The Robots.txt File

The Basics of the Robots.txt File

A robots.txt file is like a guidebook for search engine robots, such as Google’s robot, Googlebot. It tells these robots which parts of your website they can visit and which parts they should avoid. The main purpose of robots.txt is to manage the traffic of these robots so your website doesn’t get overwhelmed with their requests.

However, it’s essential to understand that robots.txt isn’t meant to hide your web pages from Google’s search results. If you want to do that, you’ll need to use other methods like password-protecting the page or telling Google not to index it.

If you use a website builder like Wix or Blogger, you might be unable to edit your robots.txt file directly. Instead, these platforms often have their own settings to control whether search engines can crawl your page or not.

The robots.txt file can be used for different types of files on your website:

Web Pages

You can use robots.txt to manage how search engines crawl your web pages. If you think your server might get overwhelmed with requests from Googlebot or if you have pages that aren’t essential, you can use robots.txt to handle that. But remember, it won’t completely hide your web pages from Google’s search results.

Media Files

Robots.txt can also control how search engines handle your image, video, and audio files. It won’t stop others from linking to those files, though.

Resource Files

These are files like images, scripts, or styles that aren’t critical for Googlebot to understand your page. If you’re sure that not having these files won’t hurt your page, you can block them using robots.txt.

However, robots.txt has some limitations. Not all search engines support its rules; some might interpret them differently. So, it’s better to use other methods if you want to keep specific info away from web crawlers. Also, remember that even if a page is blocked with robots.txt, it can still appear in search results if it’s linked from other websites.

If you want to create or update a robots.txt file, you can follow the instructions on your website builder or other resources to get it done correctly.

Robots.txt looking at the world in a different light.

The Robots.txt in More Detail

A robots.txt file is primarily used to manage the traffic of crawlers, preventing overwhelming requests to your server. However, it’s essential to note that robots.txt is not intended to keep web pages out of Google’s search results. Other methods, such as using the “noindex” tag or password-protecting the page, should be employed to accomplish that.

The Purpose of robots.txt

A robots.txt file provides instructions to search engine crawlers, like Googlebot, indicating which URLs they can access on a website and helps manage crawler traffic.

Limitations and Alternatives

Voluntary, limited security, public access. Alternatives: Robots meta tag, X-Robots-Tag header, password protection, sitemaps, crawl settings.

Controlling Crawling Traffic

While robots.txt can control crawling traffic for web pages, media files, and resource files, it has limitations, and not all search engines may support its rules. Therefore, other blocking methods may be necessary to secure specific information from web crawlers.

It’s crucial to understand the limitations of using robots.txt. Not all search engines support robots.txt rules, and some crawlers may not follow the instructions in a robots.txt file. Therefore, if you need to keep specific information secure from web crawlers, it’s better to use other blocking methods, such as password-protecting private files on your server.

While it’s true that using robots.txt can block search engine crawlers from accessing specific pages on your site, it does not prevent those pages from showing up in search results entirely. Here’s why:

  1. Robots.txt Blocks Crawlers, Not Indexing: When you include a page in robots.txt to prevent crawling, you only tell search engine crawlers not to access that page during their exploration. However, crawlers can still find out about the existence of that page through other means, like links from other websites.
  2. Indexed via External Links: If other websites link to the hidden page using descriptive text, search engines can still index the URL without ever visiting the page. This means that even if your page is not crawled by Googlebot, it can still end up in search results if there are links pointing to it from other places on the web.

To ensure that a page remains truly hidden from search engine results, alternative methods should be used:

  1. noindex Tags: By including a “noindex” meta tag on the page’s HTML code, you explicitly instruct search engines not to index the content of that page. This way, even if the page is discovered through external links or other means, it won’t show up in search results.
  2. Password Protection: Another option is password-protecting the page, ensuring only authorized users can access its content. Since search engine crawlers cannot provide login credentials, the content remains hidden from search results.

Navigating Robots.txt Syntax for Different Web Crawlers

When you block a web page using robots.txt, its URL may still appear in search results but without a description. However, image files, video files, PDFs, and other non-HTML files will be excluded from search results. If you encounter such a search result and want to fix it, you can remove the robots.txt entry blocking the page. For complete hiding of a page from Google’s search, an alternative method should be used.

Robots.txt can also be used for media files like images, videos, and audio to manage crawling traffic and prevent these files from appearing in Google search results. However, it won’t prevent others from linking to your media files.

Lastly, even if a page is disallowed in robots.txt, it can still be indexed if it is linked to from other websites. In such cases, the URL address and other publicly available information, like anchor text in links to the page, may appear in Google search results. To prevent a URL from appearing in search results, it’s advised to password-protect files, use the “noindex” meta tag or response header, or remove the page altogether.