If you operate a website, you may be familiar with the “robots.txt” file. The question is, what is it? How does this affect your website’s visibility in search engines? This tutorial will explain the purpose of a robots.txt file, how it functions, and why it is essential for website owners.
What is a robots.txt file?
Named “robots.txt,” this text file lives at the top of a website’s file structure. Its function is to provide information to web robots and other search engines and to search engine land and crawlers about which areas of a website they are permitted to crawl and index and which they are not.
How Does A Robots.txt File Work?
Automated applications called “web robots,” “bots,” “crawlers,” or “spiders” are used by search engines to crawl and index websites. A robot exploring a website will first check the root folder for a file named robots.txt to determine its proper course of action. If it does, it opens the file and executes the inside commands.
A robots.txt file contains both “user-agent” directives—which are specific bots that are authorized to access the site—and “disallow” messages—which site sections are off-limits to crawlers. The following command, for instance, prevents any bots from accessing the /private/ directory of the website:
Why Is A Robots.txt File Important?
A robots.txt file is important for a robots file several reasons:
- It can prevent sensitive information from being indexed: Using the “disallow” directive, you can tell bots not to crawl and index certain parts of your website, such as private files, login pages, or administrative areas. This can help protect sensitive information from being exposed to the public.
- It can improve website performance: By telling bots not to crawl certain parts of your website, you can reduce the load on your server and improve website speed and performance.
- It can help with SEO: By controlling which pages are crawled and indexed, you can influence how your website appears in search engine results. For example, you can prioritize important pages by allowing bots to crawl them first or exclude duplicate or low-quality content from being indexed.
- It can prevent search engine penalties: Using a robots.txt file to prevent bots from crawling certain parts of your website can avoid triggering search engine penalties for duplicate content or other SEO violations.
How To Make A robot.txt File
With any text editor or website management application, you can quickly and easily create a robots.txt file for your website. To make a robots.txt file, follow these steps:
- Open a text editor: You can use any text editor to create a robots.txt file, such as Notepad (on Windows) or TextEdit (on Mac). Alternatively, you can use a website management tool like WordPress to create and manage your robots.txt file.
- Start with a blank document: Open a new record in your text editor and make sure it is empty.
- Define user agents: In the first line of your robots.txt file, you can define which web robots should be allowed or disallowed from accessing your site. For example, to enable all robots to use:
Or, to allow only Googlebot, use:
- Define directives: After you define the user agents, you can use “disallow” messages to prevent bots from accessing specific pages or sections of your website. For example, to avoid all bots from accessing your “private” folder, use the following:
- Add more directives as needed: You can add more directives to your robots.txt file depending on your website’s structure and content. For example, you can allow certain bots to access specific pages or sections of your website or set crawl-delay directives to slow down the rate at which bots crawl your website.
- Save and upload: Once you have created your robots.txt file, save it with the name “robots.txt” (without quotes) and upload it to the root directory of your website. Ensure it is accessible by visiting “yourwebsite.com/robots.txt” in a web browser.
- Test and revise: Test your robots.txt file using Google’s robots.txt tester or other webmaster tools. Revise it based on the results and any changes to your website’s structure or content.
Noindex vs. Disallowable
The “noindex” meta tag, and the “disallow” directive in your robots.txt file are the primary ways to control which pages are crawled and indexed by search engines. Below is a rundown of the distinctions between the two:
Pages or portions of your site might be marked as “no index” to prevent search engines from indexing them. If search engine robots crawl the entire website or portion of entire site, it will not appear in SERPs.
The “noindex” meta tag: is useful for pages that you don’t want to show up in specific search engines and results, such as:
- Duplicate content
- Low-quality content
- Pages that are still in development
- Private or internal pages that should not be accessible to the public
You may instruct search engine crawlers and indexers to avoid using certain pages or sections of your website by adding a “disallow” directive to your robots.txt file. If you do this, the bots won’t crawl certain parts of your site, and won’t appear in the SERPs.
The “disallow” directive is useful for pages or sections that you don’t want search engines to crawl, such external links to other sites such as:
- Private or internal pages that should not be accessible to the public
- Pages that have no value to searchers, such as login pages or admin pages
- Pages that you don’t want to appear in search results for other reasons, such as sensitive information
The “index” element disables search engine finds of a page or segment from being featured in search engine results, whereas the “disallow” directive stops search engine bots from crawling and indexing a page or section in search results.
While the robots.txt file’s syntax is straightforward, it must be constructed in a certain way for most search engines and engine crawlers to understand it. The syntax of robots.txt may be broken down into these main parts:
- User-agent: This line defines which search engine bots the following directives apply to. You can use the asterisk (*) to apply the charges to all bots or specify a specific bot (such as Googlebot or Bingbot).
User-agent: * or User-agent: Googlebot
- Disallow: This line tells search engine bots not to crawl or index specific pages or sections of your website. You should always start the directive with a forward slash (/) to specify the path of the page or area you want to disallow.
Disallow: /private/ or Disallow: /admin/login.php
- Allow: This line tells search engine bots to crawl and index specific pages or sections of your website that would otherwise be disallowed. You should also start the directive with a forward slash (/) to specify the path of the page or section you want to allow.
Allow: /public/ or Allow: /category/books/
- Crawl-delay: This line specifies how long search engine bots should wait between crawling your website’s pages. The value is in seconds; you can use decimal points for more precise intervals.
- Comments: You can add comments to your robots.txt file using the pound sign (#). Words are ignored by search engine bots and are used to provide context for the directives.
Always test your robots.txt file using webmaster tools to ensure it’s working correctly and allowing or disallowing the robots file on right pages or sections of your website.
Where Can I Find Robots.txt File?
It is common practice to place the robots.txt file in the main directory of a website. Entering the website’s domain name followed by “/robots.txt” in your browser’s address bar will take you there. To see the robots.txt file for www.example.com, enter “www.example.com/robots.txt” in a web browser’s address bar.
But, keep in mind that not all websites have a robots.txt file, and those that do may keep it out of the way.
Where Should I Put My Robots.txt File?
Your robots.txt file should be located in the main directory of your website. When it comes to organizing your website’s files, the site’s root directory is where everything starts. By doing so, you guarantee that automated bots like search engine crawlers will be able to locate your robots.txt file and use it to learn how to navigate your entire site.
Use the FTP program or file manager your web server provides to transfer the robots.txt file to the root directory of your website. Create a file with the name “robots.txt” and place it in the root directory of your website.
Why Use Robots.txt?
The robots.txt file instructs search engine crawlers and other automated bots on which parts of a website they should and should not index. In its most basic form, it is a text file that sits in the site’s primary directory.
Here are some reasons why website owners use robots.txt:
- Control website indexing: Robots.txt can be used to control which pages or sections of a website are indexed by search engines. This is particularly useful for websites with large amounts of content or confidential information that they do not want to be publicly accessible.
- Save server resources: Crawlers can consume server resources such as bandwidth and CPU time. By blocking crawlers from accessing certain areas of a website, website owners can save server resources and improve website performance.
- Hide duplicate content: If a website has duplicate content, search engines may penalize it for this. Robots.txt can be used to block crawlers from accessing the duplicate content and prevent it from being indexed.
- Avoid crawling errors: By specifying which areas of a website should not be crawled, website owners can prevent crawling errors caused by broken links or pages that are no longer available.
What Will Robot Text File Do?
The robots.txt file allows website proprietors to manage the behavior of spiders and other automated crawlers. What a robots.txt file can accomplish:
- Instruct search engines: The robots.txt file can tell search engine crawlers which parts of the website should or should not be crawled and indexed. This can help website owners control how search engines display their content in search results.
- Block unwanted crawlers: The robots.txt file can be used to block unwanted crawlers from accessing the website. This can be useful for preventing content scraping or protecting sensitive information.
- Allow access to specific pages: The robots.txt file can allow access to specific pages on the website that may not be accessible through normal navigation.
- Prevent indexing of certain files: The robots.txt file can be used to prevent indexing of certain files, such as PDFs, images, or videos. This can help prevent duplicate content issues and improve search engine visibility of the website’s most important pages.
Is A Robots.txt file Necessary?
No, a robots.txt file is not absolutely necessary for a website to function correctly or be indexed by major search engines anywhere. However, having a robots.txt file can be beneficial in several ways:
- Control indexing: A robots.txt file can be used to control which pages or sections of a website are indexed by search engines, which can be particularly useful for large websites with confidential information that should not be publicly accessible.
- Improve website performance: By blocking crawlers from accessing certain areas of a website, website owners can save server resources and improve website performance.
- Prevent errors: By specifying which areas of a website should not be crawled, website owners can prevent crawling errors caused by broken links or pages that are no longer available.
- Protect sensitive content: The robots.txt file can be used to block unwanted crawlers from accessing the website and protect sensitive information.
Should I Delete Robots.txt?
Deleting the robots.txt file is generally not recommended, unless there is a specific reason for doing so. Here are a few reasons why you might consider deleting the file:
- No need for blocking: If there is no need to block any sections of the website from search engines or other automated bots, then the robots.txt file may not be necessary. However, it is still recommended to have a robots.txt file in place with default settings, even if there are no specific instructions for blocking.
- Incorrect configuration: If the robots.txt file is incorrectly configured and is blocking access to important pages or sections of the website, then it may be necessary to delete the file and start over with a correct configuration.
- Security issues: If the robots.txt file contains sensitive information, such as login credentials, that should not be publicly accessible, then it may be necessary to delete the file to prevent unauthorized access.
Is It Illegal To Access Robots.txt?
The retrieval of robots.txt files is not against the law. Actually, robots.txt files may be accessed by anybody and are meant to be read by spiders and other automated bots. To tell these crawlers on which parts of a website they should and should not crawl and how many pages index, a robots.txt file is used.
It’s worth noting, too, that some site administrators use the robots.txt file to restrict access to particular pages. This may be done for a number of reasons, including security and the prevention of content scraping. In such a scenario, gaining unauthorized access to the restricted areas of the website might be seen as a breach of the website’s terms of service or possibly a criminal act.
So, it is always preferable to adhere to the guidelines laid forth in the robots.txt file and avoid attempting to access any banned areas of the website.
How Do Search engine Crawlers Work?
Search engine crawlers, also known as spiders or bots, are programs used by search engines to discover and index web pages. Here is a general overview of how major search engines support and engine crawlers work:
- Start with a list of URLs: Search engine crawlers start with a list of URLs that they have previously discovered or that have been submitted to the search engine. They may also follow links from those pages to discover new URLs to crawl.
- Request the page: The crawler requests the web page from the server, and the server responds with the HTML content of the page.
- Parse the HTML: The crawler then parses the HTML code of the page to extract the content and structure of the page, including the title, headings, text content, and links to other pages.
- Follow links: The crawler then follows any links on the page to discover new pages to crawl. This process is repeated for each page that is discovered.
- Index the content: Once the crawler has discovered a page and extracted its content, it adds the content to the search engine’s index. This index is used to match search queries to relevant web pages.
- Repeat the process: The crawler continues to crawl pages and add them to the search engine’s index, updating the index as new pages are discovered or existing pages change.
What Is A Search Engines Robots Exclusion Protocol?
The robots exclusion protocol (or robots.txt) is a common way for websites to interact with web crawlers and other automated bots. The protocol enables site administrators to tell search engines whether or not to have google bots to crawl sites and index certain parts of their site.
The robots.txt file is a text file in the root directory of a website that provides instructions for search engine spiders. Provides guidance to web crawlers on which parts of a website to crawl and index and which parts all the pages to skip.
Each directive in the robots.txt file consists of only two parts: the user-agent and disallow line in the forbid. The user-agent attribute designates the user agent of the robot or search engine to which the directive applies, while the disallow attribute indicates the locations on the website that are off-limits to the robot.
For example, the following robots.txt file allows all search engine crawlers to access all pages of the website:
And the following robots.txt file blocks all search engine crawlers from accessing the /private/ directory of the website:
By using the robots exclusion protocol, website owners can control which pages or sections of other pages on their website are visible to search engines, which can be useful for protecting confidential information, preventing content scraping, preventing search engines and improving website performance.