Does Google Index Your robots.txt?

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This is a guest post by SEO strategist Moosa Hemani. It has been slightly edited by myself, Tad Chef.

robots.txt, a protocol that helps search engines to find out which part of a website should not be included in its index. According to Wikipedia

The Robot Exclusion Standard, also known as the Robots Exclusion Protocol or robots.txt protocol, is a convention to prevent cooperating web crawlers and other web robots from accessing all or part of a website which is otherwise publicly viewable.

As an SEO, you must have tried this search operator in Google: [site:example.com]. This simply returns the pages from example.com that have been crawled and included in the Google index. The Google bot does not crawl any pages that are ‘disallowed’ by the robots.txt file. Everything makes sense till now but what if your robots.txt file started to appear in Google search results?

To be honest I thought somebody is poking fun at me. It doesn’t sound logical at all. After reading a tweet by Peter Handley aka @ismepete I took it seriously though. He is one of the brightest minds in the search industry!

 

Shocked, amazed and I guess somewhat a mix of both, I quickly jumped over to Google to see it for myself and guess what I found?

You see, Peter is not the only one dealing with this but websites like

  • Dailymail
  • Webmasterworld
  • Last.fm

and many others… all have their robots.txt file indexed in Google.

You see, it’s simply illogical to block ‘robots.txt’ in a robots.txt file. This didn’t make any sense to me:

Why Google actually indexes this file and how to de-index from the search engine?

Why does Google index the robots.txt?

There can be multiple reasons why Google indexes the robots.txt file but I have figured out two as the most common reasons why search engines index particular pages and later show them as results for a query.

  1. Links:

Google follows links, you know it, right? From one link to another and the chain continues. When links are pointing to the robots.txt file from external sources (different websites pointing to your robots.txt file) or internally (some page of your website that points to robots.txt file), Google will probably index it.

  1. Social signals:

The faster way to get Google’s attention to a page I know is to share it on social platforms like Twitter, Google+ and Facebook (Google currently can’t see private Facebook sharing activity). When for some reason you or someone share your robots.txt on social sites this can be another common reason that makes Google index the page file.

 

Consider Rishi Lakhani who wrote a letter to Google in his website’s robot.txt file: Check this out, it’s still there on his website. Rishi Lakhani shared his creative robots.txt on Twitter and it went viral. According to Shared Count, Rishi Lakhani’s robots.txt file got:

  • Facebook Likes: 21
  • Facebook Comments: 8
  • Facebook Shares: 33
  • Twitter: 1232

Now, you know why Google will probably going to index your robots.txt file so let’s talk about action now!

 

How to de-index the robots.txt?

Don’t link, don’t share:

This is not always in your control, especially not to make people link a specific page on websites like the “Webmasterworld” forum or Last.fm. Theoretically though if you don’t link it and don’t share on social platforms, Google will not show it.

 

URL removal request:

That’s the only idea I have found, simple yet powerful and safe way to get your robots.txt file out of the Google index. It’s great because the user’s site ownership is verified and shows even the progress for each request.

These are two of the ways I know how to deal with the above mentioned issue. In case you think you have a better solution for the robots.txt indexing problem, please share it with the community in the comment section.