How to Prevent Bots from Crawling Your Site

How to Prevent Bots from Crawling Your Site
If you’re experiencing challenges with bots crawling your site and affecting your SEO strategy, it’s crucial to make yourself familiar with effective ways on how to prevent bots from crawling your site.

By the end of this read, you will be able to significantly improve your website security and performance.

What is a Bot?

A bot, short for 'robot', is a software application programmed to do specific tasks. Bots often simulate human tasks, and they operate over an internet connection. 

They are essential in performing tasks that are complex and repetitive; for instance, search engine bots help index information, thus enhancing data recall on the World Wide Web.

However, not all bots are beneficial. There are malicious bots crawling your website, scraping your content, and slowing your site performance without any permissions. They can also lead your web analytics astray, inflicting damage to your SEO efforts.

How Can You Identify Bot Behaviour?

Bots do not interact with your site like a human would. They might not click buttons, fill forms, or play videos. They're usually interested in crawling through the HTML of your web page.

They tend to navigate through pages at an unusually high speed, much faster than humans. If you notice an unnatural speed of moving between pages, especially when it happens in milliseconds, a bot is likely at work.

Also, if you notice traffic coming to your site without any specific referral site, it's possibly a bot. While a human visitor may come to your site through a search engine or a link from another site (which gets noted as a referral), bots often side-step these usual routes, appearing on your site without a clear point of entry.

Understanding these characteristics will make it easier to spot bot traffic on your website. Once you can identify this traffic, you can take appropriate steps to limit these bots and protect your website.

crawler bot illustration

🎯 Read our blog post: How Often Does Google Crawl a Site? -Factors & Ways to Learn

Why Should You Block Bots?

Bots are not always the cause behind every website malfunction. Not all bots are harmful. Not all website slowdowns or security breaches are due to bots but can result from other technical issues or cyber threats. 

There are friendly bots like Googlebot that are crucial for your web page indexing. 

The key solution lies in blocking harmful bots while still allowing beneficial ones like search engine crawlers. This alternative approach is the ultimate strategy for preserving your SEO efforts and ensuring a secure and high-performing website.

Bad bots tend to exhibit some distinct characteristics. By recognizing these traits, you can better preempt, identify, and deal with them effectively on our websites. 

Here are some characteristics of bad bots and reasons why you should block them:

⌛ Interference with Your Website Performance

Malicious bots are known to consume significant server resources, causing slow page loading times. Bots have the capability to tirelessly crawl your site 24/7. Unlike humans who visit your site during normal browsing hours, these bots relentlessly crawl your site, causing server load and slowing down your site.

A sluggish website can repel impatient visitors, damaging conversions rates and overall website performance. Furthermore, bandwidth consumption by these bots can quickly pile up, leaving you with a hefty bill to settle.

📉 Skewing Your Analytics Data

If you thoroughly analyze your website's data, you might have noticed seemingly irrelevant traffic from undefined sources. More often than not, these traffic spikes are due to bot activities, which they inflate and create a false perception of genuine user visits, thus causing you to base strategic actions on skewed data.

These sudden spikes can also lead to a sudden drop in loading speeds and may even cause your site to crash.

🎯 Read our blog post: Direct Traffic vs. Organic Traffic: Everything Must Know

📑 Content Scraping

Bad bots are notorious for scraping content from websites, leading to a serious breach of intellectual property rights. They can reproduce your high-quality content on other sites, causing duplicate content issues and potentially damaging your SEO rankings.

This type of bot behavior is not only unethical but could lead to your server resources being exhausted as the site hotlinking must reach out to your server each time that content is accessed.

⛏️ Competitive Data Mining

Bots can be used for competitive data mining – a practice that involves rivals scraping your site information such as prices, product descriptions, and customer reviews. This stolen information aids them to stay competitive by anticipating your strategies and turning them to their advantage.

📩 Exposure to Spam

Some bots are responsible for filling your website’s comment section or contact forms with spam, leading to a bad user experience and degrading the reputation of your site.

6 Ways to Prevent Bots from Crawling a Website

an illustration to show preventing a website from bots

Erecting strong barriers to bots isn't just about setting up walls. It involves a meticulous process of identifying, qualifying, and mitigating bot traffic. 

Just like an immune system identifies and neutralizes foreign invaders to our bodies, so should your bot blocking system work. This is crucial in ensuring you keep the helpful bots and eliminate the harmful ones.

Here are common methods to build your website's defense against bot invaders:

1) Using Robots.txt

A robots.txt file is a simple text file that webmasters create to instruct web robots how to crawl pages on a website. This rudimentary bot-management method helps you control which pages on your site you don't want to be accessed by crawlers, be it a search engine robot or any other type of bot.

Although using the robots.txt file doesn't guarantee that all bots will obey the instructions, most reputable bots will always obey these commands, which makes it an excellent step for starter bot-blocking defense. 

While using robots.txt is an easy way to block bots, some common errors could negate your efforts. For instance, if you use a forward slash (/), it'll disallow every bot from crawling all the parts of your site. Make sure the forward slash is only used when you intend to disallow all bots from your entire website. 

🎯 To use robots.txt efficiently, you better check our Robots.txt Guide.

If you’re not sure that your website uses a proper robots.txt file, you can easily use SEOmator’s Robots.txt Tester to check and verify the contents of your website's robots.txt file.

SEOmator's free robots.txt tester tool

2) Implementing CAPTCHAs

I’m pretty sure that you've come across some kind of CAPTCHAs while you fill out a web form or signed up for a website. These are automated tests that humans can pass but current computer programs cannot. 

CAPTCHA is a great tool for differentiating humans from bots, and when implemented correctly, it can significantly minimize bot traffic on your site. Commonly, CAPTCHAs come in the form of distorted text images, tick-boxes, or simple mathematical equations.

captcha box example

While CAPTCHA is effective against most spam bots, please be cautious not to create an unfriendly user experience for your website visitors. Some CAPTCHAs have been known to be overly ambiguous, causing frustration to prospective customers.

3) Using HTTP Authentication

HTTP Authentication is another layer of defense that could fend off bots. This server-side method provides limited access to certain web pages or directories to authenticated users only. 

Simply put, without the correct username and password, the server won't allow a request to access a page or directory. HTTP Authentication can be complex for non-technical users but can provide strong protection against malicious bots.

4) Using Referrer Spam Blockers

Referrer spam occurs when a spamming bot mimics a website referrer, making it seem like a legitimate source redirected clicks to your website’s pages. Referrer spam can tarnish your analytics data and can lead to poor website performance. 

Thankfully, there are various specialized tools often known as referrer spam blockers that can identify and block such spams from affecting your site.

5) Using Hypertext Access File

A Hypertext Access File, commonly known as .htaccess, is a configuration file used by Apache-based web servers that gives you the ability to control and adjust the server's behavior per directory. The power that the .htaccess file yields places it as a key player in bot management.

One can use the .htaccess file to keep any bot at bay that ignores or doesn't recognize the robots.txt file. Often hidden amongst your site's root files, your .htaccess file can be accessed through your website’s File Manager or via FTP (File Transfer Protocol). 

accessing to the file manager through cpanel

For example, if you want to block Googlebot, log into your server via FTP, and locate the root directory. The .htaccess file is usually located here.

Edit the .htaccess file using any text editor. Place the following lines of code in the .htaccess file:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} Googlebot [NC]
RewriteRule .* - [R=403,L]

In the above context, 'Googlebot' can be replaced with the user-agent of any bot you wish to block. 

If the bot you wish to block is from a specific IP address or range of addresses, use this code:

order allow,deny
deny from 123.456.789
allow from all

Again, replace '123.456.789' with the actual IP address you want to block. The 'deny from' directive blocks access from that particular IP address, while 'allow from all' directive lets all other traffic access your site.

Save the changes and upload the file back to the server.

6) Utilizing a Bot Management Solution

If you're feeling overwhelmed managing bots manually, consider using a comprehensive bot management solution. These tools are designed with algorithms to identify and differentiate good bots from bad ones, and help block or limit harmful bot traffic from accessing your site.

Bot management solutions use behavior-based bot detection techniques and machine learning to understand typical user behavior patterns and separate them from bot patterns. 

These robust solutions provide real-time updates and insights about the nature of bot activities on your site, and they allow you to customize responses such as blocking, limiting, or redirecting bot traffic.

Several reputable bot management service providers exist; your choice depends on your specific needs and budget.

Final Thoughts

Preventing bots from crawling your site isn't solely aimed at evading search engine crawlers, it's primarily geared towards preventing harmful bots from accessing the secure realms of your website.

Harmful bots can exhibit an array of damaging behaviors, like skulking around our websites round-the-clock, creating false impressions of popularity with inflated traffic, filling up our comment sections with spam, stealing exclusive content, or manipulating our site's performance and bandwidth.

When dealing with bot-infestation, it’s important to understand bad bot behavior and learn how to control it without affecting the pleasant ones, which are useful to our websites.

The methods we listed in our guide may not entirely rid your website of all bots but be confident that you are making great strides towards achieving a secure and healthy site. 

It's imperative to practice these defensive mechanisms early rather than waiting until your website has been targeted or damaged!

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