Robots.txt for SEO – The Ultimate Guide

Robots.txt is a fundamental and important file on your website. Its purpose is to give instructions to search engine crawlers about the URLs they shouldn’t crawl on your website. It’s imperative to understand what a robots.txt file is, from a technical seo perspective, how it works, how to give instructions to the crawlers, and how to test the validity and effectiveness of those instructions.

This article will walk you through the ins and outs of the robots.txt file, so you can understand what it is and how to use it to assist your SEO efforts, and win more search results.

What is a robots.txt file?
The robots.txt file is a simple text file that sits in the root directory of your website. It gives instructions to search engine crawlers about which pages to crawl on your website. Valid instructions are based on the robots exclusion standard, which will be discussed during this article. These instructions are by way of User-Agent and Disallow.

The combination of both User-Agent and Disallow tell search engine crawlers which URLs they are prevented from crawling on your website. A robots.txt file that contains only User-Agent: * Disallow: / is perfectly valid. In this case, the instructions given to crawlers is to prevent the entire site from being crawled.
Crawlers access your site and add the URLs to the crawl queue. They do this for both newly discovered and previously known URLs. A crawler will first check the root directory of your website, looking for the robots.txt file. If it’s not there, they will crawl your entire site. However, if a robots.txt exists, they will crawl your website as per the directives you specify.

The main reason for updating and maintaining a robots.txt file for your website is so that your website does not become bogged down with excess crawler requests. Robots.txt is not a way to stop pages from getting indexed by Google.

A common myth is that the directives in your robots.txt file can be used to prevent pages from ending up in Google search results. The reality is that Google can still index your pages if there are other signals, such as links from other websites.

Misconfiguration of your robots.txt can have serious consequences for your website. Mistakenly telling crawlers not to access your pages can be costly. This problem can be further amplified for very large websites. You could inadvertently prevent crawlers from accessing large portions of essential pages.

Furthermore, it’s not a given that all search engine crawlers will obey the directives you have specified in your robots.txt file. Most of the legitimate crawlers will not crawl pages blocked by robots.txt. However, some malicious bots may ignore it. So do not use robots.txt to protect sensitive pages on your site.

How to use robots.txt
Search engine crawlers will check your robots.txt file before crawling the URLs on your website. If there are particular pages or sections of your site you don’t want to be crawled, pages that are not helpful to be included in search engine results pages, then robots.txt can be used to Disallow them from the crawl.

The most useful reason to include and maintain a robots.txt file is for optimising the crawl budget. Crawl budget is a term used to describe how much time and resources any search engine crawlers will spend on your site. The issue you are trying to address is when those crawlers waste crawl budget by crawling pointless or unwanted pages on your website.

Busting the Myth:- blocking indexing with Robots.txt
Robots.txt is not a reliable tool to prevent search engines from indexing pages. Pages can still be indexed in search results even if they are prevented from being crawled in robots.txt.

If it is prevented from crawling in your robots.txt file, it won’t show a detailed search results snippet describing the index page. Instead, it will give a message explaining that the description is not available because of the robots.txt directive.

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