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What is X-Robots-Tag?

6 minutes of reading
What is X-Robots-Tag?
Category SEO

Google is the world’s leading search engine, and it’s responsible for indexing the vast majority of webpages on the internet. Indexing is the process by which Google and other search engines find and store web pages in their databases, so that users can find them when searching for specific terms.

This process is essential for online visibility, as it allows web pages to appear in relevant search results. Google has created certain tools and protocols to make sure websites are indexed correctly and in the most efficient way possible. One of those tools is called X-Robots-Tag.


The importance of meta tags

When it comes to SEO, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. While keywords and content are important, meta tags are also a key component of any successful SEO strategy. There are two types of meta tags: those in the head and those in the body. Head meta tags control what information about your website appears in the head of search engine results pages, while body meta tags can be used for more advanced or specific optimization tactics. One such tactic is X-Robots-Tag.

Introducing the X-Robots-Tag

The X-Robots-Tag has been around since 2004 and it is an important part of a webmaster’s toolkit. This is a directive used by webmasters to give instructions to search engine robots, or crawlers, on how to index or crawl certain pages or directories of a website. It allows you to control how your content appears in search engine results pages. The X-Robots-Tag uses the Robots Exclusion Standard (RES) which is the de facto standard for controlling access to web documents.

The most commonly used X-Robots-Tag directive is ‘noindex’, which tells search engine crawlers not to index the page. You can also use it to indicate whether you want the page to appear in image search results, or if you want to disallow crawling of specific resources.

Benefits in the SEO context

This meta tag is found in the HTTP header and can provide instructions to the search engine about how your content should be treated. Likewise, if you want to prevent the search engine from displaying your content in its cached version, you can use this tag to do so. It also allows you to have more control over how your pages are served, helping you to better optimize them for SEO purposes.

Tool to fight duplicate content

When you use X-Robots-Tag, you can tell web robots to not index certain parts of your site or certain URLs altogether. Using this tag is a great way to keep search engines from indexing duplicate content, which could otherwise negatively impact your SEO efforts. For example, if you have an ecommerce site with one URL for product descriptions and another URL for product reviews, it would be a good idea to use the tag so that both pages don’t show up in search engine results when people are looking for the same thing.

X-Robots-Tag implementation on a website

How to use this tag?

You can add the X-Robots-Tag to the HTTP response by modifying your site’s server software configuration files. For example, Apache-based web servers can use .htaccess and httpd.conf files. The advantage of using the X-Robots-Tag header in HTTP responses is that you can specify global site-wide indexing directives. Regular expression support allows for considerable flexibility.

For example, to add an X-Robots-Tag header to the HTTP response with noindex, nofollow directives for site-wide PDFs, include this snippet in the .htaccess file in the root directory, the httpd.conf file in Apache, or the site configuration file in NGINX. Add it at the end of a rewrite rule for site-wide documents (e.g., PDFs) so that Googlebot won’t crawl them, which is often not what we want because they may be our most valuable content on the site.

Robot directives

The first directive is Allow and with this directive you specify where the robot should go. Similarly, Disallow indicates in the file where the robot is not to move. That is, pages and files that you do not want to be indexed in search engines.

Remember that Allow and Disallow always come with a User-agent directive. Those directives look like this:

User-agent: *

disable: /wp-admin/

Allow: /wp-admin/admin-ajax.php

If there are enough links to your site, just defining the Disallow directive won’t be enough. That is why the use of X-Robots-Tag helps in this. If we’re discussing robot directives, there’s also a sitemap that helps search engines leave your site faster and index it even faster.

Indexer directives

There are various indexer directives that you can use with the X-Robots-Tag. These include:

  • noindex: This directive tells search engines not to index a page, meaning it will not appear in search engine results. This is useful for preventing pages such as login forms from being indexed.
  • nofollow: This directive tells search engines not to follow the links on a page. This is useful for preventing link spam from appearing in search engine results.
  • nosnippet: This directive tells search engines not to display a snippet in search results. This is useful for preventing sensitive information from being displayed in search engine results.
  • noarchive: This directive tells search engines not to store a cached copy of the page. This is useful for preventing outdated information from appearing in search engine results.
  • noimageindex: This directive tells search engines not to index images on a page. This is useful for preventing copyrighted images from appearing in search engine results.

By using the tag, you can ensure that your webpages are properly indexed by search engines and appear in search engine results in the manner that you desire.

Last words

Now that we’ve gone over the basics of X-Robots-Tag, you should be able to understand how to use it in order to maximize the visibility of your website on search engines. To recap, X-Robots-Tag is a directive that webmasters can add to their websites’ source code in order to control how search engine crawlers index and display web pages. So start taking full control of your website!

Aleksandra Pietrzak
Curator at the National Museum in Poznań, graduate of Art History at the Jagiellonian University and Contemporary Art at the Pedagogical University of Krakow, curator of exhibitions and author of scientific and popular texts. A lover of contemporary art, literature and travel.
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