Updated:

Search engine optimization (SEO) can seem like a mystery sometimes, but controlling how search engine crawlers interact with your website is a powerful way to improve your rankings. Wondering how to make these crawlers work for you? Let’s dive into the world of robots.txt, meta tags, and other tools that can help you steer these digital spiders in the right direction.

What Are Search Engine Crawlers?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s clarify what search engine crawlers are. Crawlers, also known as spiders or bots, are automated programs used by search engines like Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Yahoo. They “crawl” the web, indexing pages and determining their relevance to specific search queries.



Why Control Search Engine Crawlers?

You might be asking, why would I want to control these crawlers? Isn’t more crawling better? Not necessarily. By controlling the crawlers, you can:

  • Prevent Duplicate Content: Ensure they index only one version of a page.
  • Improve Crawl Efficiency: Focus the crawler’s attention on your most important pages.
  • Protect Sensitive Information: Keep certain pages or sections of your site out of search results.
Control Search Engine Crawlers

Using robots.txt to Guide Crawlers

The robots.txt file is your first line of defense in controlling crawler behavior. This file tells crawlers which parts of your site they can and cannot access.

Creating and Using a robots.txt File

Creating a robots.txt file is simple. Here’s how:

  1. Open a Text Editor: Use Notepad, TextEdit, or any basic text editor.
  2. Specify Directives: Use ‘User-agent’ to specify the crawler and ‘Disallow’ to block parts of your site. For example:
User-agent: *
Disallow: /private/
Disallow: /login/
Disallow: /checkout/


This tells all crawlers to avoid the ‘/private/’ ‘/login/’ and ‘/checkout/’ directory. If those types of areas of your website are important to keep private (i.e. not exploit your users’ data in search engines) then analyze page URLs that get created on your site that you don’t want bots crawling and block them in your robots.txt file.

Place the File in Your Root Directory: Save your file as robots.txt and upload it to the root directory of your website through FTP or your hosting’s File Manager (e.g., https://www.example.com/robots.txt).

Test Your robots.txt: Use tools like Google’s robots.txt Tester within Google Search Console to ensure your file is correctly configured and free of errors.

Note: You may be able to access your robots.txt file through your CMS. Ask your developer for guidance.

Best Practices for robots.txt

  • Block Unnecessary Pages: Don’t let crawlers waste time on pages like admin panels or duplicate content.
  • Allow Important Pages: Ensure key content pages are accessible to crawlers.
  • Test Your File: Use Google’s robots.txt Tester to check for errors.

Leveraging Meta Tags

Meta tags in your HTML can control how individual pages are indexed and presented in search results.

Noindex and Nofollow Tags

Two critical meta tags are ‘noindex’ and ‘nofollow’.

  • Noindex: Prevents the page from appearing in search results.
  • Nofollow: Tells crawlers not to follow links on the page.

Here’s how to use them:

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

Place this tag in the <head> section of your HTML page to apply these rules. Use this very carefully as I have seen many websites accidentally block pages that should be indexed by search engines.

Depending on your CMS, you can do this globally for specific types of pages. Ask a developer for help.

In most cases, though, you might want pages on your site not to index in Google, but you still want the links on those pages to pass link equity to the links on the page. In those cases, you would want to use this tag:

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

Utilizing Canonical Tags

Canonical tags are essential for managing duplicate content. They tell search engines which version of a page is the “master” copy. This is especially useful for e-commerce sites with similar product pages.

How to Use Canonical Tags

Canonical tags help resolve issues with duplicate content by specifying the preferred version of a page. This is particularly useful when you have multiple URLs leading to similar content.

  1. Identify the Master Copy: Determine which URL you want search engines to consider as the canonical version.
  2. Add the Canonical Tag: Place a canonical tag in the <head> section of your HTML on all duplicate pages, pointing to the master URL.
  3. Check for Proper Implementation: Use tools like Google Search Console or third-party SEO tools to verify that your canonical tags are correctly implemented and recognized by search engines.

Example:

<link rel="canonical" href="https://www.example.com/preferred-page">

Structuring Your Site for Optimal Crawling

A well-structured site makes it easier for crawlers to index your content effectively.

google search console sitemap last read

Creating an XML Sitemap

An XML sitemap is a roadmap for your site, guiding crawlers to your most important pages.

Steps to Create an XML Sitemap

  1. Use a Sitemap Generator: Tools like Yoast SEO for WordPress or online generators can create this for you. Site crawlers like ScreamingFrog can also generate a sitemap.xml file for you. Many CMS platforms generate one for you.
  2. Include Essential Pages: Add your top-level pages and important subpages.
  3. Submit to Search Engines: Inform search engines about your sitemap file by submitting it through tools like Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. This helps ensure that search engines are aware of the sitemap and use it to crawl your site more effectively.

Optimizing Internal Linking

Internal links help crawlers navigate your site and understand its structure. Use clear anchor text and link to related content throughout your site.

Monitoring and Adjusting Your Strategy

Regularly review how search engines interact with your site to make necessary adjustments.

Using Google Search Console

Google Search Console is invaluable for monitoring your site’s health and crawlability.

  • Check Coverage Reports: Identify pages that are blocked or have crawl issues.
  • Submit Updated Sitemaps: Ensure search engines have the latest version of your sitemap.
  • Review Crawl Stats: See how often and how deeply crawlers are exploring your site.

Conclusion

Controlling search engine crawlers isn’t about shutting them out; it’s about guiding them efficiently through your site. By using robots.txt, meta tags, canonical tags, and sitemaps, you can ensure that crawlers focus on your most valuable content, avoid duplicate issues, and ultimately improve your search rankings. So, take charge of those crawlers and watch your SEO efforts pay off!

By following these steps, you can better manage how search engines interact with your site, ensuring that your most important content gets the attention it deserves. Happy optimizing!

More SEO Resources

SEO Quiz For Beginners

Link Building Strategies

Link Reclamation Tips

1 thought on “How to Control Search Engine Crawlers for Better Ranking

  1. I never knew you could control search engine like that. Good job for posting this helpful info for inexperienced people like me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *