SEO experts work hard to optimize internal links for a website. The goal, after all, is to optimize the user experience for visitors and crawlers while spreading the page authority across a site.
Unfortunately, while most sites try to implement best practices, problems can negatively impact search rankings. An example of such an issue is orphan pages.
This guide will cover everything you need to know about orphan pages. But, first things first. Let’s answer the question: what exactly are orphan pages?
What are Orphan Pages?
Orphan pages are pages on a website that have zero internal links.
Visitors to a site and search crawlers have no way of accessing these pages unless they land on them directly. That can happen when they click on a social media or paid ad that directly links to the page, for instance.
Sometimes you want orphan pages on your site. Most of the time, though, these orphan pages arise because you forgot to add internal links pointing to the page. We’ll discuss a couple of reasons why this is a problem below.
Why Are Orphan Pages Problematic?
Since orphan pages are inaccessible through the site, there’s clearly a user experience issue.
You need to address that because Google’s algorithm has always considered user experience when ranking pages. If you improve your user experience, then you can improve your SEO.
Besides, site visitors and search engine crawlers can’t find orphan pages easily.
Essentially, orphan pages lead to SEO problems you need to address to ensure effective SEO campaign management.
- Low Rankings & Traffic: Orphan pages typically don’t rank well in search engines or get much organic search traffic (as I said, they’re difficult to find). Orphan pages do not receive the benefit of the internal links, which impacts page authority.
- Crawl Waste: Orphan pages take up a portion of your crawl budget. Ideally, you want the crawlers to be reviewing other parts of your site rather than spending time trying to discover hard-to-find pages.
In short, if you want your SEO efforts to yield better results, make sure you do something about orphan pages. We’ll discuss strategies you can implement to achieve this goal in the next section.
Orphan Pages: How to Identify Them
One of the primary ways to find orphan pages is to look at Search Engine Result Pages and then compare them with internal crawl results. This process is called URL mapping.
A site crawler can help you locate orphan pages in your website structure. You can then use log file analysis tools to identify the orphan pages you forgot to include in your site structure.
It might all sound complex, which it is. SEO tools, though, ensure that the process for finding these pages is simple and straightforward.
You can find orphan pages through Google Analytics:
Go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages, and voila, you have a comprehensive list of URLs from the left sidebar.
Then click on “Page Views” so that the arrow points upward, helping you sort the list in ascending order–from least to most page views.
Once the URLs are ready, export a Google Sheet, Excel file, or CSV spreadsheet to download your URLs.
If you’ve been using Google Analytics for a long time and are already an expert, you can also use the Google Analytics API to expedite this process.
You can also use a suitable SEO tool to find orphan pages.
3 Common Orphan Pages
Most of the time, orphan pages are old pages you don’t remember publishing on your website. Once you find your orphan pages, you can do something about them to ensure your SEO efforts are optimized.
Here’s a list of pages that are usually left “orphaned”:
- Expired content pages
Expired content pages can be typical orphan pages. An example of an expired content page is a page with product descriptions from an old catalogue that is not relevant anymore.
These pages may continue to pop up in search results and not return an error code like 404 or 410.
- Pages that were left behind during a site migration
When you migrate your site, there’s a chance you forgot to redirect some internal URLs. That means old content is still available somewhere. If you have this problem, you need to identify these pages and add the relevant redirect.
- High-quality orphan pages
In some cases, orphan pages are pieces of content that you purposefully left unlinked. Or, occasionally, they are great pieces of content that you forgot to link to after publication.
Examples of orphan pages you purposefully didn’t link to include PPC pages. For example, you might create a PPC sales funnel for an advertising campaign, where you offer a product at a discount.
There’s a good chance you don’t want people to find this content. You might have even added a Noindex tag, so it doesn’t appear in the search results.
Other times, though, you might have just forgotten to add internal links pointing to this new content.
That can happen with pages, but it generally won’t happen with posts, as they appear on the Archive page for blog content (essentially the page where new blog posts always appear).
What to Do with Orphan Pages
Once you’ve identified your orphan pages, it’s time to make them feel loved. You have three options: retain them, delete them or optimize them.
In most cases, adding no internal links to an orphan page isn’t something you’ll want to do. There are exceptions, though, as I mentioned earlier.
If you opt to delete the page, make sure you check whether a third-party website has linked to that page or not. You can use various SEO tools, such as a backlink checker tool to scan a page’s backlink profile.
Once you identify these third-party websites, set up a redirect. You may want to send an email to the site owner to ask them to link to another resource on your site.
Just do a quick email address search to get their email address. You should also deindex the content.
If you opt to optimize your orphan pages, you should add internal links to the page from relevant locations. That might include the menu, sidebar, footer, or within other pieces of content.
When adding your internal links, make sure they are thematically relevant. Use appropriate anchor text, too.
An appropriate anchor text is brief and relevant to the linked page. It shouldn’t be generic. Choose an anchor text with a low keyword density as well.
Orphan pages are pages with zero internal links. There are various reasons why an orphan page might appear on your site.
Sometimes it’s intentional, for instance, pages that you use for a limited marketing campaign or special offer. Most of the time, though, you didn’t mean to create an orphan page.
Once you identify your website’s orphan pages, you need to decide on the appropriate action. You could retain them, delete them, or link to them.
If you don’t want orphan pages, set aside time to conduct a regular website audit. It will help you find and catch other issues as well. Do this, and you’ll optimize your SEO efforts. You won’t miss out on leads and potential paying customers.