Putting together an effective SEO campaign is all about being thorough, but of course, that’s often easier said than done.
After all, SEO is about so much more than choosing the right keywords to try to rank for and building an outstanding content production strategy around them.
It’s also about making your website or blog as streamlined and user-friendly as possible.
Orphan pages can interrupt the flow of an otherwise navigable website. But many web admins and marketing professionals don’t even know what they are, let alone how to find and fix them.
Here’s a closer look at what orphan pages are really all about, as well as what you should do if you find any hanging out on your website.
What is an Orphan Page?
Just hearing the word “orphan” is probably enough to conjure up images of poor Victorian children wearing rags and begging for food.
It makes you think of something sad, lonely, and abandoned, which isn’t necessarily untrue of orphan web pages.
Orphan pages are pages on a given website that aren’t linked to via any other page on the site.
This means no one can access them via the natural process of browsing your website, making it difficult to impossible for anyone to find and benefit from them.
This includes the web crawlers responsible for indexing your site for the search engines.
Why are Orphan Pages Bad for SEO?
Although a webmaster may purposefully create an orphan page for reasons of their own, it’s almost always accidental, and most large websites are likely to have at least a few.
Pages that once contained links to the orphans can wind up deleted, or there could be more significant navigation problems with your website.
Sometimes products are discontinued or otherwise phased out, but the pages once attached to them are still there.
No matter the reasons, orphan pages can really hurt your SEO efforts in many ways.
To begin with, they contribute to a poor overall user experience.
Plus, they can make it hard for crawler bots to locate the pages by following your sitemap, preventing the pages from being indexed at all.
This can be pretty problematic if your orphans contain crucial information that might be helpful, useful, or even essential to your web visitors.
Also, Google and the rest of the search engines don’t like websites that are messy, cluttered, or otherwise hard to navigate.
So although a couple of orphan pages probably won’t make or break your search engine ranking, they can present a real problem if your site has many of them.
Orphan vs. Dead End Pages
Of course, orphan pages are not to be confused with dead end pages (DEPs).
While an orphan page is a page without any internal links pointing to it, a dead end page is precisely what it sounds like — a page that doesn’t contain any links to other pages, internal or otherwise.
Dead end pages aren’t virtually unfindable the way orphan pages are, as they do have internal links that lead users and crawler bots to them.
However, they do present SEO issues of their own:
- Bounce rates can skyrocket, as there’s nowhere else for your users to go once they land on a dead end page. Instead of sticking around, they’re likely to go elsewhere instead.
- When crawler bots land on DEPs, they also find they have nowhere else to go. This means they won’t pass any link equity (also known as “link juice”) to other pages on your website.
One possible solution to both issues is to fortify dead end pages with links to your orphan pages.
However, it’s essential to make sure the pages are relevant to each other to avoid further harming your SEO setup.
In addition, you can address and prevent future dead end pages by ensuring sidebar or footer navigators populate on all of your pages.
How to Find and Fix Orphan Pages to Improve SEO
Naturally, if an orphan page is hard for even web crawlers to find, they’ll present a challenge for you, too.
However, you can take a lot of the guesswork out of the process with some great tools and an organized approach for locating yours.
Here’s how to go about finding and fixing all of your orphan pages, the better to support your ongoing SEO efforts.
1. Create a list of all your crawlable pages first
Before you can successfully locate your orphan pages, you’ll need to compile a list of the pages that are accessible from somewhere else on your website.
The best way to do this is to use an SEO crawler of your own. (Screaming Frog is a good, solid pick, but you can use whichever options you’re most comfortable with.)
Set it to crawl only the pages on your website that are also accessible to search engines — no pages that are affected by robots.txt commands, no-indexed, or otherwise deliberately hidden.
Then export the URLs your crawler returns into a spreadsheet or other document.
2. Search your site for duplicate pages
Duplicate pages are one common (but often overlooked) cause of orphan pages, meaning in cases where there’s more than one version of a page, only one is appropriately linked while the other one is an orphan.
First, check to make sure all the public pages on your website use either http or https consistently. (They should also use www or not consistently.)
Then try entering all of the following versions of your homepage URL into your browser.
Ideally, all four of those takes on your homepage URL will redirect to the same place.
If they don’t, it’s a sign that you likely have the same issue on a page-by-page basis. Check a few of your other URLs using the same formula to see if that might be the case.
You’ll also want to be on the lookout for URLs that end with trailing slashes versus nearly identical URLs that don’t.
Usage of these (or not) should also be consistent, and if it’s not, there’s a high likelihood that orphan pages could be a problem.
3. Use Google Analytics to investigate further
Naturally, any tool designed to help you with SEO will have some issues actually locating something like an orphan page, and Google Analytics is no exception.
However, it can be extremely helpful if you know what to look for.
If a page on your website has ever been visited in any capacity and Google Analytics is active on it, the program will have a record of it.
Use the sidebar navigator to find “behavior flow” followed by “all pages.” Then sort the URLs by page views. (To ensure your search is nice and thorough, set the starting date of your search back to a date that predates your implementation of Google Analytics.)
The URLs that show the fewest views are most likely to be orphaned, so compile those into a second spreadsheet or list for further investigation.
4. Single out your orphan pages
To figure out which of your potential orphans really are orphans, you’ll need to compare the URL list you compiled from Google Analytics to the previous list of crawlable URLs from your SEO crawler.
If there are only a few candidates to evaluate, you can do this individually, but if your site is very large, you may prefer letting a matching tool go through them for you.
Any page that doesn’t appear in both lists will be an orphan. So go ahead and compile those into a third list so you can figure out how you want to deal with each one.
5. Address each of your orphans
No two orphans will be exactly alike, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution that will work for all of yours.
Simply go through your list and assess each page by asking yourself questions like the following.
- Is this page actually necessary, or are you better off simply removing it?
- Is this page potentially a duplicate or nearly so? Is there a way to combine the relevant information from both copies?
- Is the page the target of a potentially valuable backlink from another external site?
- Is it ranking for any of your target keywords or key phrases?
- Is it optimized, or should it be optimized?
- Where do your valuable, keep-worthy orphans fit into the bigger picture of your sitemap, and how can you integrate them so that everything makes sense?
To reduce the likelihood of future orphans becoming an issue, be sure to use consistency regarding how you format your URLs.
This is the best way to prevent duplicates or near-duplicates.
Conduct regular checks for additional orphans, as well, so you can spot any issues before they have a chance to really hurt your SEO.
Wrap Up: Mature SEO Strategies Are Successful SEO Strategies
Great SEO strategies are more than just comprehensive. They’re also timely and thoroughly in step with all the latest trends and SEO developments.
So when was the last time you ran an efficiency check on your current SEO strategy to make sure it’s still up to snuff?
If it’s been a while, take our short but practical maturity assessment to see where you stand.
You’ll find out where your strategy is still strong, as well as identify weak areas that could stand a little tender loving care. Then you’re in the clear to evolve to the next level!