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robots.txt

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Robots.txt is a file on a website that instructs search engine crawlers which parts of the site should not be accessed by search engine bot programs. Robots.txt is a plaintext file but uses special commands and syntax for webcrawlers. Though not officially standardized, robots.txt is generally followed by all search engines.

Spider programs, such as Googlebot, index a website using instructions set forth by the site's webmaster. Sometimes a webmaster may have parts of site that have not have been optimized for search engines, or some parts of websites might be prone to exploitation by spammers through, for example, link spam on a page that features user generated content (UGC). Should a webmaster wish to keep pages hidden from Google search, he can block the page with a robots.txt file at the top-level folder of the site.Robots.txt is also known as “the robot exclusion protocol.” Preventing crawlers from indexing spammy content means the page will not be considered when determining PageRank and placement in search engine results pages (SERP). 

The nofollow tag is another way to control webcrawler behavior. The nofollow tag stops crawlers from tallying links within pages for determining PageRank. Webmasters can use nofollow to avoid search engine optimization (SEO) penalties. To prevent Googlebot from following any links on a given page of a site, the webmaster can include a nofollow meta tag in the robots.txt file; to prevent the bot from following individual links, they can add rel="nofollow" to the links themselves.

This was last updated in June 2017

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