How and when to use robots.txt file

How and when to use robots.txt file

We have heard of crawlers and bots are crawling our sites to scrap content for various reasons like indexing in search engines, identifying content, scanning email addresses, etc. There are all kinds of crawlers/bots which crawl websites. While some are good which should be allowed access to our site, but we might want to restrict some. In this post we will see how we can do this.

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What is robots.txt

The robots.txt file is a simple text file which is read by bots and crawlers to identify how it should crawl the site. The bots that crawl the website are automated and they check for the robots.txt file before accessing the website. We can specify which crawlers are allowed to crawl the site, which directories should not be crawled, crawl rate, etc.

When to use it?

The robots.txt file is required only when you want to have some content on your site excluded from the search engines. If you don’t want to exclude anything (i.e. include everything) on the search engines than you don’t need robots.txt file.

If you don’t have a robots.txt file sometimes the server might return a 404 or Permission Denied when trying to access the file and this might cause issues, but it is not a big problem. Hence, it is always better to have robots.txt whether it is blank or with code to allow access to everyone.

	User-Agent: *

I would choose to have a robots.txt file with the above code to allow access to everything for all bots rather than having an empty or no robots.txt file

Do all crawlers follow robots.txt

Most of the reputed crawlers like Google, Bing, etc follow the robots.txt file. However, there are many crawlers/bots which simply choose to ignore the robots.txt file. It is not required by each crawler to follow the robots.txt file, so it is always better to protect the content you don’t want to allow everyone access using passwords.

How to use it?

The robots.txt file is a very simple text file which needs to be in the root folder of your domain. If you do not have access to the root domain, then you cannot use robots.txt file to block access. In this case you can use the robots meta tag. Also, pages included in robots.txt file may be still be indexed if the are linked from some other places. So using the Robots tag on the page would prevent it from getting indexed.

You can have different rules for different crawlers, but should have the rule for all crawlers first and then for specific crawlers. If you have your robots.txt file setup as this then the crawler will use the rules for all crawlers and then the specific crawler, with the rules for specific crawler overriding the rules for all crawlers.

Allow everyone to access the site

To allow access to all crawlers to the all the pages and directories we can have a blank robots.txt or use the following code in the file.

	User-Agent: *

Allow only one crawler to access the site

To allow access to only one crawler to the site and disallow all other crawlers

	User-Agent: GoogleBot

	User-Agent: *
	Disallow: /

This will allow only “Googlebot” and disallow all other bots.

Disallow everyone from site

To disallow all crawlers from the site use the follow code:

	User-Agent: *
	Disallow: /

Note: If you do this than no crawler can crawl your site and this may result in the site not getting indexed in the search engines. Use this only if you really don’t want your content to be indexed anywhere.

Disallow access to specific directories

When you want to disallow access to specific directories for all the bots.

	User-Agent: *
	Disallow: /disallow_access/
	Disallow: /restricted/

The above code will instruct all the crawlers to not crawl the “disallow_access” and “restricted” directories on your domain.

Disallow access to specific bots

You might want to disallow access to specific bots from accessing your site.

	User-Agent: Googlebot
	Disallow: /restricted/

The above code will instruct “Googlebot” to not crawl the “restricted” directory on your domain. If you have only this code in your robots.txt file, than only “Googlebot” would be instructed not crawl the “restricted” directory. All other crawlers are allowed access to that directory.

Disallow different bots from different directories

To have different rules for different crawlers use the following:

	User-Agent: *

	User-Agent: Googlebot
	Disallow: /restricted/

	User-Agent: BadBot
	Disallow: /disallow_access/

This would disallow “GoogleBot” from “restricted”, “BadBot” from “disallow_access” directories.

Delay crawl rate

You can delay the rate with which the crawler crawls the site. This value is relative with the default crawl rate of that particular crawler. It is best not to use this value for the common, well-behaved bots as they automatically determine the best crawl rate for your site.

	User-Agent: *
	Crawl-delay: 1

The value for Crawl-delay should be a positive integer. If no value is specified it means use the default crawl rate. If value is 1 it mean crawl slowly, 5 very slow and 10 extremely slow. This value does not affect how frequently a site is crawled, but only how fast it should process the site when it is crawling.

Specify the location of sitemap

You can specify the location of your site map in the robots.txt file.


Robots Tag

The tag can be used to tell the robots not to index the content of a page. It can also be used to allow/disallow the crawler to follow the links of the page.

The syntax is


To prevent the page from being indexed in the search engines but allows the crawler to follow the links present on the page use the follow tag on your page.

	<meta name="robots" content="noindex, follow">	

Note: All robots may not follow the tag, they can choose to ignore it.

In this post I have tried to cover what is robots.txt, when and how to use it. Be careful while using it as you may accidentally disallow all the crawlers from your site.
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Note: I do not take responsibility for proper functioning of the above mentioned steps under all circumstances. If you download any files, programs from my blog then make sure you protect yourself. I am not responsible for any damages to your computer, website, blog, application or any thing else. I am not affiliated with or do not endorse any of the above mentioned sites.
  1. “Great Article.Very usefull, just let me focus more on one more point.
    Using Robots.Txt files is okay with Google but with some limits as you cannot use it for hiding a large portion of your website(more than half).This may lead Google’s spiders while crawling to mark your site as “”forbidden”” in general and simply stop spidering your site as often and it will affect your website’s rankings as well. So its better to take care while you are using Robots.Txt files.
    Best Regards.
    Pillar Joe

  2. Hi I think your the right person to solve my error

    my robots.txt file have the below code:

    # vestacp autogenerated robots.txt
    User-agent: *
    Crawl-delay: 10

    and the google web site tool is showing me warnning that” Rule ignored by Googlebot”

    how can I over come this warnning please advice me

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