A Beginners Guide To Sitemaps and Robots.txt. How They Work and What’s The Difference

Mar 25, 2024
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Have you ever heard of a sitemap? Or what about a robots.txt? Don’t worry if you haven’t or you only half understand what they are; today, you’ll get clarity on what they both are, how they work, and why they’re important for your website.

Or if you'd prefer to watch a video, here you go!


What is a Sitemap?

So, a sitemap is essentially a map of your website. It lists your site's URLs, allowing the search engines to find and crawl all your web pages easily. 

Think of it as a guidebook that leads search engine crawlers through your website, making sure they know about every page you consider important and want to have indexed. 

Having a well-constructed sitemap can be particularly helpful for websites with lots of pages and complex structures or new websites without many external links.

Types of Sitemaps

XML Sitemaps

XML sitemaps are created to help search engines. They provide the bots with a simple list of URLs along with information like the last modification date, frequency of changes, and the importance of pages relative to each other to help search engines crawl your site more efficiently.

HTML Sitemaps

HTML sitemaps are created for website users. They are essentially webpages that list and link to major sections and pages within your website. While they can help users navigate your site, they can also help search engines discover pages.

What is a Robots.txt File?

The robots.txt file, on the other hand, is a file that sits in the root (or trunk) of your website and tells search engines which pages or sections of your site should NOT be crawled and indexed. 

This is really useful for directing search engine crawlers away from duplicate content, private areas, utility pages, or sections of your site that are under construction. 

The ultimate purpose of a robots.txt file is to manage crawler traffic to your site, prevent overloading your servers (if you’re a big website), and keep certain pages out of search results.

How Robots.txt Works

The robots.txt file uses the "User-agent" directive, or commands, to say which crawlers can crawl your website and uses directives like "Disallow" or "Allow" to indicate what paths are blocked or permitted. 

It is possible to edit your robots.txt file, but you need to be careful as it’s easy to make mistakes that will prevent search engines from indexing your site correctly.

The easiest way to indicate which pages you want crawled is to check your website's page settings and ensure they are set to show in the search results. Every platform has a different way of doing this, so if you’re not sure how, do a quick search on Google.

What Are The Differences Between Sitemaps and Robots.txt

While both sitemaps and robots.txt files are really important for SEO, they serve different purposes:

Sitemaps make sure that the search engines can find and index all your important pages. A sitemap acts as a guide, inviting search engines to crawl and understand your site structure. 

Robots.txt files are used to exclude pages from crawling and indexing. Your robots.txt file acts as a doorman, restricting access to certain areas of your site.

Tips For Using Sitemaps and Robots.txt

Now you know the function and differences between sitemaps and robots.txt files, here are some tips for making the most of them: 


  • Keep your XML sitemap updated with new pages and remove the old or irrelevant ones.
  • Submit your sitemap to search engines like Google through their webmaster tools like Google Search Console for better indexing.


  • Edit your robots.txt file carefully to avoid accidentally blocking important pages from search engine crawlers.
  • Explore how you can indicate which pages you want to be crawled and indexed on your website and change the settings as necessary. 

So, That’s Sitemaps and Robots.txt Files For You

Understanding the difference between sitemaps and robots.txt files is important when you’re trying to sort out your SEO, and it’s even more important to understand how to get them working for you so you get your website crawled and the best pages indexed.

If you get them working for you, you’ll have a much better chance of getting your website to show up on the first page of Google, so follow the tips I’ve given you here and email me if you have any questions.

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