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6 Common Robots.txt Issues & And How To Fix Them

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6 Common Robots.txt Issues & And How To Fix Them


Robots.txt is a useful and relatively powerful tool to instruct search engine crawlers on how you want them to crawl your website.

It is not all-powerful (in Google’s own words, “it is not a mechanism for keeping a web page out of Google”) but it can help to prevent your site or server from being overloaded by crawler requests.

If you have this crawl block in place on your site, you need to be certain it’s being used properly.

This is particularly important if you use dynamic URLs or other methods that generate a theoretically infinite number of pages.

In this guide, we will look at some of the most common issues with the robots.txt file, the impact they can have on your website and your search presence, and how to fix these issues if you think they have occurred.

But first, let’s take a quick look at robots.txt and its alternatives.

What Is Robots.txt?

Robots.txt uses a plain text file format and is placed in the root directory of your website.

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It must be in the topmost directory of your site; if you place it in a subdirectory, search engines will simply ignore it.

Despite its great power, robots.txt is often a relatively simple document, and a basic robots.txt file can be created in a matter of seconds using an editor like Notepad.

There are other ways to achieve some of the same goals that robots.txt is usually used for.

Individual pages can include a robots meta tag within the page code itself.

You can also use the X-Robots-Tag HTTP header to influence how (and whether) content is shown in search results.

What Can Robots.txt do?

Robots.txt can achieve a variety of results across a range of different content types:

Web pages can be blocked from being crawled.

They may still appear in search results, but will not have a text description. Non-HTML content on the page will not be crawled either.

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Media files can be blocked from appearing in Google search results.

This includes images, video, and audio files.

If the file is public, it will still ‘exist’ online and can be viewed and linked to, but this private content will not show in Google searches.

Resource files like unimportant external scripts can be blocked.

But this means if Google crawls a page that requires that resource to load, the Googlebot robot will ‘see’ a version of the page as if that resource did not exist, which may affect indexing.

You cannot use robots.txt to completely block a web page from appearing in Google’s search results.

See also  500 Response on Robots.txt Fetch Can Impact Rich Results

To achieve that, you must use an alternative method such as adding a noindex meta tag to the head of the page.

How Dangerous Are Robots.txt Mistakes?

A mistake in robots.txt can have unintended consequences, but it’s often not the end of the world.

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The good news is that by fixing your robots.txt file, you can recover from any errors quickly and (usually) in full.

Google’s guidance to web developers says this on the subject of robots.txt mistakes:

“Web crawlers are generally very flexible and typically will not be swayed by minor mistakes in the robots.txt file. In general, the worst that can happen is that incorrect [or] unsupported directives will be ignored.

Bear in mind though that Google can’t read minds when interpreting a robots.txt file; we have to interpret the robots.txt file we fetched. That said, if you are aware of problems in your robots.txt file, they’re usually easy to fix.”

6 Common Robots.txt Mistakes

  1. Robots.txt Not In The Root Directory.
  2. Poor Use Of Wildcards.
  3. Noindex In Robots.txt.
  4. Blocked Scripts And Stylesheets.
  5. No Sitemap URL.
  6. Access To Development Sites.

If your website is behaving strangely in the search results, your robots.txt file is a good place to look for any mistakes, syntax errors, and overreaching rules.

Let’s take a look at each of the above mistakes in more detail and see how to ensure you have a valid robots.txt file.

1. Robots.txt Not In The Root Directory

Search robots can only discover the file if it’s in your root folder.

That’s why there should be only a forward slash between the .com (or equivalent domain) of your website, and the ‘robots.txt’ filename, in the URL of your robots.txt file.

If there’s a subfolder in there, your robots.txt file is probably not visible to the search robots, and your website is probably behaving as if there was no robots.txt file at all.

To fix this issue, move your robots.txt file to your root directory.

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It’s worth noting that this will need you to have root access to your server.

Some content management systems will upload files to a ‘media’ subdirectory (or something similar) by default, so you might need to circumvent this to get your robots.txt file in the right place.

2. Poor Use Of Wildcards

Robots.txt supports two wildcard characters:

  • Asterisk * which represents any instances of a valid character, like a Joker in a deck of cards.
  • Dollar sign $ which denotes the end of a URL, allowing you to apply rules only to the final part of the URL, such as the filetype extension.

It’s sensible to adopt a minimalist approach to using wildcards, as they have the potential to apply restrictions to a much broader portion of your website.

It’s also relatively easy to end up blocking robot access from your entire site with a poorly placed asterisk.

To fix a wildcard issue, you’ll need to locate the incorrect wildcard and move or remove it so that your robots.txt file performs as intended.

3. Noindex In Robots.txt

This one is more common in websites that are more than a few years old.

Google has stopped obeying noindex rules in robots.txt files as of September 1, 2019.

If your robots.txt file was created before that date, or contains noindex instructions, you’re likely to see those pages indexed in Google’s search results.

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The solution to this problem is to implement an alternative ‘noindex’ method.

One option is the robots meta tag, which you can add to the head of any web page you want to prevent Google from indexing.

4. Blocked Scripts And Stylesheets

It might seem logical to block crawler access to external JavaScripts and cascading stylesheets (CSS).

However, remember that Googlebot needs access to CSS and JS files in order to “see” your HTML and PHP pages correctly.

If your pages are behaving oddly in Google’s results, or it looks like Google is not seeing them correctly, check whether you are blocking crawler access to required external files.

A simple solution to this is to remove the line from your robots.txt file that is blocking access.

Or, if you have some files you do need to block, insert an exception that restores access to the necessary CSS and JavaScripts.

5. No Sitemap URL

This is more about SEO than anything else.

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You can include the URL of your sitemap in your robots.txt file.

Because this is the first place Googlebot looks when it crawls your website, this gives the crawler a headstart in knowing the structure and main pages of your site.

While this is not strictly an error, as omitting a sitemap should not negatively affect the actual core functionality and appearance of your website in the search results, it’s still worth adding your sitemap URL to robots.txt if you want to give your SEO efforts a boost.

6. Access To Development Sites

Blocking crawlers from your live website is a no-no, but so is allowing them to crawl and index your pages that are still under development.

It’s best practice to add a disallow instruction to the robots.txt file of a website under construction so the general public doesn’t see it until it’s finished.

Equally, it’s crucial to remove the disallow instruction when you launch a completed website.

Forgetting to remove this line from robots.txt is one of the most common mistakes among web developers, and can stop your entire website from being crawled and indexed correctly.

If your development site seems to be receiving real-world traffic, or your recently launched website is not performing at all well in search, look for a universal user agent disallow rule in your robots.txt file:

User-Agent: *


Disallow: /

If you see this when you shouldn’t (or don’t see it when you should), make the necessary changes to your robots.txt file and check that your website’s search appearance updates accordingly.

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How To Recover From A Robots.txt Error

If a mistake in robots.txt is having unwanted effects on your website’s search appearance, the most important first step is to correct robots.txt and verify that the new rules have the desired effect.

Some SEO crawling tools can help with this so you don’t have to wait for the search engines to next crawl your site.

When you are confident that robots.txt is behaving as desired, you can try to get your site re-crawled as soon as possible.

Platforms like Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools can help.

Submit an updated sitemap and request a re-crawl of any pages that have been inappropriately delisted.

Unfortunately, you are at the whim of Googlebot – there’s no guarantee as to how long it might take for any missing pages to reappear in the Google search index.

All you can do is take the correct action to minimize that time as much as possible and keep checking until the fixed robots.txt is implemented by Googlebot.

Final Thoughts

Where robots.txt errors are concerned, prevention is definitely better than cure.

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On a large revenue-generating website, a stray wildcard that removes your entire website from Google can have an immediate impact on earnings.

Edits to robots.txt should be made carefully by experienced developers, double-checked, and – where appropriate – subject to a second opinion.

If possible, test in a sandbox editor before pushing live on your real-world server to ensure you avoid inadvertently creating availability issues.

Remember, when the worst happens, it’s important not to panic.

Diagnose the problem, make the necessary repairs to robots.txt, and resubmit your sitemap for a new crawl.

Your place in the search rankings will hopefully be restored within a matter of days.

More resources:


Featured Image: M-SUR/Shutterstock

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LinkedIn Lists This Year’s Top 25 Marketing & Advertising Companies

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LinkedIn Lists This Year's Top 25 Marketing & Advertising Companies

LinkedIn lists the top 25 companies in the marketing and advertising industry in a new report that could be a valuable resource for job seekers.

The report aims to highlight the ‘best workplaces to grow a career’ in 2022.

Companies are chosen based on a methodology that looks at LinkedIn data across seven pillars:

  • Ability to advance
  • Skills growth
  • Company stability
  • External opportunity
  • Company affinity
  • Gender diversity
  • Educational background

LinkedIn’s data illustrates the demand for professionals with experience in search engine optimization. Within the top 10, there are three companies where the most notable skills are related to SEO.

In this article I’ll highlight the most relevant data for search marketers, followed by a skimmable list of all the top 25 companies.

Top Companies For People With SEO Skills

LinkedIn’s list of top 25 companies in marketing and advertising includes three that are top employers for SEO-related jobs.

At number two on the list, the most notable skills of workers at Merkle include web analytics, Google Data Studio, and PPC advertising.

Power Digital Marketing, at number six on the list, hires a notable number of search engine optimization specialists.

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SEO, Google Analytics, and social media marketing are the most notable skills among employees at Publicis Health, which is number 10 on the list. Search Engine Marketing Analyst is also the most common job title.

As LinkedIn’s report only includes companies with at least 500 employees, this list excludes smaller firms that may be considered top workplaces for SEOs.

LinkedIn’s Top 25 Companies In Marketing & Advertising

Below is the complete list of companies LinkedIn recognizes as the top workplaces in the marketing and advertising industry. It’s listed by company name followed by most common job titles.

  1. Havas Media Group: Media Planner, Media Supervisor, Investment Associate
  2. Merkle: Search Engine Marketing Analyst, Account Manager, Senior Analyst
  3. VMLY&R: Creative Director, Engagement Director, Account Manager
  4. Criteo: Account Strategist, Account Executive, Software Engineer
  5. Spark Foundry: Media Associate, Strategy Associate, Senior Analyst
  6. Power Digital: Marketing Strategist, Account Manager, Search Engine Optimization Specialist
  7. Quotient Technology: Customer Success Manager, Campaign Manager, Sales Director
  8. PHD: Strategy Supervisor, Media Strategist, Associate Media Director
  9. Digitas Art: Account Executive, Art Director, Producer
  10. Publicis Health: Search Engine Marketing Analyst, Account Manager, Pharmaceutical Sales Representative
  11. Area 23: Account Supervisor, Producer, Associate Creative Director
  12. RPA: Account Coordinator, Account Executive, Media Planner
  13. Intouch Solutions: Account Manager, Project Manager, Marketing Coordinator
  14. Digitas North America: Data Analyst, Account Manager, Art Director
  15. Horizon Media: Brand Strategist, Digital Media Planner, Strategy Supervisor
  16. Spectrum Reach: Account Executive, Account Planner, Local Sales Manager
  17. Ogilvy: Account Executive, Art Director, Copywriter
  18. Octagon: Account Executive, Event Specialist, Group Director
  19. McCann Workgroup: Account Executive, Art Director, Copywriter
  20. Starcom: Media Associate, Senior Analyst, Strategy Supervisor
  21. Saatchi & Saatchi: Account Executive, Art Director, Copywriter
  22. Walmart Connect: Partnerships Manager, Campaign Manager, Account Manager
  23. WPP: Researcher, Executive Assistant, Information Technology Operation Manager
  24. 360i: Media Manager, Account Manager, Art Director
  25. DDB: Account Executive, Art Director, Copywriter
See also  7 Ways to Easily Set Up an SEO Content Strategy

LinkedIn notes nearly all of the above companies are hiring. For more information, including links to available job openings, see the full blog post.


Featured Image: Tada Images/Shutterstock

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