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Tuesday, 11 August 2015

What is Robots.txt

It is great when search engines frequently visit your site and
index your content but often there are cases when indexing parts of
your online content is not what you want. For instance, if you have
two versions of a page (one for viewing in the browser and one for
printing), you'd rather have the printing version excluded from
crawling, otherwise you risk being imposed a duplicate content
penalty. Also, if you happen to have sensitive data on your site that
you do not want the world to see, you will also prefer that search
engines do not index these pages (although in this case the only sure
way for not indexing sensitive data is to keep it offline on a
separate machine). Additionally, if you want to save some bandwidth
by excluding images, stylesheets and javascript from indexing, you
also need a way to tell spiders to keep away from these items.

One way to tell search engines which files and folders on your Web
site to avoid is with the use of the Robots metatag. But since not
all search engines read metatags, the Robots matatag can simply go
unnoticed. A better way to inform search engines about your will is
to use a robots.txt file.

What Is Robots.txt?

Robots.txt is a text (not html) file you put on your site to tell
search robots which pages you would like them not to visit.
Robots.txt is by no means mandatory for search engines but generally
search engines obey what they are asked not to do. It is important to
clarify that robots.txt is not a way from preventing search engines
from crawling your site (i.e. it is not a firewall, or a kind of
password protection) and the fact that you put a robots.txt file is
something like putting a note “Please, do not enter” on
an unlocked door – e.g. you cannot prevent thieves from coming
in but the good guys will not open to door and enter. That is why we
say that if you have really sen sitive data, it is too naïve to
rely on robots.txt to protect it from being indexed and displayed in
search results.

The location of robots.txt is very important. It must be in the
main directory because otherwise user agents (search engines) will
not be able to find it – they do not search the whole site for
a file named robots.txt. Instead, they look first in the main
directory (i.e.
and if they don't find it there, they simply assume that this site
does not have a robots.txt file and therefore they index everything
they find along the way. So, if you don't put robots.txt in the right
place, do not be surprised that search engines index your whole site.

The concept and structure of robots.txt has been developed more
than a decade ago and if you are interested to learn more about it,
or you can go straight to the Standard
for Robot Exclusion
because in this article we will deal only
with the most important aspects of a robots.txt file. Next we will
continue with the structure a robots.txt file.

Structure of a Robots.txt File

The structure of a robots.txt is pretty simple (and barely
flexible) – it is an endless list of user agents and disallowed
files and directories. Basically, the syntax is as follows:



User-agent” are search engines' crawlers and
disallow: lists the files and directories to be excluded from
indexing. In addition to “user-agent:” and “disallow:”
entries, you can include comment lines – just put the # sign at
the beginning of the line:

# All user agents are disallowed to see the /temp directory.

User-agent: *

Disallow: /temp/

The Traps of a Robots.txt File

When you start making complicated files – i.e. you decide to
allow different user agents access to different directories –
problems can start, if you do not pay special attention to the traps
of a robots.txt file. Common mistakes include typos and contradicting
directives. Typos are misspelled user-agents, directories, missing
colons after User-agent and Disallow, etc. Typos can be tricky to
find but in some cases validation tools help.

The more serious problem is with logical errors. For instance:

User-agent: *

Disallow: /temp/

User-agent: Googlebot

Disallow: /images/

Disallow: /temp/

Disallow: /cgi-bin/

The above example is from a robots.txt that allows all agents to
access everything on the site except the /temp directory. Up to here
it is fine but later on there is another record that specifies more
restrictive terms for Googlebot. When Googlebot starts reading
robots.txt, it will see that all user agents (including Googlebot
itself) are allowed to all folders except /temp/. This is enough for
Googlebot to know, so it will not read the file to the end and will
index everything except /temp/ - including /images/ and /cgi-bin/,
which you think you have told it not to touch. You see, the structure
of a robots.txt file is simple but still serious mistakes can be made

Tools to Generate and Validate a Robots.txt File

Having in mind the simple syntax of a robots.txt file, you can
always read it to see if everything is OK but it is much easier to
use a validator, like this one:
These tools report about common mistakes like missing slashes or
colons, which if not detected compromise your efforts. For instance,
if you have typed:

User agent: *

Disallow: /temp/

this is wrong because there is no slash between “user”
and “agent” and the syntax is incorrect.

In those cases, when you have a complex robots.txt file –
i.e. you give different instructions to different user agents or you
have a long list of directories and subdirectories to exclude,
writing the file manually can be a real pain. But do not worry –
there are tools that will generate the file for you. What is more,
there are visual tools that allow to point and select which files and
folders are to be excluded. But even if you do not feel like buying a
graphical tool for robots.txt generation, there are online tools to
assist you. For instance, the Server-Side
Robots Generator
offers a dropdown list of user agents and a text box for
you to list the files you don't want indexed. Honestly, it is not
much of a help, unless you want to set specific rules for different
search engines because in any case it is up to you to type the list
of directories but is more than nothing.

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