Robots.txt and SEO: The Complete Guide

Team TypeStack
Team TypeStack ...
Nov 21, 2022  . 8 min read
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A robots.txt has directives for search engine bots to specify which pages they can and cannot crawl. The primary purpose of the file is to ‘allow’ or ‘disallow’ crawling bots in order to specify your indexing instructions.

Robots.txt files may seem to be complex at first, but the syntax is actually simple. A robots.txt controls its crawling activities to prevent web crawlers from overworking your website or indexing sites not meant for public viewing. So, if you are looking for a comprehensive approach to knowing what is robots.txt file in SEO, you are in the right place. Let’s dig in!

Importance of Robots.txt

The first step to knowing what is robots.txt file in SEO, you should know why they are important. Here’s what you should know!

They Optimize Crawl Budget

This is the very first step to what does robots.txt do. The number of pages Google will periodically crawl on a website is known as the crawl budget. Depending on the size, health, and backlinks of your website, the number may change.

A crawl budget is important since if the number of pages on your site exceeds the budgeted number, some of those pages won't be indexed. So, the pages that are not indexed won't be ranked for anything. Google bot focuses more of your crawl budget on important pages by banning superfluous pages with robots.txt.

They Hide Resources

There are instances when you will want Google to ignore search results for items like PDFs, videos, and photos. You want to keep certain materials non-indexed, or you want Google to concentrate on other, more significant information.

In such situations, the easiest option to stop them from being indexed is to use robots.txt. And that’s what is robots.txt file in SEO.

They Block Duplicate & Non-public Pages

Not every page on your website needs to rank. So, you don't have to let search engines crawl them all. Staging sites, internal search results pages, duplicate websites, and login pages are a few examples.

For example, WordPress automatically blocks all crawlers from accessing /wp-admin/. It is necessary for these pages to exist, but it is not necessary for search engines to index and find them. This is the ideal scenario for using robots.txt to prevent crawlers and bots from accessing these websites.

Robots.txt Best Practices

When it comes to robots.txt optimization, there are certain best practices that you should follow to implement the best SEO strategies. Now we get to the real answer for what is robots.txt file in SEO. Let’s start!

Create Your Robots.txt File

To know how to use robots.txt, creating a robots.txt file should be the first step. You can make one using Windows notepad because it is a text file. Additionally, the format of your robots.txt file is the same regardless of how you create it:

User-agent: X

Disallow: Y

Your current bot's name is indicated by its user agent. The sites or parts you want to prohibit are anything that comes following ‘disallow’. Here's an example:

User-agent: googlebot

Disallow: /images

This rule would instruct Googlebot not to index your website's image folder. Moreover, you can address each and every bot that visits your website by using an asterisk (*). Here's an example:

User-agent: *

Disallow: /images

All crawlers are instructed not to crawl your photos folder with the ‘*’ symbol. This is only one use for a robots.txt file. You will get more information on the various rules you can employ to prevent or let bots from crawling different pages of your site by following this space. We keep updating the best SEO practices for you.

Make Your Robots.txt Easily Accessible

Publish your robots.txt file as soon as you have it. The robots.txt file can be located in any primary directory on your website. But it is advised to put your robots.txt file at the below-given location to improve the likelihood that it is detected:

https://example.com/robots.txt

Keep in mind that your robots.txt file respects the case. So, make sure the filename starts with a lowercase.

Know about Robots.txt and Meta Directives

Why use robots.txt when the ‘no-index’ meta tag allows you to block pages individually? The no-index tag might be challenging to use on multimedia resources like films and PDFs.

Additionally, if you want to restrict hundreds of pages, it will be simpler to use robots.txt to block the whole domain rather than individually adding ‘noindex’ tags to each page. Moreover, there are instances where you don't want to hamper any crawl budget waiting for Google to land on pages with the no-index tag.

Check the Errors & Warnings

The setting of your robots.txt file is very important. Your entire website can get de-indexed with only one error. Thankfully, you won't have to gamble on your code's setup. You can use Google's Robots Testing Tool as it displays your robots.txt file along with any errors or warnings it discovers.

Limitation of Robots.txt File

You should know the restrictions of robots.txt before creating or editing a file. Depending on your objectives, you might want to take into account alternative methods to make sure your unintended URLs cannot be found online.

Some Search Engines Might Not Support Robots.txt Directives

It is up to the crawler to follow the directions in the robots.txt files. They cannot impose crawler behavior on your website. While web crawlers, like Googlebot, abide by the directives in a robots.txt file, certain other crawlers might not. So, it is ideal to utilize alternative blocking techniques, such as password-protecting confidential files on your server, if you wish to keep information secure from web crawlers.

Disallowed Pages Can Still Be Indexed

A prohibited URL may be found and indexed by Google, even if it is restricted by a robots.txt file. This is possible if it is linked to other websites. The URL address and other publicly accessible data, such as anchor text in connections to the website, may continue to show up in Google search results. Use the no-index meta tag or response header, password-protect the files on your server, or delete the page altogether to block your URL from showing up in Google search results.

Interpretation Differs in Different Crawlers

Given that some web crawlers may not comprehend specific commands, you should be aware of the correct syntax for addressing various web crawlers.

Why Do You Need Robots.txt?

Certain pages of your website are under the control of robots.txt. Thinking about what is robots.txt file in SEO. A robots file can be helpful in some situations, but it can also be risky if you unintentionally prevent Googlebot from crawling your entire website.

Keeping duplicate information out of search engine results (note that meta robots are often a better choice for this)

Keeping your whole website hidden (like the staging website version for your technical team)

Not allowing internal search results pages to appear on a public SERP

Identifying the sitemap's location

Preventing some files on your website from being indexed by search engines (images, PDFs, etc.)

Defining a crawl delay to stop crawlers from loading numerous pieces of material at once and overloading your servers

Robots.txt Best Practices for SEO

Verify that no content or pages of your website are being blocked that you want to be crawled. This will answer your questions on what does disallow mean.

Multiple user agents are used by certain search engines. For instance, Googlebot and Googlebot-Image are used for organic and image searches, respectively. Although it is not necessary to provide directives for each of a search engine's crawlers since most user agents from the same search engine adhere to the same rules, having the option lets you fine-tune how your website’s pages are indexed.

Robots.txt should not be used to prevent private user information or other sensitive data from showing up in SERP results. The page containing private information may still be indexed since other pages may link straight to it (bypassing the robots.txt instructions on your root domain or homepage). Use an alternative technique, such as password protection or the no-index meta directive, to prevent your website from appearing in search results.

Although a search engine may cache the contents of robots.txt, it typically changes the cached data at least once per day. You should provide Google with the URL for your robots.txt file if you make changes to the file and want it updated more rapidly than is currently happening.

Finishing Up

That brings us to the end of an elaborative discussion on what is robots.txt file in SEO. You must have come across both aspects, including SEO as well as robots.txt best practices. So, with that done and dusted, it’s time for you to be better aware of the most effective practices with robots.txt for your website optimization.

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