What is Robots.txt?
How Robots.txt Works
When a search engine crawler first lands on a site, it will look for a robots.txt file. The crawler will read the instructions in this file to know which pages or files it can and cannot crawl.
The robots.txt file uses a specific syntax:
- User-agent – This specifies which search engine crawler to give instructions to. Using an asterisk (*) applies the instructions to all crawlers.
- Disallow – This tells the specified crawler which pages or directories to avoid crawling.
- Allow – This overrides a disallow command for a specific page or directory.
User-agent: *Disallow: /private-pages/User-agent: Googlebot Allow: /private-pages/example.html
This would block all crawlers from crawling the /private-pages/ directory, except Googlebot which is allowed to crawl the example.html page.
Key Benefits of Using Robots.txt
There are a few key reasons webmasters use a robots.txt file:
1. Block Sensitive or Irrelevant Pages
Robots.txt allows you to block search engine indexing of pages that contain private user data, temporary pages, or thin affiliate content. This helps focus crawling on the most relevant pages.
2. Improve Crawling Efficiency
Crawlers have limited capacity, so blocking non-critical pages helps them index your most important content faster. This can improve your site’s indexing and ranking potential.
3. Control Index Bloat
Preventing search engines from crawling unimportant pages keeps your index footprint small and focused only on pages you want indexed. A tightly controlled index helps rankings.
4. Block Scraping Bots
Some bots scrape sites for content. Using robots.txt blocks them from stealing your original content.
Best Practices for Robots.txt
To effectively leverage robots.txt, keep these tips in mind:
- Place the file in your root directory and name it “robots.txt” exactly.
- Be selective – don’t blanket block entire directories if possible. Allow crawling of most pages.
- Use the “Disallow” command sparingly to avoid blocking important pages.
- Test your robots.txt using Google’s robots.txt tester before launching.
- Add your XML sitemap URL to the bottom of robots.txt to help crawlers.
- Use “Allow” only when you need to make exceptions to broader “Disallow” rules.
- Avoid using “Allow” for Googlebot unnecessarily since it crawls public pages by default.
- Consider using “noindex” meta tags instead for individual page blocking.
- Re-evaluate your robots.txt file regularly and remove outdated blocking rules.
Used properly, robots.txt gives you more granular control over search engine crawling and indexing. This allows you to hide non-critical pages while ensuring search engines efficiently crawl your most important content. Keep your robots.txt file focused on your core goals, test it thoroughly, and revisit it often to maximize its impact.
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