If you’re familiar with SEO, then you’ve likely heard of the robots.txt file. But what is it, and more importantly, what can it do for your website’s search engine optimization? In this post, we’ll go over everything you need to know about the robot exclusion protocol. Let’s get started!
What Are Robots.txt Files?
The robot exclusion protocol, more commonly known as robots.txt, is a text file that instructs web crawlers (like Googlebot) what pages on your website they should or shouldn’t crawl and index. It’s important to note that while the vast majority of web crawlers obey the rules laid out in your robots.txt file, there are forever a few that don’t. So while using a robots.txt file can help keep your website’s pages out of the search engine results pages (SERPs), it’s not a guarantee.
The Importance of Robots.txt in SEO
There are a few reasons why you might want to use a robots.txt file on your website. For one, it can help reduce server load by telling web robots which pages they should ignore. Additionally, it can come in handy if you have sensitive pages on your website that you don’t want appearing in the search results, such as a login page. Finally, if you’re running a website redesign and don’t want Google (or other search engines) indexing your staging site, a robots.txt file can be used to prevent that from happening.
A Few Examples of Web Pages You Can Hide From Robots
There are a few different types of pages that you might want to keep hidden from web crawlers. Here are a few examples:
- login pages;
- checkout pages;
- staging sites;
- admin pages;
- web pages with duplicate content.
Robots.txt will allow you to specify which pages you don’t want indexed, and as a result, keep them out of the SERPs.
How to Use Robots.txt
Now that we’ve gone over what robots.txt is and why you might want to use it, let’s take a look at how to actually create and implement one on your website. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to using robots.txt, there are a few general rules you’ll want to follow:
- Keep it simple: When creating your robots.txt file, try to keep things as simple as possible. The last thing you want is a confusing file that does more harm than good.
- Include a sitemap: In addition to your robots.txt file, you’ll also want to include a link to your website’s sitemap. This will help ensure that web crawlers can still find and index all of your website’s pages, even if some are hidden in the robots.txt file.
- Be careful with disallow: The disallow command is what tells web crawlers which pages they should ignore. However, it’s important to use this command carefully, as you can accidentally block pages you actually want indexed.
- When in doubt, consult an expert: If you’re not sure how to properly use robots.txt on your website, it’s always best to consult with an SEO expert or web developer. They’ll be able to help you create a file that properly reflects your website’s needs.
How to Create a Robots.txt File
Now that we’ve gone over the basics of using robots.txt, let’s take a look at how to actually create a file. While there are a few different ways to do this, we recommend using a text editor like Notepad or TextEdit.
Once you have your text editor open, you’ll want to start by adding the following line of code:
This line of code tells web crawlers which user-agents (aka web browsers, like Google or Bing) the following rules apply to. The asterisk (*) is a wildcard that indicates that the rules apply to all user agents.
Once you’ve added the User-agent line, you can start adding your specific directives. For example, if you want to block all web bots from indexing your website’s login page, you would add the following line of code:
And that’s it! You’ve now successfully created a robots.txt file. Remember, you can always add more commands as needed, but it’s important to keep things as simple as possible, so you don’t end up blocking your entire site.
Where to Place Your Robots.txt File
Now that you’ve created your robots.txt file, the next step is to upload it to your website’s server. Typically, the file should be placed in the root directory of your website. This will ensure that web crawlers can easily find and access it. If you’re having trouble finding your website’s root directory, contact your web host or developer for help.
Once you’ve placed the file on your server, you can check to see if it’s working by visiting your website’s URL followed by /robots.txt. For example, if your website’s URL is www.example.com, you would visit www.example.com/robots.txt to see the contents of your file. You should also upload your robots.txt file to Google Search Console.
Remember, you should always keep a copy of your original robots.txt file saved on your computer. This way, if anything goes wrong, you can quickly and easily upload a new copy to your server.
Robots.txt: Best Practices
Now that you know the basics of using robots.txt, let’s take a look at some best practices to keep in mind.
- Use robots.txt to block sensitive or confidential information.
- Use robots.txt to block pages that are still under construction.
- Use robots.txt to block duplicate content.
- Use robots.txt to block unwanted traffic (e.g., from bots that are scraping your site).
- Always keep a copy of your original robots.txt file saved on your computer.
- Periodically check your robots.txt file to make sure it’s still working as intended.
- If you make changes to your robots.txt file, be sure to check your website’s traffic patterns to ensure that you’re not accidentally blocking any important pages.
- Consult with an SEO expert or web developer if you’re unsure of how to properly use robots.txt on your website.