Let’s face it — digital marketing is all the rage these days. And search engine optimisation (SEO) is an integral element in this marketing domain.
It is a crucial strategy that helps to improve the optimisation of your website so that you can reach the maximum number of people over the internet. Obviously, keywords and search engines play an important role in SEO, but one aspect that website owners sometimes overlook is the robots.txt file.
Now, what is so special about this little text file? Believe it or not, it is one of the key components that help to improve your site’s performance on search engine results pages (SERPs).
But how does it accomplish this task? Well, that is what we are here to find out. So, read on if you are curious!
What Is Robots.txt For SEO?
Robots.txt is a plain text file created and used by webmasters (the people who are responsible for maintaining a website). It contains instructions for the search engine crawler robots that access your site for indexing purposes. To be more precise, it instructs what portions of your website should be crawled by these robots and what portions are to be left out.
The robots.txt file belongs to a group of web standards known as robots exclusion protocol or REP. These standards are used to control the crawling behaviour of search engine robots. In other words, they regulate how search engine crawlers access and index website content. They also control the information these crawlers serve users in search results.
How Does Robots.txt Work For SEO?
To understand how the robots.txt file works, you must delve deeper into how search engines operate. Most search engines today perform two basic functions: crawling the internet for content and indexing the crawled content for searchers.
Typically, search engines crawl the internet using website links and web pages. However, crawling through the billions of websites and pages today is time-consuming without the right tools. This is where search engine bots like web crawlers come into the picture. These crawlers can efficiently sift through the vast multitude of sites and pages in a short time.
The crawler bot can accomplish this task with the help of the robots.txt file. Once it lands on a website, it seeks out this text file before proceeding. After locating this file, it reads through the crawling instructions to decide on the next course of action.
In case the robots.txt file disallows the search engines bot from crawling the site, it will skip the site entirely and move on to the next one. But if no directives in the file prohibit the bot, it will crawl the entire site for the necessary information.
How To Use Robots.txt For SEO?
If you want to make the best use of the robots. txt file for search engines, you will need to know the technical details of this file. You can create this file using Notepad, TextEdit, or other text editing software.
Here, you should use the correct commands to create the file, or else it might cause unnecessary problems for the crawler bot. In that context, the common commands used in the robots.txt syntax are discussed below.
1. User Agent
The user agent command is used to indicate the web crawler. It does not refer to the search engine itself but to the specific crawler bot that the search engine uses. For instance, Google’s crawler bot is known as “Googlebot.” So, if you want to control Google’s search behaviour on your website, the user agent on your robots.txt file will be Googlebot.
Disallow directives are used to instruct the user agents not to crawl a specific URL or website directory. These directives should be followed by the pathway that should not be accessed. The crawler will only notice this directive if you mention the pathway. On that note, you can use only a single disallow directive for a particular URL.
The allow directive is the opposite of the disallow directive, for it tells the crawler what parts of the site can be accessed. It is mostly used to allow access to certain pages and folders in an otherwise disallowed directory.
For this purpose, you must mention the path you want the crawler to access after the allow directive. This command is used only for a few major search engines like Google or Bing.
The crawl-delay directive specifies how long the crawler should wait before accessing the site’s contents. This unofficial command prevents the server from overloading too many requests.
Googlebot generally doesn’t acknowledge this directive, so you must set the crawl rate via the Google Search Console instead.
The sitemap directive is an optional command that is used to point the crawler to the XML sitemap. You can reference multiple XML sitemaps, and you can even reference sitemaps that are not located on the same host site as the robots.txt file. Google, Bing, and Yahoo recognise this directive and Ask.
Based on the above discussion, we have provided some examples that use the above commands. This will give you an idea about how to structure and format your site’s robots.txt file.
For the sake of convenience, let’s assume that your website URL is www.example.com. Then the robots.txt file for your site can look like the following.
The above example prohibits Googlebot from crawling any pages within the “root-directory” folder. Following that, it references three different XML sitemaps using their URLs.
Let us give you another advanced example.
User Agent: *
In the above example, the robots.txt file has prohibited Googlebot from accessing the “main-directory” and “duplicate-content” folders. Subsequently, it has prohibited all the other search engines from doing the same but has allowed them access to the /main-directory/sample.html web page. Likewise, it has set a crawl-delay interval of five seconds, which means that these other crawlers can make a new request after every five seconds.
In addition, you’ll notice that you can use more than one disallow directive for the same user agent, albeit in multiple lines. Similarly, the segments for multiple user agents are separated by a single line space. Also, the “*” is a wildcard modifier used to denote any sequence of characters.
How To Optimise Robots.txt For SEO?
In this section, we have discussed some robots.txt and SEO tips you should follow. These may help with enhancing the overall effectiveness of the robots.txt file so that you can improve your SEO success rate.
First, you should always use a text editor file to create the robots.txt file. Try to avoid using word processors since they follow different file extensions. In addition, they can introduce unnecessary characters not recognised by crawlers, eventually leading to indexing problems.
You should always keep the robots.txt in the site’s top-level directory. That will make it easier for the crawler bot to access it. Likewise, the filename is case-sensitive, meaning you cannot capitalise any letters in the filename. For instance, you cannot name it “Robots.txt,” as the search engine bot will not recognise that.
Additionally, you should include a sitemap in the file. Including the sitemap complies with robots.txt and SEO best practices and can help your site perform better in search results.
If you have multiple subdomains within the root domain, you should include a separate robots.txt file for each. So, if your main site is www.example.com, and you have a subdomain with the URL forum.example.com, you should consist of a separate robots.txt file for each.
Why Is Robots.txt Important For SEO?
There are several reasons why robots.txt is essential for your site, as we have listed below.
- Prevent search engines from indexing internal search results pages
- Keep sections and files of your website private
- Preventing search engines from showing duplicate content on SERPs
- Minimising the risks of server overloads by specifying crawl delays
- Referencing the location of your website’s sitemap
In this regard, if you follow the robots.txt guidelines for SEO correctly, you can get sufficient control over what pages and content are indexed in search results. Although, if you wish to keep your entire site fully accessible, you will not need a robots.txt file at all.
Using Robot.txt for Your Website
If you want better control over your site, it is always advisable to use a robots.txt file in addition to dedicated systems like Google webmaster tools. Besides, it can keep the sensitive areas of your site (such as the admin folders) from appearing in public search results.
That said, specific user agents can completely ignore this file. This is more common for malicious crawlers like email address scapers and malware bots. In that case, you might need extra security measures to protect your site.
However, if you are not as tech-savvy in these matters, there’s no need to worry, for we have your back. At sitecentre®, we have qualified SEO experts who can handle such tasks efficiently and affordably. So, if you need any help, you can contact us.