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GoogleBot – Do’s and Don’ts

As the internet continues to grow and expand, search engines like Googlebot are essential to help users navigate the vast expanse of digital content. However, as these search engines continually crawl through millions of pages of content, they need to be careful not to overload any website’s server with too many requests. This is where rate limiting comes in.

Rate limiting is a process that limits the number of requests that can be made to a server over a given period. This is important for a few reasons. First, it helps to prevent overloading the server, which can cause it to crash or become unresponsive. Second, it ensures that all users have fair and equal access to the server’s resources. And third, it helps to prevent malicious attacks on the server by limiting the number of requests that can be made quickly.

However, rate limiting can be a tricky business, especially when it comes to search engines like Google. While Googlebot needs to crawl through millions of pages of content, it also needs to be careful not to overload any one server with too many requests. This is why Googlebot recommends that webmasters avoid using 403 or 400 error responses for rate-limiting Googlebot.

According to Google, 403 and 400 error responses are designed to indicate that a page or resource is not available to the user. This means that if a website returns a 403 or 400 error response to Googlebot, it will assume that the page or resource is unavailable and will stop crawling the website altogether. This can be a major problem for websites that use rate limiting to manage the number of requests that Googlebot can make.

Instead of using 403 or 400 error responses for rate limiting Googlebot, Googlebot recommends using a 503 Service Unavailable response. This response tells Googlebot that the server is temporarily unavailable and that it should try again later. This allows Googlebot to continue crawling the website without being blocked by a 403 or 400 error response.

Google has recently released a statement advising webmasters not to use 403 and 400 error responses for rate-limiting Googlebot. In this article, we will discuss what rate-limiting is, why webmasters use 403 and 400 error responses for rate-limiting, why Google advises against it, and what alternative methods Googlebot suggests.

So let’s understand in one go:

What is rate-limiting?

Rate-limiting is a process where a server limits the number of requests made by a user or a bot within a certain period. This is done to prevent overloading the server and to ensure that all users and bots get a fair share of the server’s resources. Rate-limiting is essential for maintaining the health and availability of a server.

Why do webmasters use 403 and 400 error responses for rate-limiting?

Webmasters use 403 and 400 error responses for rate-limiting because they are easy to implement. The 403 error response means “Forbidden,” and the 400 error response means “Bad Request.” When a server sends a 403 or 400 error response to a bot, the bot understands that it has exceeded its request limit and stops sending requests for a certain period. This is an effective way of preventing bots from overloading a server.

Why does Google advise against using 403 and 400 error responses for rate-limiting?

Google advises against using 403 and 400 error responses for rate-limiting because they are not specific to rate-limiting. When a server sends a 403 or 400 error response to a bot, the bot does not understand the reason for the error. It could be a genuine error or a rate-limiting response. This confusion can lead to bots stopping requests for a longer period than necessary, which can negatively affect the crawling and indexing of a website.

Google recommends that webmasters use specific HTTP status codes for rate-limiting, such as the 429 “Too Many Requests” status code. This status code tells the bot that it has exceeded the request limit and provides information on when the bot can start sending requests again. Using specific HTTP status codes for rate-limiting is a more effective way of preventing bots from overloading a server and avoiding unnecessary delays in crawling and indexing. (kiiky.com)

What alternative methods does Google suggest for rate-limiting?

Google suggests two alternative methods for rate-limiting: crawl rate settings in Google Search Console and the use of the “Crawl-Delay” directive in robots.txt.

Crawl rate settings in Google Search Console

Crawl rate settings in Googlebot Search Console allow webmasters to specify the maximum number of requests that Googlebot can make to a website within a given period. This is an effective way of rate-limiting Googlebot and ensuring that the server’s resources are not overloaded. Webmasters can set the crawl rate for their entire website or for specific sections of their website.

The “Crawl-Delay” directive in robots.txt

The “Crawl-Delay” directive in robots.txt allows webmasters to specify the delay between Googlebot’s requests to their website. This is another effective way of rate-limiting Googlebot and ensuring that the server’s resources are not overloaded. Webmasters can specify the delay in seconds or milliseconds.

Conclusion

Rate-limiting is an essential process for maintaining the health and availability of a server. Webmasters use 403 and 400 error responses for rate-limiting because they are easy to implement, but Googlebot advises against it because they are not specific to rate-limiting. Googlebot recommends using specific HTTP status codes for rate-limiting, such as the 429 “Too Many Requests” status code. Googlebot also suggests two alternative methods for rate-limiting: crawl rate settings in Googlebot Search Console and the use of the “Crawl-Delay

David Scott
David Scott
Digital Marketing Specialist .
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