Robots.txt File: What to Know & SEO Best Practices

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Updated 2/3/2024

Understand the basics of robots.txt files, an essential tool for SEO and moderating web crawler behavior. Find best practices and more.

robots txt file cover - robot-looking file and some plants

There are many web crawlers out there, scouring the internet for new pages and updated content, often for companies like Google and OpenAI that rely on the web’s content to serve their own.

Robots.txt files are a tool to help regulate what pages on your site you want crawled and indexed by these bots. This quick guide covers the essentials.

What is a Robots.txt File?

A robots.txt file is a text file placed in the root directory of a website to provide instructions to web crawlers and search engine bots on which pages or files to crawl and which ones to exclude. Proper use improves search performance and prevents restricted content exposure.

What to Know

Here are some key things about robots.txt files:

  • They tells search engine crawlers which pages or files not to access on a site. This prevents crawling of certain pages, like members-only content and so on.
  • The main access instructions are to allow or disallow bots to certain parts of the site. You can allow/disallow your whole site, certain folders, specific pages, etc.
  • The file has to be placed in the root directory of a website at the domain level, like “somedomain.com/robots.txt” for example.
  • These files are used as a recommendation, but crawlers don’t always obey them. Use additional security measures to prevent unwanted web access to sensitive areas of your site.
  • These are useful for avoiding bot traffic, preventing indexing of sensitive content, reducing crawl budgets for paid search services, etc.

Best Practices

When creating a robots.txt file, it is important to follow some best practices to ensure that it is properly formatted and that the directives included accurately reflect your site’s content and intended usage. These best practices include:

  1. Only include directives you want to be enforced: Only include Disallow and Allow directives for pages or directories you want to exclude or include in search engine indexing.
  2. Use full URLs: Always use full URLs when specifying pages or directories in Disallow or Allow directives, as relative URLs can confuse search engine crawlers.
  3. Be mindful of typos: Ensure the file is properly formatted and the directives are accurate. Even small typos or errors can cause the file to be ignored or misinterpreted by search engine bots.
  4. Test your file: Once the robots.txt file has been created, it is important to test it using the robots.txt Tester tool in Google Search Console or a similar tool to ensure it works as intended.

Top SEO Tips

Use robots.txt files to manage the crawl budget

Crawl budget refers to the number of pages a search engine will crawl on your site within a certain timeframe.

By disallowing search engine bots from crawling irrelevant pages (like admin pages or duplicate content), you can ensure that they spend more time crawling your site’s important, unique pages.

Here’s how. Say this is a robots.txt file:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /admin/
Disallow: /duplicate-page/

In the example above, all search engine bots (indicated by *) are disallowed from crawling any pages under the “/admin/” and “/duplicate-page/” directories.

Be careful while using robots.txt to block pages

If you mistakenly disallow important pages, it can harm your site’s visibility on search engines.

Also, remember that the Disallow directive does not prevent the page from being indexed; it just discourages crawling. To prevent a page from being indexed, use the ‘noindex‘ directive in Robots Meta Tags.

Validate your robots.txt file

Use Google’s robots.txt tester tool to be sure your file works as intended. This will help ensure you haven’t made any mistakes that could accidentally block search engines from accessing your site.

Bottom Line

A robots.txt file guides web crawlers and search engine bots on which pages to crawl and exclude from a website. It improves search performance and prevents access to restricted content. Follow best practices, test with tools like Google Search Console, and be cautious when blocking pages to avoid negative impacts on site visibility. ?

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