Dec 28, 2023

What Is A Zombie Page And How It Affects Your SEO Efforts

What Is A Zombie Page And How It Affects Your SEO Efforts
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SEO deals with various “haunting” elements. Zombie pages is one of them.

Zombie pages are pages that are of no value to your website or your users. But they are still there, hanging around for no reason.

The only thing zombie pages do is hurt your SEO and devour your crawl budget, offering nothing in return.

To fix this, you must first identify your zombie pages and then evaluate whether it’s best to delete or revive them.

In any case, you should plan, test, and apply changes meticulously.

What Is A Zombie Page In SEO?

Simply put, a zombie page in SEO is a page on your website that does not bring any results.

Thus, its name.

Zombie pages get little or no traffic from human users - but they still use your crawl budget resources.

Zombie pages can be indexed or not. They can also have (non-human) bot traffic from search engine crawlers - which does not count towards your Google authority score, though.

Many SEOs argue that zombie pages are any pages explicitly published to encourage a specific user action, like drive clicks or conversions - but they actually don’t.

What Factors Make A Zombie Page?

Pages that have turned into zombie pages offer a poor user experience in one or more ways, or they face various SEO issues that cause their rankings to drop dramatically.

These are negative signals for Google that slowly affect the entire website, even if it has some level of domain authority.

Indexed Zombie Pages

Many indexed zombie pages face content-related issues, like poor internal linking and duplicate content.

Others are well structured but do not match user intent. People find no value in them and leave immediately.

Zombie pages may also suffer from poor design. Indeed, a high percentage of users stop engaging with a website if the content or layout is unattractive.

While others are partly responsive, looking good only on specific screens while, in fact, 45% of users expect a website to be responsive on all kinds of different devices. And they just bounce away if it’s not.

A large percentage of zombie pages are old or outdated. As a user, you may discover them in SERPs’ “oblivion zone” (that’s anything after page 1, actually!).

Not Indexed Zombie Pages

Zombie pages can also be ‘not indexed’ by Google or other search engines.

As a web designer or SEO, you may purposely mark some pages as “no index” in your robots.txt file. This affects your crawl budget but not your website authority. And such pages do not qualify as “zombies.”

When Google chooses not to index a page on its own accord, it is due to low quality or duplicate content.

Other reasons include technical SEO drawbacks - such as slow loading times, rendering setbacks related to Javascript, etc.

Different problems create issues that turn a ‘live’ web page into a zombie page, eventually hurting your overall SEO.

How Do Zombie Pages Affect SEO?

Zombie pages affect SEO in various ways.

Zombie pages consume your crawl budget for nothing

First and foremost, you spend your crawl budget and other Google resources on pages that do not bring any positive results to your website or brand.

This issue becomes especially critical when you have a high percentage of zombie pages.

Indexed zombie pages with poor or misleading content drive visitors away

They are still shown in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) but do not offer any value to users looking for quality and relevant content.

Thus, zombie pages create a bad user experience and a negative brand image.

Your performance metrics are also affected by increased bounces/exits and low dwell time.

Zombie pages represent missed opportunities that still count in your traffic metrics

For instance, a blog post with poor, non-responsive design still takes time and effort to write, but eventually, users will not bother reading your beautiful article or continue browsing your site.

So, zombie pages also suck the energy out of other pages.

Having too many zombie pages can seriously affect your SEO

Redundant zombie pages create ‘low-ranking loops’: the more users scorn them, the more search engines ignore them.

And your quality pages will eventually be dragged down with them.

So, your reputation and authority decline for both humans and bots.

Various ranking aspects like SEO reputation management involve identifying and effectively dealing with zombie pages.

How To Identify Zombie Pages On Your Website?

To find lurking zombie pages on your website you can use crawling apps, web analytics tools, and common sense.

To scout out your website, hunting for zombie pages, here are some signs:

No Or Low Traffic

By looking into your website’s traffic reports, you can easily see which pages have received very few visits, or no visits at all, during a significant amount of time.

As a rule of thumb, you can investigate page traffic during the last 6 months - depending on the type of website.

Rank For The Wrong Keywords

Performance reports analyze which user queries triggered which pages in organic results. This way, you can discover pages that rank for the wrong keywords.

Another thing to look out for is user intent mismatch.

Take the word “apple” for example. Are people looking for Apple products or information on apples?

Always give Google clear signs for which keyword(s) you want your page to rank for. This tactic helps your pages stay valuable and “alive.”

Low Conversion & Click-Through Rate

Some web pages are designed for specific goals, like drive clicks or conversions. But then, you realize they actually don’t.

So, while you put effort into updating such pages, they bring back little or no value at all. Still, they consume your crawling resources, your time and your energy.

Remember: Google does not explicitly classify pages as ‘zombie pages.’ It just doesn’t give them any value.

High Bounce/Exit Rate

Pages with high bounce rates, or very low dwell time, are often pages of no interest to the users.

Such pages may take ages to load, or they may look outdated, causing users to close the page and abandon your website for good.

Also, high exit rates sometimes signal zombie pages.

Indeed, there are various warning signs to help you identify zombie pages.

But to make a long story short, if a page doesn’t do what it’s intended to do, then you can treat it as a zombie page.

4 Tools To Identify Zombie Pages

Here are the most popular ways to discover zombie pages on your website:

1. Google Analytics

In Google Analytics 4, or any other web analytics tool, you can easily detect pages with low engagement.

All you need to do is set your desired period and then sort pages according to popularity. Look at the least visited pages and investigate if they are worth your crawl budget.

2. GSC Performance Report

Google Search Console offers various tools to help you see how your website pages perform on multiple levels.

The Page Performance Report shows the number of impressions and clicks for indexed pages.

It’s also worth inspecting the top queries that brought traffic to your website.

Targeted comparisons among all these metrics help you determine which pages have poor quality or low value and merely drain your website’s resources.

With GSC Performance tools, you can see how a potential zombie page is related to a search term. Or how a low-value page is doing compared to other (similar) pages on your website.

Bing Webmaster Tools also offers performance data analytics for the past six months. Here, the Search Performance tab contains information on the number of impressions and clicks, as well as the keywords each of your pages ranks for.

3. GSC Indexing

Check the Page Indexing Report of Google Search Console that shows the pages that Google hasn’t indexed - and then look for the reasons behind it.

Not-indexed does not always mean ‘zombie.’

Oftentimes, a page may be fairly new, and Google simply hasn’t crawled it yet. But other non-indexed reasons can be alarming.

Remember that Google has a limited storage space. It cannot load every single page that goes live. Especially now, with the booming of e-commerce, search engines are even pickier.

Google offers your website a limited crawl budget and indexing time. Make sure you use it wisely.

Zombie Pages Crawled - Currently Not Indexed

Important pages of your website that you see as ‘crawled but still not indexed’ in GSC may signal low-quality pages or duplicate content.

But, although it’s normal for Google not to index all your website’s pages, it’s worth investigating if your ‘not indexed’ pages indicate an overall site architecture problem.

Zombie Pages Discovered - Currently Not Indexed

Zombie pages that are discovered but not indexed by Google may suffer from poor internal linking and/or missing backlinking.

Another common cause is pages that auto-generate too many URL variations. This is usually a canonical-related drawback (and an SEO nightmare in fact,) that creates multiple URL variants - all pointing to the same page.

But remember: Duplicate pages with user-selected canonicals are not zombie pages.

If you are using Bing Webmaster Tools, you can see crawling and indexing issues in the Site Explorer tab.

In any case, before deciding that a non-indexed page is in fact, a zombie page, you should always run a server log analysis to get the full crawling picture ‘behind the scenes.’

4. Website Crawler Apps

Crawling apps help you easily check for zombie pages.

By conducting an in-depth SEO audit of your website, you may discover various issues that have caused a live page to turn into a zombie page.

Then, you can better evaluate whether you want to resurrect your zombie pages, or delete and redirect them.

Website crawlers offer a long list of technical and content details that help identify zombie pages. For instance, check the following:

  • Internal linking errors
  • Duplicate content
  • Thin content
  • Crawled URLs
  • Page speed and response times
  • Missing H tags
  • Page image issues
  • Technical SEO issues

...and more!

Advanced SEOs use recurrent, automated reports to monitor metrics related to zombie pages.

Indeed, regular website monitoring and a well-designed SEO roadmap are essential to protect your pages from becoming zombies.

How To Deal With Zombie Pages

Once you have identified your zombie pages, you need to decide whether you will:

  • Resurrect zombie pages
  • Redirect and/or remove zombie pages

Let’s look at each option closely.

How To Resurrect Your Website’s Zombie Pages

This is the best option for pages with some level of information that have the potential to rank well.

It may be beneficial to resurrect pages with low-quality content or outdated content.

It’s not worth putting any energy onto pages with duplicate or no content.

Start Small

Provided that your page is technically sound and has a decent design, the best way to bring your zombie pages back to life is to improve your content and/or SEO one step at a time.

In this way, you can test and understand where the problems lie and how to avoid them in the future.

If you have a large number of zombie pages, it’s best to improve them in parts. Dealing with, roughly, one-third of them at the beginning, you can make some small, fundamental changes.

Sometimes, Google just needs a “nudge” to wake up and see the value of your forgotten pages.

So, start with small changes by tweaking your H1 and title tags and then check what happens over a sufficient amount of time, e.g., 1-3 months.

Usually, H1 and title tags are identical. This is not the rule, though, and you can test what works best for your page.

Note that if you decide to change your page title/H1 completely, then your page’s targeting will also change.

Make Gradual Changes

If small changes don’t work, you can then make other changes gradually: add new pieces of content, liven up your page with images and videos, work on internal linking, etc.

Remember: Search engine rankings are a supply/demand game. You need to give the users what they want.

Should You Delete Or Redirect Zombie Pages?

As a rule of thumb, simply deleting website pages is not a good practice. Nevertheless, deleting a couple of zombie pages on a large website won’t really hurt your rankings.

In any case, always redirect a URL before you delete a page.

To avoid 404 errors, in case you forget to redirect, you may automate redirects to your home page for any missing URLs. Though this, too, needs to be done cautiously.

If you want to get rid of a large number of zombie pages, deleting them all together can seriously hurt your site’s authority and rankings. You also need to take this slow.

Remember: Google accepts (almost!) any change that’s handled with care.

The best way to redirect your deleted pages is to point them to other relevant pages and merge their content as much as possible. Try to retain content pieces that have some value for your users.

For best results, try to redirect a few pages at a time.

Other Types Of Zombie Pages

Zombie Pages In Language Versions

If your website has multiple language versions, a page that is doing well in, let’s say, French might face very few visits in English.

So, in multilingual websites, make sure you check all page versions for zombie pages.

Non-Responsive Pages

A common mistake, especially for older websites, is responsiveness. A page can look great on a 15” laptop screen but not on mobile phones, tablets, or 4K desktop screens.

This creates a bad user experience and it’s a negative sign for search engines.

Non-responsive pages may well end up as zombie pages for some devices (or all of them!). It’s worth spending time and resources to ensure your website is fully responsive for all types of screens and browsers.

Remember: In mobile screens, you should consider responsiveness in both landscape and portrait views.

Are 404s Zombie Pages?

No. 404 errors that trigger a default or customized 404 page are not zombie pages - as they do not exist.

However, links in your website that lead to 404s are bad for user experience and website quality.

Always delete/redirect pages carefully and double-check internal links to avoid any 404 encounters.

Are Orphan/Annex Pages Considered Zombie Pages?

No. Orphan pages don’t have links, so they cannot be crawled. As a result, they do not hurt your crawl budget.

Annex pages, such as Privacy Policy or Disclaimer pages, are there because they are required by law. Even if they are rarely visited, you must have them on your website.

In short

Zombie pages are redundant pages in your website with extremely low visit rates that serve no purpose and have zero value.

They consume your crawl budget for nothing; they are bad for your SEO and your website’s authority. They act like zombies.

There are various ways to identify zombie pages and then decide whether to slowly delete and redirect them or resurrect them by gradually optimizing their content and SEO.

Improper website monitoring is the number one factor that causes forgotten zombie pages to hang around your website for ‘ages.’

Working with SEO experts shields your website from such pitfalls. Plus, with professional SEO services you can profit from high rankings and increased website authority.

How Atropos Digital Can Help With Your Website SEO

Atropos Digital is a premium SEO team offering full-stack SEO & CRO services that elevate your website and your business.

We take a passionate approach to SEO that reflects in your rankings, your conversions, and, thus, your profit.

From audit to execution, Atropos Digital offers high-end personalized services that allow organizations to profit from a remote SEO department that delivers growth while minimizing costs.

Book a strategy call.

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