Whether you’re new to the SEO world or you’re a veteran, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about orphan pages. Or at the very least, you’ve experienced them even if you don’t realize it.
These pages aren’t great for website visitors, as they can create a frustrating user experience. Additionally, search engine crawlers aren’t fond of them. Orphan pages create missed opportunities to engage customers and can cause your bounce rate to skyrocket. For those reasons, it’s wise to not only find any lingering on your website but to fix them as soon as possible.
Luckily, that’s exactly what you’ll learn in this blog, so you don’t have to worry about orphan pages hurting your SEO ever again. Let’s dive into the tips.
What Are Orphan Pages?
Before we go any further, let’s talk about what orphan pages are so you’ll know what you’re looking for. Because it’s likely your website probably has at least a few.
Essentially, orphan pages are pages on your website that do not link to any other page or section. That means someone who visits your website cannot access these pages without knowing the direct URL. So, if there’s high-quality, valuable content on these pages, visitors won’t be able to see it. And all that hard work you put in will be wasted.
You’ll need to keep in mind that search engines like Google discover new pages because a crawler will follow a link from another page or the crawler will find the URL in your XML sitemap. This means search engines cannot find an orphan page because it fails to meet those two criteria for crawling and indexing. And as a result, it won’t rank in search results.
Orphan Pages vs. Dead End Pages
A “dead end” page is another common term in the SEO world. However, it’s important to note that they are different from orphan pages. Pages are considered a dead-end when they don’t contain any internal or external links. This means the only way to leave the page is to exit the site or hit the “back” button. It isn’t ideal because you want to give visitors plenty of reasons to stay on your site. And it helps keep your bounce rate low.
Let this remind you that pages should have links. They need links sending traffic their way and need links directing traffic to other pages. It’s an easy way to set your site up for perfectly optimized success. If you ever see a page without a link, fix it as soon as possible!
How to Find Orphan Pages
Now that you know what orphan pages are, let’s talk about how to find them. This task will require patience and a tool to help make the process easier. Here’s how to get started:
1. Identify URLs That Can be Reached Through Crawling
This first step is going to require the use of a crawler tool. Screaming Frog is a popular option, as it helps you improve onsite optimization by identifying common SEO issues. However, there are other tools available. You may already have an SEO tool in your arsenal that can assist you here. For example, SEMrush and Ahrefs have tools to list crawled pages.
No matter which tool you use, make sure it’s set to crawl only the pages indexable by search engines. Now, you might be thinking that sounds counterintuitive. Don’t you want to find the pages that aren’t indexable by Google? Yes, you do. However, this is where you need to start.
You see, crawlers have a hard time finding orphan pages because there’s nothing linking to them. So, if you’re using an SEO tool to find them, it likely won’t yield any results. Instead, you’ll begin by getting a list of all crawlable pages, which we’ll then use for cross-referencing in an upcoming step.
2. Use Google Analytics to Obtain a List of All Site URLs
As a website owner, Google Analytics is a staple. Not only is it helpful for tracking page views and traffic sources, but it can provide tons of other valuable information as well. And today, it’s going to help you narrow down which of your website pages are deemed orphaned. You already have a list of crawlable pages. Now, you’ll need Google Analytics to give you a complete list of all your site’s URLs. It’s a good thing you don’t have to do that manually.
Odds are, there’s some amount of traffic to every page on your website, meaning there’s a record of its existence somewhere inside your Google Analytics. But with orphan pages, their page views are likely pretty low since search engines aren’t sending traffic their way.
Once inside Google Analytics, here’s what you need to do. In the sidebar, select Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. This will present you with a list of all the site pages that have received any amount of traffic. You can then sort this based on the least amount of page views. Those pages are likely orphaned since traffic is so low. Next, export this data to a Google Sheet or an Excel file.
3. Compare Both Lists of URLs
This is where things get fun, but you’ll need to have some patience to get through this step. You’ll have to spend some time comparing both URL lists you’ve just generated. Look at your Google Analytics list and cross-reference to see if each of the URLs can be found in the list of crawlable links. If the link appears in both lists, nothing needs to be done. However, if the link doesn’t appear as being crawlable by search engines, it’s most likely an orphan page.
4. Analyze the Results of the Audit
Next, you’ll want to take a moment to review each one of your website’s orphaned pages. Does the page still serve a purpose, and does it provide valuable content you’d like visitors to see? If so, you’ll want to make some changes to ensure the page can be crawled and indexed by Google and other search engines to drive traffic. We’ll cover that in the next section.
However, the longer a website exists, the more likely it is to accumulate pages that are no longer relevant. For example, you might occasionally make landing pages specifically for campaigns that run for a limited time. Once the campaign is over, it isn’t needed. Therefore, those pages can be archived since you won’t need to direct traffic to them.
How to Fix Orphan Pages
Now that you’ve found the orphan pages on your website, it’s time to fix them so they can begin ranking in search results and generating traffic. While it may seem like a challenging or tedious task, it’ll be worthwhile when your page views skyrocket as you check Google Analytics.
Here are a few tips on how to fix orphan pages:
- Link to the Page from Other Internal Pages and the Sitemap: For a page with valuable content you want your website visitors to discover, you’ll need to add some internal links that direct traffic to this page. Add links in relevant blog posts or link to it from the navigation bar on your site. Also, don’t forget to make sure it’s been added to your sitemap to increase search visibility.
- Archive the Page if It’s No Longer Needed: Sometimes, a particular web page is no longer needed, and it doesn’t serve a purpose anymore. Think: a landing page for a product or service that doesn’t exist. This is the perfect opportunity to archive that page so it won’t come up in future audits.
- Leave it Alone if Internal Linking Isn’t Required: There may be instances where you’ve deemed an orphan page necessary because you don’t want it to direct traffic to it. In that case, it’s absolutely fine to leave it alone without making any of the changes previously mentioned.
As a final tip, it’s smart to conduct audits periodically to find orphan pages that appear later because of website changes. For example, there may be times when you remove a link or delete a page linked to something else on your website. An audit will allow you to discover any pages that have been orphaned so you can easily fix them and improve your search rankings.
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