Robots meta tags are an important aspect of technical SEO that can help you control how search engines crawl and index your web pages. However, if you use them incorrectly, you may end up with some common issues and errors that can affect your site’s performance and visibility. In this blog post, we will look at some of the most common robots meta tag issues and errors, and how to fix them.
1. Using noindex in robots.txt
One of the most common mistakes is using the noindex directive in robots.txt. This directive tells search engines not to index a page or a group of pages. However, robots.txt is not a mechanism for keeping a web page out of Google1. It only controls the crawling, not the indexing. If you use noindex in robots.txt, Google will ignore it and may still index your pages based on other signals, such as links from other sites.
The correct way to use noindex is to add it as a robots meta tag or an x-robots-tag HTTP header on the page level. This way, you can prevent Google from indexing specific pages that you don’t want to show up in the search results.
2. Blocking scripts and stylesheets
Another common issue is blocking scripts and stylesheets from being crawled by search engines. This can happen if you use the disallow directive in robots.txt or the noindex directive in robots meta tags or x-robots-tag HTTP headers for your scripts and stylesheets folders or files. This can cause problems for your site’s rendering and indexing, as Google may not be able to see your pages as they are intended for users.
The best practice is to allow search engines to crawl your scripts and stylesheets, as they are essential for rendering your pages correctly. You can do this by removing any disallow or noindex directives for your scripts and stylesheets in robots.txt or robots meta tags or x-robots-tag HTTP headers.
3. No sitemap URL
A sitemap is a file that lists all the pages on your site that you want search engines to crawl and index. It helps search engines discover new and updated content on your site more efficiently. However, if you don’t include a sitemap URL in your robots.txt file, search engines may not be able to find your sitemap and miss some of your pages.
The best practice is to include a sitemap URL in your robots.txt file, preferably at the end of the file. You can also submit your sitemap to Google Search Console2 and Bing Webmaster Tools3 for better visibility and monitoring.
4. Access to development sites
A development site is a copy of your live site that you use for testing and debugging purposes. It is not meant for public access and should not be crawled or indexed by search engines. However, if you don’t block access to your development site, search engines may crawl and index it, which can cause duplicate content issues and confusion for users.
The best practice is to block access to your development site using one of the following methods:
- Use a password protection or an authentication system to restrict access to authorized users only.
- Use a robots meta tag or an x-robots-tag HTTP header with the noindex, nofollow directives on every page of your development site.
- Use a disallow directive in robots.txt to prevent search engines from crawling your development site.
5. Poor use of wildcards
Wildcards are symbols that can represent one or more characters in a string. They can be useful for matching multiple URLs with similar patterns in robots.txt or robots meta tags or x-robots-tag HTTP headers. However, if you use them incorrectly, you may end up blocking or allowing more pages than you intended.
The best practice is to use wildcards carefully and test them before applying them to your site. Here are some tips on how to use wildcards correctly:
- Use the asterisk (*) wildcard to match any sequence of characters within a URL.
- Use the dollar sign ($) wildcard to match the end of a URL.
- Don’t use the question mark (?) wildcard, as it is not supported by Google.
- Don’t use wildcards in the middle of words or parameters, as they may cause unexpected results.
- Don’t use wildcards unnecessarily, as they may slow down the crawling process.
6. Conflicting directives
Conflicting directives are when you use different or contradictory instructions for the same page or group of pages in robots.txt or robots meta tags or x-robots-tag HTTP headers. For example, if you use both allow and disallow directives for the same URL in robots.txt, or both index and noindex directives for the same page in robots meta tags or x-robots-tag HTTP headers. This can confuse search engines and cause them to ignore some or all of your directives.
The best practice is to avoid conflicting directives and use consistent and clear instructions for your pages. Here are some tips on how to avoid conflicting directives:
- Use only one method (robots.txt or robots meta tags or x-robots-tag HTTP headers) to control the crawling and indexing of your pages, unless you have a specific reason to use more than one.
- Use the most specific directive for your pages, as it will override the less specific ones. For example, a robots meta tag or an x-robots-tag HTTP header will override a robots.txt directive for the same page.
- Use the most restrictive directive for your pages, as it will take precedence over the less restrictive ones. For example, a noindex directive will take precedence over an index directive for the same page.
Robots meta tags are a powerful tool for controlling how search engines crawl and index your web pages. However, if you use them incorrectly, you may end up with some common issues and errors that can affect your site’s performance and visibility. By following the best practices and tips in this blog post, you can avoid these issues and errors and optimize your site for search engines and users.
Meet Krishnaprasath Krishnamoorthy, an SEO specialist with a passion for helping businesses improve their online visibility and reach. With 8 years of experience in the industry, Krishnaprasath Krishnamoorthy has a deep understanding of the constantly-evolving world of search engine optimization and how to make websites rank better on search engines like Google. From on-page optimization to link building and beyond, Krishnaprasath Krishnamoorthy is an expert in all areas of SEO and is dedicated to providing actionable advice and results-driven strategies to help businesses achieve their goals.