A Revolutionary Shift in Managing Robots.txt Files

In a recent LinkedIn post, Google Analyst Gary Illyes has challenged a long-standing belief about the placement of robots.txt files. For years, conventional wisdom has dictated that a website’s robots.txt file must reside at the root domain (e.g., example.com/robots.txt). However, Illyes has clarified that this isn’t an absolute requirement, revealing a lesser-known aspect of the Robots Exclusion Protocol (REP).

The Flexibility of Robots.txt File Placement

One of the key takeaways from Illyes’ revelation is that the robots.txt file doesn’t have to be located at the root domain. According to Illyes, having two separate robots.txt files hosted on different domains is permissible—one on the primary website and another on a content delivery network (CDN).

Illyes explains that websites can centralise their robots.txt file on the CDN while controlling crawling for their main site. For instance, a website could have two robots.txt files: one at https://cdn.example.com/robots.txt and another at https://www.example.com/robots.txt. This approach allows for maintaining a single, comprehensive robots.txt file on the CDN and redirecting requests from the main domain to this centralised file.

How Does This Work?

Crawlers that comply with RFC9309 will follow the redirect and use the target file as the robots.txt file for the original domain. This method not only simplifies the management of the robots.txt file but also ensures that crawl directives are consistently applied across different parts of your web presence.

Celebrating 30 Years of Robots.txt

As the Robots Exclusion Protocol celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, Illyes’ revelation highlights how web standards continue to evolve. He even speculates whether the file needs to be named “robots.txt,” hinting at possible changes in how crawl directives are managed in the future.

How Can This Help You?

Following Illyes’ guidance can provide several benefits:

Centralised Management: By consolidating robots.txt rules in one location, you can maintain and update crawl directives across your web presence more efficiently.

Improved Consistency: A single source of truth for robots.txt rules reduces the risk of conflicting directives between your main site and CDN.

Flexibility: This approach allows for more adaptable configurations, especially for sites with complex architectures or those using multiple subdomains and CDNs.

A streamlined approach to managing robots.txt files can significantly improve both site management and SEO efforts. By adopting this new method, you can ensure that your site’s crawling directives are precise, consistent, and easier to manage.

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