Thursday, February 7th, 2013...7:40 am

WordPress Sitemap Plugins Reviewed

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Searching for any specific class of WordPress plugins is no easy task. As surprising as it may sound, it is true. There are several reasons for this. WordPress plugin directory currently lists a total 23,245 plugins, which wouldn’t be a problem if they were better classified – but there is actually no proper classification to speak of. Instead of categories or other form of organising the directory, what we have is a tagcloud – but since tags are assigned to the plugins by their developers whose goal is to get the most exposure for their plugins, we get this useless monstrosity:

Wordpress Plugins Tag Cloud

When in a tag cloud the most used tags are “widget”, “plugin” and “post”, you can tell right away we’ve got a problem. (I could talk more about the drawbacks of this “maximising exposure” strategy and how plugin developers could benefit more from better targeting their potential users by better classifying and describing their plugins – but that’s a whole separate topic and it’s not the purpose of this post.) Infact, “sitemap” is not even present anywhere in this tag cloud.

Using search in the plugin directory doesn’t help much either. There are 180 results for “sitemap”, 106 results for “xml sitemap”, and 80 results for “google xml sitemap”. There are several ways of sorting these results:

Sorting the results by relevance is really the only way to get anything meaningful out of it as, due to poor classification, all other options show a bunch of plugins that have nothing or very little to do with sitemaps. “Most popular” or “Highest rated” could have potentially been a great way of telling what plugins are the best out there – but we’re really comparing apples to oranges there. So for the sake of this review post, here’s what I decided to do.

I have tested several xml sitemap plugins that are not news sitemap plugins, or multisite plugins, or video or images sitemap plugins – just plain and simple xml sitemaps. I have not tested any bundled plugins offering multiple functions (“all-in-one SEO plugin” type of thing) just to compare comparable things. I have tested them all on the same  WordPress installation, removing the previously created XML sitemap physically via FTP after each completed test. Here is what I got as a result.

The first one I tried was Google XML Sitemaps 3.2.9 by Arne Brachhold. It seems to be the most popular plugin, with over 9 million downloads and an average rating of 4 1/2 based on 3,449 ratings. It is also most frequently updated. This plugin has settings allowing the user to indicate what pages to include in the sitemap, whether to ping the search engines with updates each time an entry is added to the sitemap, whether or not to calculate the page priority automatically. Once the sitemap is built, the following report is displayed:

The generated sitemap seems to come out just fine and even has XSLT (XML stylesheet) associated with it. One thing that rubs me the wrong way though is this snippet that appears before the actual URL list:

Credit surely should go where credit is due but considering this, it looks a bit like a footprint to me. Maybe to some it’s of little concern but I’m a bit too paranoid for this stuff. No complaints about the functionality though – it does what it says.

Next one to test is Google XML Sitemap plugin by Cor van Noorloos. Oh well… Version 0.1.1, last updated 6 months ago, just over 42,000 downloads, average rating of 5 stars based on a whopping 3 ratings (doctored?)… Upon installing and activating it, I could not find any hint to a way to configure it in any way, be it in settings or anywhere else. After much digging, I looked at the readme file and there was the installation instruction, saying I just need to activate it and open mysite.com/sitemap.xml. However, I got a 404 there. The sitemap file never got created. There is hardly any compatibility issue on my side as the plugin says it requires WordPress version 3.3 or higher and is compatible up to 3.5 which is exactly what I tested it on. Looks like it just fails to activate. So much for all those downloads… and apparently people for whom it did not work do not bother leaving negative reviews. Complete fail. If you come across a plugin like this better uninstall it right away (and not just uninstall but also delete it) because in the worst case who knows what it can do instead of what’s advertised… This one didn’t do anything at all so seems like just a non-working plugin – but you can easily get something pretty malicious the same way. Truth be told, WordPress Plugin directory is supposed to kick out malicious plugins but how efficient this process is, I cannot comment.

Next up is Quick XML Sitemap by letsfx. Rated 5 stars by 2 raters, downloaded a bit over 9,000 times, compatibility might be an issue for me as it supports WordPress versions 2.3 or higher but said to be only compatible up to version 3.3.2. Once installed and activated, you get this settings screen:

Oh well, no option to withhold category pages or archive pages or tag pages from the sitemap… doesn’t look good already. It does spit out a properly formatted XML file with no imposed links to the author site or anything in there, but seems to ignore the priority settings – even totally omits them in random cases. So while this could be a quick way  to generate a draft sitemap which you would later edit manually, this is probably not an option you want to use on a frequently updated site as you would have to redo it manually all the time and you better be quick as the sitemap pings the search engines, and if you have certain parts of the site blocked by robots.txt, this plugin will cause you a lot of extra headache from all the Google Webmaster Tools crawling warnings.

My verdict: none of the plugins reviewed is perfect. There is not much choice out of what’s available as standalone WordPress plugins for generating XML sitemaps anyway. If you’re more experienced with all the settings and tweaks your best option would probably be to just use Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin (however, even this one is not impeccable in terms of leaving a footprint – this is the result of a search for the little commented out credit it inserts in your pages and you gotta just pray that Joost de Valk stays up his game and keeps the plugin secure and  impenetrable for the hackers looking for footprints of massively used plugins) – but if you feel intimidated by its massiveness and multitude of options and settings then you’re pretty much left empty handed. Quite surprising, considering the sheer volume of WordPress based sites out there.

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