Picture this: You’re on your private island where you picked your own coconuts to make a killer piña colada.
Naturally, you want to show off your creation to everyone. Get some oohs and ahs, hopefully, some customers. The problem? Your desert island has no docks, so people can’t visit with their boats. They could swim, but drinking and diving isn’t the best idea. Since there’s no easy access to your island, nobody gets to enjoy your piña colada. All that hard work, for what? Nada.
This is a problem thousands of websites are facing today. They have web pages that can’t be accessed via internal links (aka orphan pages) that are taking up space, hurting their SEO, and giving their visitors a lousy user experience.
The worst part? Most of them don’t even know they have an orphan page problem.
But don’t worry. We’re here for you–and your piña colada. Over the next 5 minutes, you’re going to learn the answers to these questions:
- What are orphan pages, and why should you care?
- How can you find orphan pages on your website?
- How can you fix and prevent orphan pages?
What are orphan pages & why should you care?
If a page on your website isn’t linked to any other page on your website, it’s an orphan page.
Ideally, every page on a website should be accessible within a series of clicks from the homepage. When a page can’t be reached like this, it’s an orphan page. However, orphan pages can still be found through search engines.
Orphan pages can be anything. A landing page for an email marketing campaign, a listing for a product that’s out of stock, a valuable blog post, or just a thin duplicate of another page.
There are several reasons you don’t want orphan pages:
- They lower your general site authority. Orphan pages tend to rank lower on SERPs. If a search engine mistakes an orphan page for a doorway page, it could lead to penalties that affect your rankings.
- Orphan pages negatively impact your website relevance. Since no other pages on the website have links with anchor text that sources to the orphan page, it doesn’t build any link equity.
- Your content might be going to waste. Important information and content that you worked hard on may never be found because orphan pages rank so poorly in organic search. That’s not just a waste of time, money, and effort: it’s a missed opportunity.
Orphan pages vs. Dead-end pages
You may have also heard rumors about dead-end pages in your SEO adventure: these are not the same as orphan pages. Remember, orphan pages are pages from your website that aren’t internally linked to any other page. On the other hand, if a web page doesn’t link out to any other pages (internal or external), it’s a dead-end page.
Like orphan pages, dead-end pages are bad for both search engine crawlers and users. Crawlers can’t give the page any link equity, and users have to use the dreaded back tab on their browser to escape.
Key takeaway: beware of both!
Flagging orphan pages on your website
The basic approach to finding orphan pages has three steps:
- Collect every possible URL/web page from your website (including orphan pages).
- Collect every link that a crawler pulls from your website.
- Compare the two lists.
Any URL that doesn’t appear on both lists is probably an orphan page.
Finding every page from your website ever
You can do this by:
- Looking at your log files. Log files contain data about website traffic for all your URLs. You can request them from your server or hosting provider.
- Using the Export All URLs plugin if you’re using WordPress. This plugin makes the process very easy, and you can export all the URLs to a .csv file.
- Getting a list of all pages using Google Analytics. This method is conditional on all your pages having Google Analytics installed.
- Getting a list of all pages using Google Search Console. Look for URLs with very few clicks.
- Looking at your content sitemap. Your content management system should be able to produce an XML sitemap file for you. This file contains your site architecture or the hierarchy of all the URLs on your site.
Finding all the web pages that can be crawled
This is done with (you guessed it) a website crawler. Beginning at your homepage, use a crawler like Screaming Frog or Ryte to generate a list of every webpage your users can access simply by clicking internal links.
If you’d like to do a manual analysis, create a spreadsheet where one column is all the URLs that have ever existed, and the other is every webpage that can actually be crawled. Depending on your software, you can remove duplicates or search for links without duplicates. Any link that doesn’t appear in both columns is an orphan URL. Here, this happens on the 12th row.
Tools like Screaming Frog or Sitebulb will streamline these steps for you.
Simply input your XML sitemap, then connect your Google Analytics and Google Search Console accounts. By conducting a crawl analysis, you’ll be able to identify the orphan URLs.
Make sure you deal with duplicate URLs: http vs https, www vs non-www. Ensure that all variations of a URL redirect to the canonical version, and then repeat this process a few times.
Use SEO Scout to identify pages with zero or few links
We’ve shown a couple of tools to help identify orphan pages, and now it’s time to toot our own horn a little bit. SEO Scout makes it incredibly easy to filter for orphan pages. After visiting the internal links panel, select Preset Filters, then simply choose Orphan pages. Check it out:
Bam. In order, you can now identify pages that have lower inbound links. The bottom two in the following picture, for example, can be deemed “orphan pages” because they have zero inbound links (IBL), and so, we can assume that site crawlers cannot reach that web page:
Fixing and preventing orphan pages
So we know how to identify orphan pages. How should we address them? When we’re dealing with unruly orphan pages, there is no one-size-fits-all situation. Different orphan pages should be dealt with differently.
Is it an irrelevant page?
Is it an irrelevant page? Maybe a duplicate or expired link? You should consider removing the orphan page from your CMS inventory or simply unpublish the page entirely. Don't forget to use an HTTPS status code! Use a 301 to redirect duplicate pages to the canonical links. 404 the content if it’s no longer available.
Is it a thin content page? (SEO Scout fix: Keyword Opportunities)
Is it a thin content page? Beef it up! If it’s already targeting some keywords, continue optimizing the orphan page content for your users and the search engines. For missing keyword opportunities, SEO Scout gives you a list along with potential impressions you’re missing out on:
When re-optimizing the thin content, pasting it in the content editor to monitor optimal keyword ranges, readability, comprehensiveness, and grade level will significantly boost the quality of your content.
With quality content comes backlinks, since more external sites will deem your stuff share-worthy. And, more content likely means more internal linking opportunities (which you’ll learn more about in the next section). Overall, your once “orphan” page is now pulling organic traffic from everywhere.
Is the page relevant and valuable? (SEO Scout Internal Link Opportunities)
Is it relevant and useful? Show that baby off! Incorporate these pages into your website’s information architecture, and make sure to link to it from all related sections and content.
Unlike other reporting tools, if you click on the orphan pages, SEO Scout will present a detailed summary of that particular page and recommend internal linking opportunities:
By reading the contents and highlighting keywords of the orphan page, SEO Scout’s AI-powered web reader can detect other related pages on the same site. That’s how it recommends linking opportunities to ultimately clear its “orphan” name.
Now you know what to do with the orphan pages you already have. How do you ensure that orphan pages never get created again?
- Have a clear internal linking strategy. This can be a very complex linking structure or a simple checklist. For example, articles in a topic cluster should always link to each other.
- Make a list of all internal links that each page has so you can make sure no page is left behind.
The world deserves to try that pina colada. And it deserves a fantastic experience on your website. When you resolve your orphaned pages, it makes your users happier and your website better. And the search engines don't mind it either. Start fixing your orphan pages today with SEO Scout.