In order for your site to rank well on Google and other search engines it has to be well-organized and structured so that every page is easy to index.
Search engines index all of the web pages floating out there in cyber space using “robots” that “crawl” each page based on rules from different algorithms.
Robots.txt files provide the instructions for robots regarding crawling the pages of a website. Sites that are structured and optimized correctly have the coding (i.e. signals) in this file for robots to crawl their websites.
If this already seems a little crazy to you, don’t worry, you are not alone. Unless you are part of a digital marketing agency talking about Robots.txt files can sound like a foreign language. Lucky for you, we’re here to help!
How You Control the Robots
You can give robots permission to crawl, or disallow them from crawling, specific pages on your site. The coding is key to successfully controlling the bots that float through your site and try to index unwanted pages. An example of the appropriate coding is:
User-agent: *: This coding signal registers with all robots that crawl your site. It can also include a specific bot name as well, which blocks a single bot.
Disallow: /services/: This instructs a robot to avoid visiting a specific page on your site. While robots generally follow correctly formatted instructions, they can occasionally glitch and skip over directives, so it is important to check your files consistently.
Google insists that the “Googlebot” understands more instruction than others. There are numerous search engine bots that roam through sites like Bingbot, Googlebot and MSNbot, as well as those from site auditing tools like Screaming Frog and Majestic SEO. It is important to understand that these bots and crawling directives can significantly impact your site, whether positively or negatively.
Robots.txt Files can also block entire folders and file types on your site. This is especially helpful when instructions for many pages are required. For example, you can make the crawling process more efficient by preventing all images or certain folders from being crawled.
On the other hand, this capability can also wreak havoc for site indexing and ranking if you accidentally misinform the crazy crawlers. Webmasters have made the mistake of blocking an entire site by using only the forward slash (/), which tells robots not to crawl any page.
Duplicate Content and Robots.txt
Duplicate content, which can harm rankings, is also something that can be fixed with correct coding instructions for the robots. Many businesses go through redesigns and robots.txt files come in handy because you can instruct crawlers to ignore certain pages and avoid indexation. Keep in mind, though, that while robots.txt file instructions prevent crawling, it doesn’t always prevent pages from being indexed. To ensure that pages are not indexed, the “noindex, follow” robots meta tag must be used instead.
SEO Best Practices
Robots.txt files are one of the best SEO practices. As SEO specialists, we are attentive to the misbehaving bots out there and make it a priority to stop them from causing problems. SEO gurus have learned that they have to watch their backs when dealing with the sneaky robots. The robots came about in 1994 and aren’t leaving anytime soon, so it is vitally important to implement robots.txt files correctly on your website if you want to properly control the robots’ behavior.
Still have questions on just how Robots impact you? Ask our SEO experts in the comments below.
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