Have you ever noticed errors such as "Blocked by robots.txt" or "Indexed, though blocked by robots.txt" popping up on your Google Search Console (GSC)? Do you know these errors could significantly hamper your website's visibility & organic traffic?
These issues arise due to certain directives in your website’s robots.txt file, preventing crucial pages from crawling & indexing by search engines. Neglecting these issues can severely impact your website's overall performance.
In this blog, we will discuss how to identify & fix robots.txt errors in GSC. Ensure your website's content is fully accessible to search engines to maximize its online presence & reach.
Robots.txt is a crucial text file present in the root directory of a website. It functions like a guide for search engine bots, instructing them on how and where to crawl & index your web pages.
It's like a doorman for your website, pointing out the areas where bots can and cannot access.
These areas commonly include specific URLs, the entire website, or certain sections of the site, such as directories or files. It is done to ensure that the relevant pages of a website are accurately indexed.
However, like all things, the robots.txt file is not perfect, and errors can occur. These mistakes are mostly found via Google Search Console, a tool that helps you understand & enhance how Google perceives your site.
The robots.txt errors occur when Googlebot encounters problems while trying to crawl your website. The most frequent robots.txt errors in GSC include "blocked by robots.txt" and "indexed, though blocked by robots.txt".
These errors typically stem from an incorrect configuration within the robots.txt file. If a directive in this file accidentally blocks a search engine from accessing certain pages or the whole website, the "blocked by robots.txt" error will be triggered.
On the other hand, if a page is blocked in the robots.txt file but Google has indexed it from other sources, this results in the "indexed, though blocked by Robots.txt" error. It indicates a mismatch between the directives you've set in your robots.txt file & how search engines are interpreting it.
Addressing these errors requires a basic understanding of indexing since these errors are closely related to how search engines index your pages. So, let us learn about indexing in the next section.
1. Limited Control Over What Search Engines See: Blocking pages with robots.txt doesn’t prevent them from appearing in search results. Therefore, search engines may expose unoptimized or sensitive information about these pages, leading to trust issues.
2. Unintentional Blocking of Crucial Pages: Errors in robots.txt could unintentionally block crucial pages that should be indexed. It would reduce your website's visibility, negatively influencing your SEO strategy.
3. Impact on User Experience: Blocked pages could still appear in search results with unattractive URLs or without meta descriptions, which may lead to poor user experience. Such negative experiences can lower click-through rates & lead to higher bounce rates.
4. Loss of Valuable Crawl Budget: Each search engine allocates a crawl budget to your website, determining how many of your site's pages will be crawled. Blocked pages consume this budget without providing SEO value, which can harm your site's presence on search engines.
Indexing and robots.txt are like the librarian and the library rules, respectively, in the search engines. Imagine the internet is a huge library, and each web page is a book. Indexing is the process where search engines organize & remember all the books (web pages) in the library to help people quickly find what they're looking for.
Now, robots.txt is like the library's rulebook. When a search engine bot comes to the library (your website), it checks the rulebook (robots.txt) to see which sections it's allowed to enter and which ones it should skip. It's like telling the librarian where not to go.
However, here's the twist: just because you say a certain section is off-limits in the rulebook doesn't mean the librarian (Google's indexing process) will always listen. Sometimes, Google might still decide to peek into a restricted section & index a page, even if the rulebook says no.
Thus, both indexing and robots.txt are like partners, working together to organize the library.
Learn more about indexing errors and how to fix them using GSC here.
Now that you know how indexing & robots.txt directives are correlated, let us learn more about the types of robots.txt errors.
Improper usage of the robots.txt file can lead to indexing errors. The two most common types of errors reported in GSC are:
It is an indexing error where your website's content isn't indexed because the robots.txt file disallows search engine crawlers to access your pages.
It typically happens when you unintentionally block a crucial page or a section of your website in the robots.txt file.
As a result, Google cannot crawl or index those blocked pages, causing potential harm to your website's visibility on SERP.
In this case, your webpage is indexed by Google, even though your robots.txt file is blocking it. Google states that while the robots.txt file can block bots from crawling, it won't necessarily restrain them from indexing a page.
For instance, if Google finds enough references to a page from other reputable sites, it might index it despite being blocked by robots.txt. This can lead to content being indexed & appearing in SERPs without any description, leading to poor user experience.
"Blocked by Robots.txt" refers to a process where the website owner uses a Robots.txt file to prevent search engine bots from crawling specific parts of the site. This is done to control the way a website gets indexed. On the other hand, "Indexed, though Blocked by Robots.txt" is when a page gets listed in search engine results despite being blocked by Robots.txt. This typically happens when the page has inbound links from other pages that are not blocked, hence the search engine bot can still discover and index the page.
Remember, you should block pages from indexing in robots.txt if you don't want search engines to display that page in search results, often because it's irrelevant or duplicate content.
However, do not block pages that contain valuable content you want users to find through search engines. Essentially, block pages if they don't add value to your site's visibility, and don't block pages that do.
To identify robots.txt errors in Google Search Console, follow these steps:
1. Log in to your Google Search Console account and select the property you want to check.
2. In the left-hand side panel, under the "Index" tab, click "Pages".
3. Scroll down to see the pages with indexing errors. Look for "Blocked By Robots.txt" and "Indexed, Though Blocked By Robots.txt" errors from the list of indexing issues.
4. Click on the errors to see a list of affected URLs.
You can also see a chart showing how the trend has changed over time.
After identifying the relevant pages, the next step is to resolve those issues. If unresolved, these issues can significantly affect your website's SERP visibility. Let us look at how to fix each type of robots.txt error in GSC.
Start by thoroughly examining your robots.txt file. Ensure that the directives align with your website's crawling requirements. Utilize the "URL Inspection" tool in GSC to simulate how Googlebot views your site & interprets the robots.txt instructions.
If certain pages are mistakenly blocked, prioritize them by adjusting the directives. Implement 'Allow' directives for essential pages to grant access to search engine crawlers.
Employ crawl delay directives to manage the rate at which search engine bots access your site. It can be particularly useful for websites with limited server resources. Establishing appropriate crawl rate limits prevents undue stress on your server.
Customize directives for different user agents to ensure search engine bots receive instructions tailored to their behavior. It allows granular control over how various search engines interact with your site.
Even a minor syntax error can lead to misinterpretation by search engine crawlers. Use the 'URL Inspection' tool in GSC to verify the syntax & ensure correct formatting. You can also utilize third-party tools to verify your syntax and submit the updated file to GSC. Keep in mind that case sensitivity matters in robots.txt directives.
Addressing the "Blocked By Robots.txt" error enhances your website's accessibility to search engine crawlers, facilitating comprehensive indexing. This, in turn, positively impacts your site's visibility & overall traffic.
Review and refine robots.txt directives to accurately reflect your indexing preferences. Explicitly disallow indexing for pages that should not be searchable.
Reinforce robots.txt directives with the 'noindex' meta tag on relevant pages. This double-layered approach ensures that search engines understand your intent to keep certain pages out of their index.
Return a 404 or 410 HTTP status code for pages that should not exist. This signals search engines that the content is unavailable, preventing indexing despite conflicting directives.
Use the 'URL Inspection' tool in GSC to verify changes. It allows you to visualize how Googlebot interacts with your updated directives and ensures that the correct indexing instructions are being followed.
Regularly check the index status report in GSC to confirm that the changes are taking effect. Identify and address any lingering indexing issues promptly.
Correcting the "Indexed, Though Blocked By Robots.txt" error safeguards against unintended indexing. It helps you preserve your site's integrity & prevent irrelevant or sensitive pages from appearing in search results.
In conclusion, robots.txt is crucial in controlling crawlers' access to your website. However, incorrect configuration of the robots.txt file could lead to crawling & indexing errors, impacting your website's visibility & ranking on SERP. These errors primarily revolve around incorrect blocking or indexing of pages.
By employing measures like updating robots.txt directives, implementing 'noindex' meta tags, utilizing 404 or 410 status codes, or using specialized tools in GSC, you can ensure effective crawling and indexing of your website. Regularly monitoring your website’s indexing is vital to address any issues promptly.
Remember, while robots.txt is a powerful tool, it's not a substitute for other essential SEO practices. You should still utilize semantic HTML tags, optimize your website's speed, and create quality content. By combining these practices with a well-configured robots.txt file, you'll be well on your way to achieving your SEO goals & driving more traffic to your website.
Robots.txt changes typically reflect in Google Search Console within a few hours. However, the exact duration can vary. It depends on the crawling frequency of your website. In some cases, the changes can take up to 24 hours or more to be visible. Keep in mind that fixing robots.txt errors in Google Search Console is expedited with a manual crawl request.
Meta tags offer an alternative way to control crawler activity. These HTML elements can restrict access at a page level, unlike robots.txt. Another method is to use the X-Robots-Tag HTTP header directive, allowing more granular access control.
Avoid blocking important pages or allowing access to sensitive ones while fixing robots.txt errors in the Google Search Console. Ensure that you use correct syntax; incorrect directives can cause crawling issues.
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