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How to Find and Fix Orphan Pages for Website SEO

Learn all about why orphan pages exist, how they affect SEO, and how you can make them crawlable for search engines.

Appearing as one of the first organic search results is no easy task. Not only do website owners need to optimize their web copy, titles, meta descriptions, and alt text with key terms, but they also have to identify and prioritize the technical elements that positively impact SEO. This includes ensuring that every web page is crawlable, indexable, and renderable by search engine bots.

If a website isn’t accessible from a search engine bot’s perspective, then it won’t matter how well researched and optimized your web copy is. Something as small as a broken link or a slow-loading web page could be all it takes for your website to get a low ranking.

Orphan pages are one of those small, pesky problems that could lead to your website not ranking as well as you’d like. Luckily, there are ways to identify and fix orphan pages.

What is an orphan page?

In order for web pages to rank highly (or even at all) in search engine results pages (SERPs), they need to be crawlable for a search engine bot. These bots (also known as search engine crawlers) use internal links to “crawl” from page to page, and it’s the only way they can discover new pages on your website. Once they’ve crawled all over your site, the bots are then able to store each page in a search engine index and render them whenever a page is opened by a user.

However, if you have some web pages that don’t have any internal links pointing to them, then you have what are called orphan pages. This makes it very difficult for search engine bots to crawl onto your website.

Orphan pages can be indexable, though, because they are still accessible through redirected pages or external links. But while it may be possible for bots or users to access these web pages, it doesn’t mean they’re easy to find.

Orphan pages vs. dead-end pages

Orphan pages are similar to dead-end pages, but there is a distinct difference. Orphan pages don’t have any internal links that point to them, but they do have external links. Alternatively, dead-end pages don’t have any internal or external links leading to them, which can provide a poor user experience for anyone who encounters that page.

Dead-end pages can form due to broken links, poor internal navigation, or insufficient breadcrumb links, making users go back to a previous web page in order to leave the dead-end page. However, there are instances where dead-end pages are necessary, such as order confirmation pages or thank-you pages.

How relevant pages become orphan pages

Orphan pages occur because they have no internal links directing to those pages. Whether intentional or unintentional, there are various reasons as to why this happens at all.

Poor site structure

A common reason orphan pages appear is because of a poorly designed site structure, which is the way your website is organized and interconnected. An optimized site structure will have a Home landing page with a few category pages linking from it. Under each of those categories will be more subcategories and individual content pages. This makes it very easy for search engine bots to crawl onto and navigate through your website.

However, you may have a poor site structure if you have:

  • Important category pages that live far from your Home landing page
  • Limited internal links to important content pages
  • Disorganized breadcrumb navigation
  • New pages that aren’t given a category

Inevitably, these site structure symptoms can unknowingly result in one or more orphan pages. Even more, they can result in important pages having very little page authority, meaning your web pages won’t be seen as valuable to search engines like Google.

Site migration

Migrating your website can also cause orphan pages to form—but that doesn’t mean site migration is a bad thing. There are various reasons why you might need to migrate your website, such as improving your site structure, adjusting your web design, or shifting your URLs to HTTPS. However, whether you’re moving your website to an entirely different platform or just rearranging a few pages, you could end up with some orphan pages if you aren’t careful.

During site migrations, it’s possible for you to lose track of certain web pages and eliminate the link pathways between them. It’s also possible to accidentally exclude older pages as you readjust your website’s navigation. Either way, these are common occurrences that result in relevant web pages slipping through the cracks and becoming orphans.

Keeping old pages

Even if all your important pages are crawlable, old and unimportant pages may become orphans and overwhelm your website. This could happen when you have an irrelevant page that you don’t need to provide links to anymore (such as out-of-stock or discontinued product pages), yet the page remains live on your website.

For example, say you create a new event page each year for a special annual occasion. If you don’t archive each of the previous event pages, they will all become orphan pages. If a user somehow comes across that page, they may get confused or become misled by the contents of those old pages.

Why are orphan pages bad for SEO?

Seeing a high-ranking web page suddenly drop down on a SERP can come as a shock to many website owners. That’s because when they aren’t utilized properly, orphan pages can seriously hurt your SEO efforts. Read on to discover why orphan pages can hinder SEO.

Reduces indexing from search engine crawlers

When search engine bots crawl onto your website, they specifically look for new pages to place in the search engines’ index. This is a massive database that catalogs and stores every web page so that they will appear in a SERP.

However, bots aren’t able to crawl organically onto orphan pages, meaning they’ll have a hard time indexing those pages. If an orphan page can’t be found in a search engine index, it’s very unlikely that it will appear in search results at all.

Regardless, it’s possible for an orphan page to still get indexed, even if a bot can’t crawl on it. This would be with an XML sitemap, which is a map of your entire site architecture that bots can follow in order to crawl on the pages of your website. Keep in mind, though, this is a temporary solution, and you should still aim to fix your orphan pages regardless of having an XML sitemap.

Lowers ranking in search engines

Each inbound link increases your website’s link equity, which is the level of link authority your website has. The more inbound links your website has, the more link equity you have, and the higher your web pages will rank in a SERP.

Unfortunately, orphan pages have very little page authority because they don’t have internal links pointing to them. This means that your orphan pages won’t rank highly in a SERP—or even at all.

Creates a poor user experience

Orphan pages often don’t provide great experiences for internet users. Without any inbound links from a navigational menu, orphan pages become nearly invisible to users who are trying to find important or new information. Alternatively, if a user comes across any low-value orphan pages with expired or outdated information, they could get confused or assume the content is correct.

Takes up crawl budget

Crawl budget is the number of pages that a search engine bot will crawl on in a given timeframe. Search engines like Google have a crawl budget so the bots are able to efficiently crawl, index, and render your most important web pages without overwhelming your server.

Orphan pages can take up some of your limited crawl budget that would otherwise go toward crawling on important pages. This can make it difficult for valuable pages to get crawled and indexed, thus hindering your SEO efforts.

Note that according to Google, this only applies to larger websites since small- and medium-sized websites have much fewer pages for bots to crawl on.

How to use site audit data to find orphan pages

Now that we know why orphan pages are not optimal for SEO, it’s time to think about how to find them—and eventually fix them, too.

Finding orphan pages can be tricky because if search engine bots can’t crawl on the orphan pages, then they can’t tell you if they’re even there! Even if you choose to use a site crawling tool to find your orphan pages, those tools still need internal links in order to crawl the pages on your site.

In this case, you can still use a site auditing tool to help you find orphan pages. It will compare various sources of website traffic data and identify the inconsistencies between them. The pages with the most traffic are likely ones that are frequently visited by users and bots. But the ones that get little website traffic are likely the orphan pages.

To do this, follow these 3 steps:

  1. List out all URLs: Use an XML sitemap or a content management system (for example, WordPress, Wix, or GoDaddy) to obtain a list of all your website URLs.
  2. Run a website crawl: Use your auditing tool to create a list of all the pages that are properly indexed by a search engine.
  3. Analyze and compare the results: Take a look at your URL list and the indexed pages from your audit. The auditing tool will tell you which URLs don’t have links pointing toward them—meaning you’ve found your orphan URLs.

There are some auditing websites that can do all of this at once for you. But if you want more accurate results, it’s best to take your time and do this part manually. The following are other data sources you can pull from to compare with, such as Google Search Console and your server log files.

XML sitemap

An XML sitemap should have a list of all your website’s URLs—orphaned pages or not. So, make sure that you compare any or all data to this list. If your XML sitemap isn’t updated or you know it doesn’t have every website URL on there, you should definitely consider using more data sources to find your orphan pages.

Server log files

A server log file is a text file that contains a server request from a user or search engine bot. To put it simply, whenever a web page is searched or clicked on, that page is “requested” from the server. The server receives the request for that page and sends the page as a response.

With this data, you can find out which pages are recognized by your server and then sent back to the user. This means you’ll be able to find out from your server which pages are being requested and, more importantly, which ones are not.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics helps website owners analyze web traffic and performance, including page views, bounce rate, and conversions. Most importantly, Google Analytics can identify which pages on your website are frequently visited by users, enabling you to identify the pages that are not visited much or at all. With this data, you can get a good idea of which ones are likely orphan pages due to the limited amount of organic traffic.

Google Search Console

With Google Search Console, website owners get access to a free suite of tools to help them improve their ranking. Google Search Console is also known for assisting with technical SEO issues, such as mobile-friendliness, security, and broken links.

Like Google Analytics data, Google Search Console can provide data on which websites get traffic and which ones don’t. Even more, it can find indexing issues and crawling errors, which are both common characteristics of orphan pages.

Methods for fixing an orphan page

There are various methods for fixing an orphan page, the first and most obvious being to simply add internal links to that web page. However, before you start adjusting your website, think about whether there are any underlying reasons why that orphan page became one in the first place. From there, you’ll be able to make the right decision that best fits the needs of your website and your visitors.  

Add internal links

The simplest way to fix an orphan page is to adjust your navigation menu and other content pages to include links that point to your orphan page. If you fully intended to have internal linking for that page in the first place, then now is the time to add them in. But what if you’re not sure how to seamlessly add links to your orphan page?

For example, say you have a recently developed blog post that became a new orphan page. First, comb through your other blog posts and see if there are any common topics or themes that relate to your new blog. Then, attach hyperlinks to those keywords, allowing the reader (or a bot) to finally find that new blog post. You can also apply the same logic to product pages, landing pages, and other pages that have similar information.

Combine with other pages

Choosing to combine your orphan page with other pages is another way to resolve this issue. First, think about whether you have a similar or duplicate page to your orphan page. If each serves the same purpose, think about combining them and adjusting the web copy and visuals to fit the overlying purpose of both pages.  

Think about noindex tags

A noindex tag is an HTML snippet that keeps certain pages out of a search engine’s index, allowing you to highlight the more important pages for indexing. Examples of internal pages with noindex tags could be advertisement landing pages, order confirmation pages, search results pages, or privacy policy pages.

Coincidentally, these can also be orphan pages because there’s nothing internally that’s pointing to them. They appear due to external links (like clickable ads) or page redirects. So, in order to prevent these pages from taking up your crawl budget or appearing in search results, make sure to add this tag to your HTML code.

Determine if the orphan page has any value

If adding internal links, combining other pages, and adding noindex tags don’t seem to be the right solutions, then ask yourself this: Is this orphan page important at all? Orphan pages can often slip through the cracks and go unnoticed for a while. So, if the page wasn’t really missed, then maybe you don’t need it and you should opt to delete it altogether.  

Boost your web page traffic by optimizing or trimming orphan pages

When they aren’t used properly, orphan pages can seriously hurt your efforts to optimize your website’s searchability. And it’s no easy feat to pinpoint exactly where orphan pages are, especially considering that they’re practically invisible to users and search engine bots. Despite that, once you’re able to find and fix your orphan pages, your website is sure to see a boost in search engine rankability.

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