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What is difference between robots.txt, sitemap, robots meta tag, robots header tag?

Webmasters Asked on December 29, 2021

So I am trying to learn SEO and I am honestly confused and have following 8 questions.

  1. Do I tell a bot not to visit a certain link through X-Robots-Tag or through robot meta tag or robots.txt?

  2. Is it ok to include all 3 (robots.txt, robot meta tag, and X-Robots-Tag header) or I should always only provide 1?

  3. Do I get penalized if I show same info in X-Robots-Tag and in robots meta tag and robots.txt?

  4. Let’s say for /test1 my robots.txt says Disallow but my robots meta tag says index, follow and my X-Robots-Tag says index, nofollow, noarchive. Do I get penalized if those values are different?

  5. Let’s say for /test1 my robots.txt says Disallow but my robots meta tag says index, follow and my X-Robots-Tag says index,nofollow,noarchive. Which rule will be followed by the bot? What is the importance here?

  6. Let’s say my robots.txt has a rule saying Disallow: / and Allow: /link_one/link_two and my X-Robots-Tag and robot meta tag for every link except /link_one/link_two says nofollow,noindex,noarchive. From what I understand bot will never get to /link_one/link_two since I prevented it from crawling at root level. Now if I provide a sitemap.xml in the robots.txt that has /link_one/link_two there, will it actually end up being crawled?

  7. Will bot crawl into the directory provided by sitemap.(xml/txt) even though it is not accessible through home page or any pages following the home page?

  8. And overall I would appreciate some clarification on what is the difference between robots.txt, X-Robots-Tag and robot meta tag and sitemap.(xml/txt). To me they seem like they do the exact same thing.

I already saw that there are some questions that answer a small subset of what I asked. But I want the whole big explanation.

One Answer

While X-Robots-Tag and meta robots are equivalent, robots.txt is different. The former is about indexing, while the latter is about crawling/visiting.

  1. Tell bots not to visit a URL by using robots.txt.

  2. Use only one of the three for each URL. Using both X-Robots-Tag and meta robots on a URL is redundant because they are equivalent, and using both robots.txt and either of the others for a URL can cause issues because robots.txt blocks crawling, and crawling is required for a bot to even see either of the other ones since they are document-level directives.

  3. You don't get penalized, but it doesn't do anything more than just having a page in robots.txt. As I said in 2, robots.txt will block a page from crawling, but a bot would need to crawl the page to see either of the other 2, so it can't see them.

  4. robots.txt prevents the bot from crawling and finding the other two.

  5. robots.txt prevents the bot from crawling and finding the other two.

  6. At least for Google, "the most specific rule based on the length of the [path] entry trumps the less specific (shorter) rule." This means that your robots.txt file will allow crawling of /link_one/link_two, even though you disallow /.

  7. See The Sitemap Paradox. Short answer is that if your site can't properly be crawled without the sitemap, it may run into SEO issues anyways. In other words, that could cause a problem.

  8. X-Robots-Tag and meta robots are exactly equivalent, just one is a way to do it at the HTTP level, and the other is a way to do the same thing at the HTML level. They prevent indexing, they don't prevent crawling. Use them for pages you don't want in search results. In contrast, robots.txt prevents crawling, but not indexing. Use robots.txt for pages you don't want bots to waste time crawling, but that wouldn't be catastrophic if they showed up in search results (Google is known to index URLs without crawling them if they are considered important enough). If you use both robots.txt and one of the others, robots.txt will prevent the bot from visiting the page and even seeing the others, rendering them useless.

Answered by Maximillian Laumeister on December 29, 2021

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