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How to Use Robots.txt

Confused by crawlers? A robots.txt file tells search engines which pages to visit on your site. Learn how to use it effectively!

Ever wondered how search engines like Google decide which pages on a website to look at? It’s all thanks to a special file called the robots.txt file. This file gives instructions to the search engine crawler bots on which pages and sections they are allowed to crawl and index.

How To Use Robots.txt

Why Is Robots.txt Important?

Using a robots.txt file is really useful for a few key reasons: 

  • It helps search engines focus just on the most important pages of your site instead of wasting time crawling lots of pages you don’t want to be indexed. This improves your crawl budget.
  • It prevents duplicate content issues by telling the crawler which version of pages with the same content it should index. Having duplicate content can really hurt your search rankings.
  • It allows you to block access to private sections like admin login areas or user accounts that shouldn’t be accessible to anyone besides you.
  • It gives you control over what shows up in search engines when people look for your website.

So in short, robots.txt helps search engines understand your website structure better and improves your overall search engine optimization (SEO). Check our beginners guide to SEO to know more.

What Is Robots.txt?

Robots.txt is just a plain text file that is placed in the main root directory of your website. It contains a set of rules that crawlers need to follow when accessing your site’s pages and files.

These rules look something like this:

User-agent: *

Disallow: /private/ 

Allow: /private/good-page.html

  • The “User-agent: *” line tells the crawler that these rules apply to all crawlers.
  • The “Disallow: /private/” line is blocking the crawler from going into the /private/ directory on your site.
  • But then the “Allow: /private/good-page.html” line is making an exception, allowing that one specific page to still be crawled.

That’s the basic format for how robots.txt rules work!

How Robots.txt Work?

Whenever a search engine crawler wants to crawl your website, the very first thing it does is check for this robots.txt file in the main directory. If it finds the file, it reads through all the rules you have listed out before crawling any further.

The crawler then obeys any “Disallow” rules and skips crawling those pages or sections. It also follows any “Allow” exceptions that override previous disallow statements.

You can have different groups of rules for different crawlers if you want by specifying them in the “User-agent” line, like “User-agent: Googlebot” for just Google’s crawler.

How To Setup Your Robots.txt

To make your own robots.txt file, just open up a basic text editor like Notepad or TextEdit. Don’t use a Word processor like Microsoft Word.

Then start writing out your rules following the format shown above – one instruction per line. Use “User-agent” lines to specify the crawler, then “Disallow” with the URL paths to block, and “Allow” with URL paths you want to re-allow.

When you’re done, simply save the file as “robots.txt” and upload it directly to the main root directory of your website.

But be very careful! It’s really important to test your robots.txt file using tools like the Google Search Console Robots.txt Tester. This will let you see if you accidentally blocked good pages you actually wanted crawlers to access. Mistakes in your robots.txt can seriously hurt your website!

When to Use Robots.txt

Some of the most common use cases for the robots.txt file include:

  • Blocking low-value or unimportant pages from being crawled to save your crawl budget for critical content
  • Specifying which version of pages with the same content you want indexed to avoid duplicate content penalties
  • Preventing access to sections with private info like user accounts, configuration files, backends, etc.
  • Ensuring your most important marketing pages remain visible in search
  • Working together with your XML sitemap file to optimize crawling

You’ll want to carefully review which sections get crawled vs blocked based on your website’s goals.

Robots.txt Best Practices

Here are some key best practices for creating and maintaining an effective robots.txt file:

  • Keep it simple – use clear and specific rules to avoid unintended mistakes 
  • Review and update it regularly as your website content and structure changes
  • Use “Allow” rules carefully to avoid opening up sections you wanted blocked
  • Make sure your most valuable and important pages are set to be crawled and indexed
  • Specify “User-agent” lines only if you really need different rules for certain crawlers
How About A Free Consultation?

So in summary, the robots.txt file gives you a lot of control over what search engines see and index from your website. By using it thoughtfully and following best practices, you can optimize crawling for better SEO. Just be sure to test it thoroughly to avoid mistakes! 

At UTDS Optimal Choice, our skilled team can develop stunning websites, implement effective SEO strategies, manage social media campaigns, and create efficient revenue generating ad campaigns. Whether you need a new online presence or want to boost your existing one, we’re here to help you succeed in the digital landscape. Contact Us Now!

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