Robots.txt is a text file webmasters create to instruct web robots, especially search engine crawlers, on where and where not to access a website.

Whether you’re a DIY kind of person doing your own SEO, or you’re a local SEO agency, knowing what robots.txt file is and how you can use it is important to your SEO success.

Also, the robot.txt file is part of the Robots Exclusion Protocol (REP). And that means it – robot.txt – is a group of web standards that regulate how robots crawl the web, access and index content, and serve that content up to users.

Confused? Let’s make it simple then. What robots.txt file does is to indicate whether specific user agents can or cannot crawl certain parts of a website.

The robot.txt file in its basic format is made of two lines:

  • User-agent: user–agent name
  • Disallow: URL string not to exclude

However, certain robot files may contain multiple lines of user agents and their directives. The three common directives include: disallow, crawl-delays, and allow.

How does a robot.txt work?

Robot.txt acts like a gateway that gives assess to search engines to dig through your website. Search engines naturally crawl the web to discover content. Afterwards, they index such content in a way to serve it up for the user.

Now, the search engine can’t crawl if robot.txt does not allow it. Why? Before any discovery and serving up can be done, the first thing a search crawler does is to look for a robots.txt file. Then it reads the file and follows the instructions.

Perhaps you are wondering why the search crawler has to look for the robot.txt first. What happens is robot.txt (when it permits the search crawler) gives specific instructions on how crawling can be more accessible and even faster.

Is a robot.txt file important?

This question is perhaps the commonest. Will robot.txt not render all your beautifully-scripted content useless?

The truth is, if mistakenly, you disallow Google-both from crawling your entire site, then robot.txt will be risky. On the other hand, when you use robot.txt to control access to just specific parts of your website, it will come convenient.

Some of the best reasons to use robot.txt file include

  • To prevent duplicate content from appearing in SERPs
  • To keep a specific/unique section of your website private (sections such as your engineering staging site)
  • To keep internal search result pages from showing up on a public SERP
  • To specify the location of sitemaps
  • To prevent search engines from indexing specific files (such as PDFs or images) on your website
  • To specify a crawl delay on your website to avoid the servers from being overloaded

Do you know the most beautiful thing yet about robot.txt files? As important as it is, it is not essential.

If there are no areas on your websites to which you want to keep private or control user-agent access, then you do not need robot.txt file at all. Another thing is that most don’t even if they have a robot.txt file.

How to tell if you have an active robot.txt? It is simple, type in your root domain, then add “/robots.txt” at the end. If no .txt page appears, then you do not have robots.txt page – voila!