An aspect of SEO that might be new to you is the concept of orphan pages – and no, we’re not talking about the Dickens classic Oliver Twist.
Today we’re delving into the digital ether, where pages lost in the vast expanse of your website go unnoticed and unlinked, much like the life of little Oliver.
These overlooked pages, hidden from the bustling traffic of your site’s main thoroughfares, can significantly impact your site’s SEO health and user experience.
In this guide, we’ll explore the mysterious world of orphan pages, uncovering what they are, how they affect your site, and most importantly, how you can find, fix, and prevent them to ensure your website remains a well-connected, SEO-friendly environment.
So, let’s turn the page on this overlooked aspect of SEO and bring those hidden pages into the light!
What are orphan pages?
Orphan pages are web pages without any internal links pointing to them from elsewhere on your site. They aren’t part of the usual journey visitors take through your website, making them virtually invisible to both users and search engines.
It’s like having a room in your house that you can only access by knowing where it is, not through any door or passage from inside.
Picture your website as a bustling city; every page is a building connected by roads (links). Orphan pages are like solitary buildings with no roads leading to them. They’re part of the city but are disconnected from its traffic and life.
Example of an Orphan Page
Imagine you’ve created a detailed guide about ‘The Best SEO Practices for 2024,‘ but it’s not linked from your blog, homepage, or any category pages.
It exists on your site, but there’s no path leading to it. While the page might be valuable, its isolation renders it useless to visitors who would benefit from it and search engines that could rank it.
Identifying and addressing orphan pages is important because they represent untapped potential.
They could be valuable content pieces, crucial product or category pages, or informative articles that are simply lost in the digital void.
When you integrate them back into your website’s structure, you can improve user experience, improve SEO, and make every part of your website work towards your goals.
What causes orphan pages?
Orphan pages are like the forgotten relics of your website’s history, often created inadvertently through various changes and updates.
Here’s a closer look at the common culprits behind these digital castaways:
a) Site migrations and redesigns
When you move or redesign your site, pages can get lost in the transition. It’s like packing up a house; sometimes, things get left behind.
If the new site structure doesn’t include links to all the old pages, some may end up orphaned.
b) Content updates and deletions
In the process of updating your site, you might remove links to certain pages without realizing it.
Over time, as links get updated or removed, pages that were once well-connected can find themselves isolated.
c) Testing and development pages
Developers often create test pages that aren’t meant to be part of the main site navigation.
These pages are useful for testing but can become orphaned if they’re not properly integrated or removed after use.
d) Manual errors
Sometimes, orphan pages are simply the result of a mistake.
A missed checkbox here, a forgotten link there, and suddenly, you have a page that’s floating in space, disconnected from the rest of your site.
e) Discontinued products or services
In e-commerce or service-based sites, product or service pages might become orphaned after they’re discontinued.
If you don’t properly archive or redirect these pages, they can end up as orphans.
f) Promotional or landing pages
Sometimes, you might create a specific landing page for a campaign or promotion and choose not to link it from your main site.
While this might be intentional at first, if these pages aren’t managed post-campaign, they can linger as unnoticed orphans.
g) Architectural oversights
As websites grow and evolve, it’s easy for the architecture to become complex and unwieldy.
Without a clear and maintained structure, pages can easily become disconnected and forgotten.
Understanding these causes is the first step in being the Daddy Warbucks to your orphan Annies.
Recognizing how they come into being can help start to weave them back into the fabric of your website, ensuring they contribute to your site’s purpose and SEO strategy.
Each orphan page is a missed opportunity, but with a little detective work and some strategic linking, you can turn them into valuable assets once more.
How do orphan pages affect SEO?
Orphan pages are the hidden rooms in your website’s mansion. They might contain treasures or trash, but as long as they’re hidden, their true value or detriment remains unknown.
When it comes to SEO, these isolated pages can significantly impact your site’s performance. Here’s how:
The main role of search engine crawlers is to discover and index pages on the web.
They typically do this by following links from one page to another. Orphan pages, lacking these vital links, akin to rooms without doors, are hard for crawlers to find.
If a page isn’t indexed, it won’t show up in search results, making it virtually invisible to your potential audience.
While a sitemap might help crawlers find these pages, it’s not a guarantee, especially if the page lacks other signals of importance, like backlinks or content updates.
Suppose an orphan page does get indexed. The lack of internal links leading to it means it’s missing out on valuable link equity — the currency of the web that flows through links, bestowing authority and trust.
In the eyes of search engines, an orphan page is a lone wolf, with no connections to vouch for its relevance or quality.
This isolation often results in lower rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs), which means less visibility and traffic for those pages.
Poor user experience
Imagine stumbling upon a page with great content or products, only to never find it again because it’s not linked anywhere on the site.
Orphan pages can create frustrating dead ends for users.
If visitors do find these pages (perhaps through direct links or search results), they might encounter outdated information or find themselves at a loss for where to go next on your site.
This poor user experience can lead to increased bounce rates, reduced engagement, and a lower likelihood of conversion.
How to fix orphan pages
Thankfully, fixing orphan pages is a relatively easy process. Here’s how you can breathe life into these forgotten pages and bolster your site’s SEO:
1. Perform a Site Audit
They crawl your site and compare the list of URLs they find against the pages that have received traffic or are listed in your sitemap.
Any discrepancies might indicate orphan pages.
Once you find the pages, then you’re ready to take one of several different paths to return them to the fold.
2. Delete pages
Not all orphan pages are worth saving. Evaluate whether the content is outdated, irrelevant, or simply not valuable.
If a page no longer serves a purpose, or its content is better covered elsewhere on your site, it might be time to say goodbye.
Deleting unnecessary pages can streamline your site and focus your SEO efforts where they count.
3. Merge Pages
Sometimes, you’ll find orphan pages with content that overlaps with other pages on your site.
In these cases, consider merging the content from the orphan page with a more prominent, related page.
This not only eliminates the orphan page but also strengthens the remaining page with additional content and keywords.
4. Link to orphan pages
The most straightforward way to fix an orphan page is to link to it from relevant parts of your site.
Look for related content, navigation menus, or even your site’s footer as potential spots to add a link.
Just one well-placed link can bring an orphan page back into the family, allowing link equity to flow and making the page visible to both users and search engines.
5. Redirect pages
If an orphan page has been replaced or is no longer relevant, consider implementing a 301 redirect to a more current or related page.
This ensures that any traffic or link equity the orphan page has accumulated isn’t wasted, but is instead transferred to a page that benefits your site’s goals.
6. Add noindex tags
In some cases, you might want a page to remain unlinked from your site but also want to keep it from being indexed by search engines.
Adding a noindex tag to these pages tells search engines not to include them in their indices.
This is particularly useful for test pages, temporary campaign pages, or any other page you don’t want appearing in search results.
How to prevent orphan pages?
Back to our societal infrastructure metaphor, preventing orphan pages is like maintaining a well-kept network of roads in your city.
The internal linking makes sure every page is accessible and connected.
Here’s how you can proactively prevent orphan pages from cropping up and maintain a healthy, interconnected website.
Have a strong website structure
A well-planned website structure plays a major role in preventing pages from becoming orphaned, and ensures every page has a place and a purpose.
Regularly review and update your website’s architecture to make sure it’s logical, user-friendly, and comprehensive.
One method is to use a hierarchical structure, where every page is linked from at least one other relevant page.
This not only makes it easier for users to navigate your site, but also makes it easier for search engines to find and index all your content.
Distribute page authority
Link equity, the ranking power passed through links, is a vital currency in SEO. Make sure you’re spreading this wealth throughout your site by linking to all your pages appropriately.
Regularly check for pages with few or no inbound links.
Consider how they can be better integrated into your site’s structure, either through your main navigation, contextual links from related content, or even footer links for less prominent pages.
Give the orphan pages an SEO purpose (or merge them)
Every page on your site should serve a clear SEO purpose, fitting into your overall content strategy. If you find an orphan page, assess its role.
Does it target a specific keyword or user need? Is it part of a user journey or conversion path?
If it’s valuable, find a way to incorporate it into your site structure. If it’s not serving a clear purpose, consider whether it can be merged with other content or if it should be removed altogether.
Monitor your orphan pages
Keeping a watchful eye on your website is essential to catch any newly orphaned pages.
Regular monitoring helps your site remain navigable and fully indexed. Here’s how to stay on top of orphan pages and keep your website in check:
- Regular site audits: Schedule routine audits with your preferred tool. These tools can help you identify orphan pages as they arise. Make it a part of your monthly SEO routine to check for and address these issues.
- Analytics review: Keep an eye on your analytics data. Look for pages that receive direct traffic but no referral traffic from other pages on your site. These might be orphan pages that are accessed directly or through external links.
- Change management: Whenever you make changes to your site, whether it’s removing content, redesigning, or migrating to a new domain, double-check the link structure. Make sure no pages have been left behind without links.
- Employee training: If you have a team managing your website, make sure everyone understands the importance of internal linking and the impact of orphan pages. Training your team to recognize and prevent orphan pages is vital.
- Documentation: Keep a record of all your pages and their intended link sources. This can be a simple spreadsheet that tracks each page’s purpose, the internal links pointing to it, and any campaigns or external links it’s associated with.
Regular checks and updates to your site’s internal link structure are essential for maintaining a healthy, accessible, and fully indexed website.
Integrating monitoring strategies into your SEO practices helps minimize the risk of orphan pages.
It’s an ongoing task, but its importance in maintaining site health cannot be overstated. With diligent attention and a proactive approach, every page on your site will effectively serve its purpose and reach its intended audience.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Are orphan pages always bad for SEO?
Generally, orphan pages are considered detrimental for SEO because they can’t be crawled and indexed effectively, leading to issues with visibility and rankings.
However, there might be strategic reasons for having orphan pages, such as specific landing pages for campaigns. Even so, these should be managed carefully to ensure they don’t negatively impact your overall SEO.
2. Can I intentionally create an orphan page to ‘hide’ it from Google?
Creating an orphan page isn’t an effective method to hide it from search engines, as they may still find it through sitemaps or direct links from external sites.
If you want to prevent a page from appearing in search results, it’s better to use a ‘noindex’ tag.
3. Is it possible to find orphan pages without an automated tool?
While it’s theoretically possible to find orphan pages manually by comparing lists of URLs from various sources like Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and server log files, it’s a labor-intensive process.
Automated tools can significantly simplify and speed up the process.
4. How often should I check for orphan pages?
The frequency can vary depending on the size and dynamism of your website. However, a good practice is to perform a check for orphan pages as part of your regular monthly SEO audit.
Additionally, it’s wise to conduct a check after any major site updates, migrations, or content overhauls.
5. Can orphan pages affect my site’s user experience?
Yes, orphan pages can lead to a poor user experience. If users stumble upon these pages through external links or direct access, they might find outdated information or lack a clear navigation path to explore more of your site.
This can lead to frustration and a higher likelihood of them leaving your site.