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What Are Orphan Pages - The Forgotten Pages Affecting Your SEO


Orphan pages

Having a website with high-quality content and good technical SEO is important for ranking well in search engines. However, there is one often overlooked issue that can negatively impact your site's performance - orphan pages. In this post, we’ll explore what exactly orphan pages are, the problems they can cause, how to identify them, and most importantly, how to deal with them.


What are Orphan Pages?

Orphan pages, also sometimes known as “zombie pages,” refer to any web page that exists on your site but aren’t linked to internally by other pages. This means there are no hyperlinks that allow users or search engine crawlers to discover that page organically when browsing your site.

Some common examples of orphan pages include:

  • Old content pages: Old blog posts, resources, or other content that used to be linked but navigation links may have changed over time.

  • Unlinked category or tag pages: Often the by-product of changing site architecture or removing categories.

  • Unfinished pages: Pages still under development that accidentally got indexed before completion.

  • Event pages: Pages created for a specific event that has ended, meaning links get removed afterward.

Essentially, you can classify any URL that exists on your site but has no links directing users to that page as an orphan.


Why Orphan Pages Cause Problems?

So why do we need to worry about orphan pages? Can’t we just leave them alone? Unfortunately, no. Keeping lots of orphan pages can negatively impact both your user experience and your search engine visibility. Here’s why they matter:


Hurts Internal Navigation

Site visitors want seamless, intuitive internal linking structures when browsing a website. Orphan pages essentially represent dead ends when navigating your site, meaning a poor user experience. Users that hit orphan pages are likely to quickly click back or exit your site altogether.


Wastes Crawl Budget

Search engine crawlers have a limited crawl budget when indexing sites which determines how many pages they can fetch and analyze. Orphan pages eat up this crawl budget without adding much SEO value. Any unnecessary pages just waste valuable crawl requests.


Triggers Indexing Bloat

Too many orphan pages can cause your website to become "bloated" with unnecessary indexed pages that offer little additional value. This slows down indexing speed and diverts focus from your core content.


Distributes “Link Juice” Poorly

Internal links help pass authority and signals throughout a website, informing search engines which pages offer the most value. Orphan pages often siphon off link signals without passing any downstream, leading to lower overall search visibility.

Clearly, orphan pages can have an outsized negative impact relative to their numbers. Next, let’s explore how to track them down.


Identifying Your Orphan Pages

The first step is running a full orphan page audit to locate and catalog all pages falling into this bucket. Depending on your site size, this can vary greatly but even well-structured sites likely have at least some. Here are some detection tips:


Check Your Site Architecture

Scan all main site navigation areas, content categories, link menus, archives, etc. Make note of any pages that don’t show up as linked there. Often this reveals orphaned old content.


Utilize Your Sitemap

Compare your XML sitemap against internal links to highlight pages not linked. Use crawling tools to analyze connectivity.


Search Engine Indexing Tools

Use index checkers like Moz and Ahrefs to see all pages search engines have crawled on your domain, not just what links out. Cross-reference against your internal link checks.


Review Analytics Referrals

Check Google Analytics and sort by the lowest referral sources. Pages without any upstream links won’t have any source data, making them quick to flag as orphans.


Inspect Old Resources

Check for dated content like old blogs, news articles, press releases, or event pages that used to be referenced but may not get links anymore after going stale. Running through these detection methods will help uncover an accurate orphan page list to form the basis of your management plan.


Managing Your Orphans

Once you’ve audited and located all of your site’s orphan pages, you can shift focus to developing an effective management strategy. Generally, there are only three options when deciding how to handle orphans:


Eliminate the Page

If there is truly no purpose left for those orphan URLs, permanently deleting them may be best. This removes bloat by getting rid of wholly unnecessary pages wasting crawl budget. Just make sure to either 301 redirect each URL or submit all planned deletions within Google Search Console to avoid problems.


Refresh & Relink Content

In some cases, orphaned content still holds good information worthwhile to users and search engines. You can edit these pages to freshen the content, improve messaging, and then add internal links to reintegrate the pages within site architecture.


Isolate with Noindex Tag

Adding a "no-index" page directive serves to hide orphan pages from search engines without deleting outright. This quarantines lesser priority pages. Just be wary of going overboard with no-indexing and losing authority; use strategically just for problematic orphans only. Weighing these three approaches against your specific site orphan situation will reveal the right tactics to bring orphan pages back under control.


Best Practices For Ongoing Orphan Prevention

Dealing with orphan pages just once won’t keep the problem from resurfacing again. Your website can unintentionally create new orphan pages as it grows and changes over time. Here are some ongoing best practices to prevent future recurrences:

  • Centralize Internal Linking: Standardize main site navigation links, archives, sitemaps, etc. to always stay updated with proper page connectivity. Appoint an SEO or marketing content manager accountable for monitoring this.

  • Implement Link-Building Guidelines: Create link-building protocols for content creators on linking to related website content, establishing needed connections.

  • Schedule Regular Orphan Audits: Run quarterly or bi-annual orphan detection scans using the methods referenced earlier as a check-in to stay ahead of orphan issues.

  • Monitor 404 Errors in Analytics: Review ongoing 404 logs and identify bad links triggering errors, which may signal orphaned or problematic pages on referrer end.

Building more internal link oversight ultimately allows you to minimize orphan pages long-term.


Don’t Forget Your Orphans

Orphan pages languishing away unseen might be out of sight, but they definitely shouldn't stay out of mind. Understanding what orphan pages are, identifying them across your site, and then developing management and prevention practices are critical actions if you want a truly search engine-friendly website.

So take the time to audit your overall page portfolio and reintegrate any overlooked orphans back into the fold. Both your visitors and your SEO will thank you for it in the long run through a leaner, user-friendly site.

Struggling with orphan pages or other technical SEO issues? Our team of experts at MacroHype can conduct a detailed audit of your site architecture, uncover threats to search visibility, and address problems through ongoing optimization. Click here to boost your SEO with help from MacroHype!

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