Dec 28, 2023

What Are Orphan Pages: How To Find Them And Heal Your Site

What Are Orphan Pages: How To Find Them And Heal Your Site
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Each website has its own history.

Some are new and spotless, but others have been traveling through migrations and re-designs, marketing campaigns, and re-brandings.

Throughout their journey, indexing priorities and navigation evolved, tests were made, and campaigns began and finished.

Between changes in scopes, platforms, and developers, many pages are forgotten. They are left alone, outside your website’s network, and have turned into orphan pages.

What Is An Orphan Page?

An orphan page is a website page with no internal links from any other content.

This makes it hard for bots to discover these pages, as they use internal links to find all the content on your website.

But orphan pages can still be found and indexed by search engines when the URL is in your sitemap, or when the page has backlinks from other websites.

Nevertheless, the fact that there are no links pointing to that page indicates to search engines that you don’t consider that page important.

When orphan pages have no links at all, they are essentially dead. But not zombified.

Orphan Vs. Dead-End Pages

Orphan pages have no inbound links from internal pages but may have backlinks from other websites.

Dead-end pages, on the other hand, have no links at all: neither internal links nor inbound links from other sources. So, they create a dead end.

There is practically no way for bots to crawl them (except the sitemap), and if users that come here want to move on, they either hit the back button or just quit the website.

Orphan Vs. Zombie Pages

Orphan pages cannot be found by users browsing your website, and, as a result, they have zero (or nearly zero) visits. But they may have valuable content and be technically sound.

Zombie pages, on the other hand, are pages that may face various SEO issues or have worthless content. As a result, they have zero or nearly zero visits.

Zombie pages typically have adequate internal linking for bots to crawl them.

However, their poor performance, poor content, or other problems make bots and people ignore them. They have bad rankings and high bounce/exit rates.

What all these types of problematic pages have in common is that they consume your crawl budget and take up space in your server. They essentially act like zombies!

They are also signs of bad SEO.

Why Are Orphan Pages Bad For SEO?

Regarding the impact of orphan pages on SEO, what mainly matters is that orphaned content has no SEO value.

This is why professional SEOs monitor websites, fix up existing orphan pages, and pay attention to avoid creating new ones.

Here are some negative aspects of orphan pages:

No PageRank

Google’s PageRank is an important factor for high rankings. It is calculated based on the number and quality of links pointing to a page.

The absence of internal links on orphan pages means extremely low PageRank.

Even in the rare case where orphaned content has numerous backlinks, just setting up internal linking can considerably improve its rankings.

Degraded Page Authority

In SEO, orphan pages receive no Page Authority. As a result, search engines have no means (structural or semantic) to evaluate these pages.

So, they assume they are not important.

Weak Internal Link Health

Internal link health is vital for SEO. Too many orphan pages can cause problems and confusion now or in the long run.

For example, you may want to create an optimized URL that’s already taken by an orphan page (that you don’t know about). Or, you may decide to create new content that’s already up on your server as orphaned content.

Dealing with your orphan pages promptly and effectively saves you time and resources.

Missed Opportunities

Orphaned content with some value for your users signifies missed ranking, discoverability, and revenue opportunities.

Plus, it’s a non-valuable link for backlinkers.

Bad User Experience

Users who somehow find your orphan pages have no way to navigate away from your page to other parts of your website.

So, you (unknowingly) create a frustrating experience.

Wasted Crawl Budget/Server Space

With no internal links, search engines have no way of finding your orphan pages, so they just hang there on your server, taking up space.

They also consume a portion of your allocated crawl budget, taking it away from your important pages.

But why are pages orphaned in the first place?

What Causes Orphan Pages?

Website Revamps

Orphan pages are especially common when you take over an old website with a long history of changes.

Redesigns, migrations, tests, and dev pages can easily lead you, or your predecessors, to forget some pages out there in the server ‘alone.’

In fact, changing a website’s look and feel, and also its functionalities, is essential for successful digital marketing.

Nowadays, the average lifespan of a website is 1.5-2.5 years. Websites need to stay technically sound and have a fresh design.

The redesign rate, of course, depends on the country, the market, and the type of business. But even for smaller brands, 4 years is usually the limit for a website revamp.

Plus, larger organizations that want to stay on top of the competition need to rebrand every 7-10 years and refresh every 3-5 years.

So, if you have just started website SEO for a firm with such a history, you may need to do some digging to discover orphan pages.

Negligence

When you first create a page, you may forget its internal links; still, the page might be automatically added to your sitemap and become an indexed orphan page.

Or, you may add a test page/dev page and forget to delete it.

Intention

There are cases where orphan pages are created intentionally.

For instance, a Thank You page for your newsletter signup or a landing page for a PPC campaign that serves a specific marketing purpose are harmless orphan pages.

But how do you handle orphan pages? Let’s see it in practice.

How To Find Orphan Pages On A Website

To deal with your orphaned content, you need to find it first. There are many ways around it, and every SEO expert uses different tools or a combination of tools.

Simplified, the procedure to discover your orphaned content has 3 basic steps:

  1. Get a list of all your website’s pages that have hits (via your log files, Google Analytics, Google Search Console, or any other tool).
  2. Get a list of all your crawled pages (via Ahrfes, Screaming Frog, Google Search Console, or any other website crawler app).
  3. Compare the two lists to see which pages are crawled but not indexed (via your crawler app’s Orphan Pages Report or your own-made Excel commands).

Things to note:

  • Before you start, make sure that all your pages have canonical http/https and www/no www - if not, you need to fix these issues first.
  • Also, check for trailing slashes consistency, e.g., example.com vs. example.com/ - if not, you also need to deal with this drawback before continuing the process.
  • After comparing your two lists, ignore pages marked as “no index.”
  • To find your orphan pages with Ahrefs, set Ahrefs website audit to crawl your sitemap(s) and backlinks. You can also upload additional URL lists from GSC, GA4, and server logs in its ‘Custom URL’ list.
  • To find your orphan pages in Screaming Frog, set its configuration settings to automatically fetch and crawl URLs from sitemaps, GSC, and GA4, and upload your server’s log files.
  • Note that website crawler apps sometimes find pages that used to be crawlable but cannot be crawled directly anymore.
  • Automated orphan page reports are typically included in an app’s paid version. But to find your orphan pages for free, you need to do more manual work.

How To Find Orphan Pages For Free

Many website crawler apps have free versions that run a basic technical audit of your website or that crawl and analyze a limited number of your website’s pages.

To find your website’s orphan pages for free, you can create an Ahrefs Webmaster Tools account. You can then audit your website and get a list of your orphan pages that either exist in your sitemap or have backlinks.

For 100% accurate results, you will need to manually download/export:

  • your log files

or

  • a list of your pages with views in Google Analytics 4, and
  • a list of your pages with impressions via Google Search Console.

Finally, paste the Ahrefs list with crawlable URLs and your manually exported list(s) with hits in two separate Excel columns and run cross-reference commands.

In your results column, you’ll be able to see which pages are crawled but have no hits, i.e., your orphan pages.

Once you have your orphan pages list ready, you then need to assess how to deal with them.

Except for the pages orphaned by choice (e.g., Thank You pages), you need to evaluate and deal with each one separately.

How To Fix Orphan Pages

To fix orphan pages’ SEO, you have three choices:

1. De-Index

You can de-index a page by adding ‘noindex’ tag on the page’s header.

This signals search engines not to index this page. However, the page is still crawled.

How To De-Index A Webpage

In the <head> section of your page, add: <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”>.

This is the most popular way of no-indexing a page.

But remember: For this command to work, you should also:

  • Remove this page from your sitemap
  • Make sure you have not set any disallow rules in your robots.txt files that affect your orphan page.

This is the best solution for pages that are ‘orphaned’ by intention.

2. Delete/Draft

Deleting a page or setting it to draft is the best solution for orphan pages that have no value for your website, your rankings, or your users - now or in the near future.

But remember: Deleting a page should never be done lightheartedly.

Here’s what you need to consider:

Evaluate/Merge Content

Pages with (non-spammy) backlinks indicate that their content is (or has been) of some SEO or user value. Consider re-linking them with your ranking webpages and choose some new, quality keywords to target.

Dead-end pages may also have some content with informative or ranking potential. So, consider merging its best parts into a linked page.

Pages with very similar or duplicate content need to be streamlined to avoid keyword cannibalization issues. You can use parts of them, modify, merge, or delete them.

In cases of ‘expired’ content, pages are tuned useless or no longer relevant. For example: registration pages for past events, e-commerce products permanently out of stock, landing pages for expired offers, etc.

Redirect 301

Whenever you delete a page or rename its URL, always make 301 redirects.

It’s best to point your redirect to a page with similar content or that somehow relates to your deleted one.

When creating redirects, always delete original URLs from your sitemap(s).

If your deleted page does not resonate with any other website content, you can redirect it to the home page or any general info page.

How Long Should You Keep Redirects?

Lately, there has been some debate among SEOs on whether you should remove redirect rules after a year or so.

Our approach is to keep them on ‘indefinitely’ or until there’s a good reason to delete them in the distant future.

3. Add Internal Links

If your orphan page can be helpful to visitors (or search engines), you need to heal it.

Add internal links by following your website’s link hierarchy.

Sparkle up your page with targeted keywords and core off-page SEO techniques, especially backlinks.

Then, you can ask Google to re-crawl your page via your GSC.

Choosing the best fix for your orphan pages is essential for a well-performing SEO website.

But, preventing orphan pages from occurring in the first place is among the fundamental SEO principles and a sign of quality search engine optimization.

How To Get The Best Website SEO For Your Business

Dealing with orphan pages is just one SEO aspect that needs constant monitoring and consolidation.

At Atropos Digital, we aim to offer the best SEO services that help your business grow.

Our comprehensive approach ensures that your website is technically sound, following all the latest SEO trends and search engine updates.

Pairing this with immaculate keyword optimization and great page experiences, allows our customers to benefit from high rankings, targeted visibility and increased conversions.

Our refined SEO services are available for businesses worldwide that want to make the most of their website and enjoy lasting results that pay off.

Ready to boost your business? Contact our team to get your free SEO consultation.

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