8 Common Mistakes in Robots.txt Files and How to Fix Them

This blog post explores common errors found in robots.txt files and how to address them to avoid negatively impacting your website’s search engine visibility.

What is robots.txt?

Robots.txt is a plain text file located in your website’s root directory. It instructs search engine crawlers (like Googlebot) on which pages and files they can access and crawl.

Why are robots.txt mistakes dangerous?

While not always detrimental, mistakes in robots.txt can lead to unintended consequences, such as:

  • Pages being unintentionally blocked from search engines: This can significantly decrease your website’s organic traffic.
  • Search engines not rendering your website correctly: This can lead to a poor user experience and affect your search ranking.

Here are eight common mistakes to avoid in your robots.txt file:

  1. Robots.txt not in the root directory: Ensure your robots.txt file is placed in the root directory of your website.
    • Mistake: Your robots.txt file is located in a subdirectory like mywebsite.com/folder/robots.txt.
    • Fix: Move the robots.txt file to the root directory of your website, which is simply mywebsite.com/robots.txt.
  2. Poor use of wildcards: Use wildcards (* and $) cautiously to avoid accidentally blocking or allowing too much content.
    • Mistake: You use a wildcard (*) at the beginning of a rule, accidentally blocking all pages on your website.
    • Fix: Be specific with your wildcards. Instead of Disallow: *, use Disallow: /admin/ to only block the admin directory.
  3. Noindex in robots.txt: Google no longer follows noindex directives in robots.txt. Use alternative methods like robots meta tags or X-Robots-Tag headers.
    • Mistake: You have a line like Disallow: /blog/ in your robots.txt file, intending to prevent a specific blog post from being indexed.
    • Fix: Google no longer follows noindex directives in robots.txt. Use a robots meta tag on the specific blog post page itself to prevent indexing.
  4. Blocked scripts and stylesheets: Don’t block access to CSS and JavaScript files, as they are essential for rendering your website correctly.
    • Mistake: You have lines like Disallow: /css/ or Disallow: /js/ in your robots.txt file.
    • Fix: Search engines need access to these files to render your website properly. Remove these lines from your robots.txt file.
  5. No XML sitemap URL: While not an error, including your sitemap URL in robots.txt can help search engines discover your website structure and content more efficiently.
    • While not an error, omitting the sitemap URL: This can slow down the process of search engines discovering your website’s content.
    • Recommendation: Include the URL of your sitemap in your robots.txt file using the Sitemap: directive. For example: Sitemap: https://www.yourwebsite.com/sitemap.xml
  6. Access to development sites: Block crawlers from accessing and indexing unfinished development sites. Remember to remove this block when launching your website.
    • Mistake: Your development website (e.g., dev.yourwebsite.com) is not blocked from search engines.
    • Fix: Add a Disallow: / rule to the robots.txt file of your development website to prevent search engines from crawling and indexing it. Remember to remove this block when launching your website publicly.
  7. Using absolute URLs: Use relative paths in your robots.txt file to avoid potential issues with crawlers interpreting the URLs incorrectly.
    • Mistake: You use absolute URLs in your robots.txt file, like Disallow: https://www.yourwebsite.com/private/.
    • Fix: Use relative paths instead. In this case, the correct rule would be Disallow: /private/.
  8. Deprecated & unsupported elements: Avoid using crawl-delay and noindex directives in robots.txt as they are no longer supported by Google.
    • Mistake: You have lines like Crawl-delay: 10 or Disallow: /page noindex in your robots.txt file.
    • Fix: Google no longer supports crawl-delay and noindex directives in robots.txt. These elements have been replaced by other methods, such as Search Console settings for crawl rate and robots meta tags for noindex.

How to recover from a robots.txt error:

  • Fix the robots.txt file and verify the changes.
  • Use SEO crawling tools to test your website.
  • Submit an updated sitemap to search engine consoles like Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.

Final thoughts:

  • It’s crucial to handle robots.txt with caution, especially on large websites where errors can significantly impact traffic and revenue.
  • Make changes carefully, double-check them, and consider testing in a sandbox environment before implementing them on your live website.
  • If you encounter an issue, diagnose the problem, fix the robots.txt file, and resubmit your sitemap for crawling. With these steps, you can hopefully restore your website’s search ranking within a reasonable timeframe.

Kiran Rao isn't just a digital marketing expert; she's a weaver of online success stories. With a keen eye for strategy and a passion for innovation, Kiran leads the charge at AKGLS Group, crafting comprehensive web and digital marketing solutions that propel businesses to new heights. A Wellspring of Digital Expertise: Kiran boasts a wealth of experience across the digital marketing spectrum, from SEO and SEM to social media marketing and content creation. Her expertise ensures all aspects of your online presence are meticulously addressed, creating a cohesive and impactful digital strategy. Beyond the Technical: Kiran understands that digital marketing is more than just algorithms and metrics. She brings a human touch to her work, focusing on understanding your unique brand identity and target audience. This ensures your online presence resonates on a deeper level, fostering meaningful connections with your customers. A Collaborative Spirit: Kiran believes in the power of collaboration. She works closely with you and your team, ensuring your voice and vision are woven into the digital tapestry she creates. Open communication and a transparent approach are hallmarks of her work style, fostering trust and a true partnership. Results that Speak Volumes: Kiran's success speaks for itself. She has a proven track record of delivering measurable results, driving website traffic, boosting engagement, and ultimately, growing your business. Whether you're looking to establish your brand online or optimize existing efforts, Kiran has the expertise to guide you towards your goals. Investing in Your Digital Future: Choosing Kiran Rao as your digital marketing partner is an investment in your online success. With her in-depth knowledge, strategic thinking, and collaborative spirit, you can be confident that your digital presence is in the hands of a true expert. Ready to weave your own digital success story? Contact Kiran Rao today and unlock the full potential of your online presence.

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