What is Robots.txt? Robots.txt and SEO
The world of SEO and web design is full of terms and acronyms that experts in the field understand, but many of these terms may be confusing for everyday users. One commonly used term is robots.txt.
So, what is robots.txt? How does a robots.txt file work? Read on to learn the basics of this common SEO term.
What is a Robots.txt File?
Robots.txt refers to a text file that web developers use to direct web robots. This piece of code tells search engine robots how to crawl the pages on a website. A robots.txt file can allow or disallow search engine robots from crawling and indexing certain URLs.
A robots.txt file is only a short piece of code, although you can store various lines of directives within one robots text file. The basic format looks like this:
User-agent: [user-agent name] Disallow: [URL string not to be crawled]
Keep in mind that a robots.txt file does not necessarily hide a web page from Google and other search engines. It only keeps crawlers from crawling and indexing them directly. If another page links to a page that is disallowed by your robots.txt file, it may still be indexed. To keep pages hidden from Google, you should use noindex directives as well as disallowing access through robots.txt.
Robots Exclusion Protocol
Robots.txt is a part of a robots exclusion protocol, or REP. This standard protocol dictates how robots, especially search engine robots, crawl web pages and index content. The robots exclusion standard also sets rules about how links are followed (nofollow vs. dofollow links).
What is Robots.txt used for?
Search engines crawl the web to discover and index content. If they come upon a website with a robots.txt file, they will read that text first to learn how to crawl the website, avoiding pages that are disallowed by robots.txt.
This is useful for managing what content on your website gets crawled. For example, it can prevent duplicate content from getting crawled twice, keeping staging sites hidden, or preventing certain files from getting indexed, like images.
Limitations of Robots.txt
As we mentioned before, a robots.txt file can’t completely prevent a page on your website from getting indexed. While “good” search engines‘ crawlers will follow the rules of your robots.txt file, “bad” bots may ignore them.
Different search crawlers may also interpret the syntax of a text file differently, so they may ignore your robots.txt requests. The main search engines like Google, Bing, or Yahoo understand the same syntax, however.
Moreover, if another web page links to a page you have disallowed in your robots.txt, that page may still be indexed by search engines. Because of this, you shouldn’t protect any sensitive information with a robots.txt file alone.
Customer information, user passwords, and more need to be further protected through other cybersecurity measures, or they may be at risk. Be sure to password protect important privacy information.
Why is Robots.txt Important for SEO?
Now that you have a basic understanding of robots.txt files, you may be wondering what all of this means for SEO purposes.
There are some pages on your website that simply don’t need to be indexed by search engines. Image files typically have their own web address, but you may not want these crawled and indexed. Internal search results, if you have a search bar on your site, don’t need to be crawled and indexed. Duplicate content does not need to be indexed – and can hurt your content’s rankings if Google sees it as duplicate, or plagiarized.
Any page that you don’t want crawled and indexed by search engines can be disallowed in a robots.txt file. Aside from keeping unnecessary pages out of search engines results pages, there’s another reason to disallow certain pages in your robots.txt file.
The amount of time it takes to crawl your whole site can affect SEO. Google’s robot, Googlebot, has a crawl budget, meaning that it can only crawl a certain number of pages at a certain speed. To prioritize your pages that you want the Googlebot to crawl, index, and rank in SERPs, you can disallow unnecessary pages in your robots.txt file. That way, the crawl budget goes towards the most important and relevant web pages.
How to Create a Robots.txt File
Creating a robots.txt file is relatively simple, but may be a bit tedious for those without web development, coding, or website management experience. Luckily, Google offers simple instructions on how to create a robots.txt file, as well as a tool to check that it works correctly.
Use these guides to create your own robots.txt file, but first, check if your website already has a file created.
Check Your Site for Robots.txt
You may be wondering, “Does my website have a robots.txt?” Depending on who designed your website, or if you work with an SEO company, you may already have a robots.txt file created.
Checking your website, or any website, for a robots.txt file is easy. Simply type in your base URL, and at the end type /robots.txt. Here’s an example:
If you have a robots file, it will appear here. If you don’t, you will either see a blank screen, or a 404 error.
Test Your Robots.txt File
If you discovered a robots.txt file, or you recently created one and want to check that it works properly, Google offers a free tool. Use this tool to check and see what URLs are properly blocked by a robots.txt file on your website.
Not every website has a robots.txt file, but it can be a useful tool to direct search engine crawlers and improve SEO by ensuring that the most important pages are given priority indexing. Check your website for a robots.txt file today, or contact us at SEO Digital Group for help with this and other search engine optimization tips.