Some search engine optimization (SEO) experts say sitemaps are important tools for promoting your site, because when a search engine picks up your sitemap, it automatically picks up a link to every page in your site. Not only does the spider crawl those pages, but the sitemap page shows up in search results for keywords on your blog. Sitemaps also make it easier for visitors to your blog to find what they're looking for, faster. Here's a look at three sitemap generators for WordPress and my experience with them.
Google XML Sitemaps Generator
The Google XML Sitemaps Generator plugin for WordPress creates and publishes an XML-compliant sitemap at the click of a link, and pings the major search engines automatically to let them know where it is. This plugin quickly and easily produces a plain but highly customizable and useful sitemap that also happens to be SEO-friendly.
The first time I used this plugin to create a sitemap, I didn't change any of the default options, and ended up with a perfectly usable, if somewhat spare, sitemap. If you who want more, there is a long list of options for including your categories, archives, static pages, and author pages in addition to blog posts.
The generated XML sitemap uses a special tag, changefreq, to tell Google how often to check back for updates on each page. This value is customizable to daily, monthly, or even hourly. The plugin will assign a priority tag to your pages automatically according to criteria you select. The highest priority is 1.0, with lower priorities marked as 0.9, 0.8, and so on. Search engines crawl pages with higher priority levels more often. Another option includes adding links for pages not included under the hierarchy of your main page. For instance, if your WordPress installation is at http://www.yourdomain.com/blog, you can add to your sitemap pages from http://www.yourdomain.com.
The Google XML Sitemaps Generator can automatically refresh your sitemap page when you make a new post or otherwise change the content on your blog. You can also select an option to allow manual updating with a GET request. If you have a very large site and it is taking too long to build the sitemap, you can limit the number of posts that the plugin includes in the sitemap. My site is fairly small, so the plugin had no trouble generating a full sitemap pretty much instantaneously. Also for those with very large sites, you can select an option to run the XML update as a background process, to avoid delays in publishing new posts because the plugin is working on generating the updated XML file.
Dagon Design Sitemap Generator
The Dagon Design Sitemap Generator plugin installs quickly and generates a sitemap whose appearance is customizable and fits nicely within your site design as an integrated page.
It took reading the installation information at Dagon to find out how to get the sitemap to display, since there's no way to make it display through the administration interface. Instead, you'll need to create a page within WordPress and paste in the tag
<!-- ddsitemapgen -->. WordPress generates the sitemap URL automatically according to your specifications, but you can override that by creating a new slug within the Dagon plugin interface. I chose "sitemap" as my slug, which makes the full URL easy to find.
The Dagon plugin concentrates less on XML compliancy and more on aesthetics, but it includes an option to link to an XML-friendly sitemap from its own "pretty" sitemap. Options for customization include sorting posts displayed by date or title, including posts only or pages and posts, showing or not showing comment counts, and listing the date of each page or post. You can also tell Dagon Sitemap Generator to leave out certain pages, and where to put the sitemap navigation, if you will have more than one page full of links. Dagon also gives users the option of leaving future-dated posts out of the sitemap lineup.
If looks are more important to you than SEO, choose this plugin.
The Simple Sitemap plugin has the fewest options of these three. Sometimes simple is better, and in this case I found that to be mostly true. Having fewer options feels less complicated, but this plugin asks more of the blog owner in terms of getting the sitemap published.
Where the Google XML plugin automatically names and publishes its sitemap, and the Dagon plugin provides one small tag to include in the body of a page so you can publish its sitemap, the Simple Sitemap plugin gives some vague instructions about creating a page template, which could confuse WordPress newbies. In order to use this plugin, you need to create a PHP template that includes all the stylesheet calls to make it look like the rest of your site, give it a unique name, save it, and upload it into your template folder on your host's server. Then, using the administrative interface for WordPress, create a page, select the proper page template in the drop-down menu located on the page creation interface, and save it. You can also choose between a couple of design options -- underlined links or colored stripes on mouseover -- and choose the number of posts you want included on each page of the sitemap, and which categories to exclude from the sitemap. The result is a nicer looking sitemap than either of the other two plugins, so it could be worth the hassle.
Simple Sitemap is relatively maintenance free after the initial installation and configuration, so if you're willing to do the extra work upfront, you may like this one, as long as you don't need an automatically generated XML sitemap.
Bloggers who want the most SEO-friendly sitemap should choose Google Design Sitemap Generator or the Dagon Design Sitemap Generator. Site owners who just want a pretty sitemap and don't care about SEO will be happy with Simple Sitemap. Whichever plugin you choose, by providing site visitors and search engines alike a clearer picture of your blog's layout, you will reap the benefits of greater exposure for your WordPress blog.