appear in the root folder. However, it is possible to have different sitemaps for each section of your website.

Here are the most common locations:

  • Default: /sitemap.xml
  • Magento:
  • Shopify: /sitemap.xml
  • WordPress (Yoast): /sitemap_index.xml
  • WordPress (All-in-One): /sitemap.xml
  • WordPress (Google XML Sitemap): /sitemap.xml

If your sitemap doesn’t exist in those locations, there are additional checks you can make before deciding to generate a new XML Sitemap.

Check the Robots.txt

One of the first places you can check for a sitemap is in the robots.txt file. While robots.txt is not standardised, it’s almost always in the same location. If there is a reference to the sitemap in the file, you can check that location before checking the root directory.

Robots.txt Tester in Google Search Console

Check the Root Folder

If you have checked all of the most common locations and also reviewed the robots.txt, then you may want to make one last check in the root directory.

To check your root directory, you will likely need to connect to your website via FTP, SFTP, SSH, or via your hosting provider. Below, I’ve taken an example from FileZilla connected to a site. The files are in alphabetical order, so we can tell that there is no sitemap.xml present in the root folder.

In this example, the client’s sitemap is generated automatically via PHP scripts in another folder. This behaviour is typical for many sites, so you should only expect to find a file here if it’s statically updated.

Root Directory via FTP

How can I check my XML Sitemap?

Once you have found your XML Sitemap, you will also want to make sure that it validates. If you submit it to Google Search Console, then it should let you know whether the file validated.

However, you can also use the Yandex XML Sitemap Validator if you would like to check before submission.

XML Sitemap Validated in Yandex

How can I generate an XML Sitemap?

Generally speaking, you should always generate the XML sitemap automatically from your backend platform. It should be updated daily to include all of your most recent pages provided that they meet the following criteria:

  • Indexable – the page does not include a noindex tag.
  • Canonical – the page may include a self-referential canonical tag, but should not canonicalise toward another page.
  • Available – the page should be available for users and return a status code of “OK”.

However, if you need to generate an XML Sitemap that is static, then you can do so using Screaming Frog. Start by crawling your website, or the list of URLs that you would like to include.

Once the crawl has completed, you can select Sitemaps > XML Sitemap.

Generate XML Sitemap with Screaming Frog

Secondly, you will want to double check your settings match the above. Be sure to check whether your sitemap is including canonicalised URLs or noindex pages.

Preferably, you should only include pages that are returning a status 2xx.

Including canonicalised URLs in Screaming Frog

Lastly, there are other settings such are change frequency that can be adjusted. While these all match the sitemap.org specifications, Google does not use this data. Therefore, I advise that you ignore these parameters.

Changing Crawl Frequency in XML Sitemaps

Submit your XML Sitemap to Google

This is a definition of what critical render paths are, and how they’re useful

Submitting sitemap in Google Search Console

Submit your XML Sitemap to Bing

This is a definition of what critical render paths are, and how they’re useful

Submitting sitemap in Google Search Console