Technical SEO

Orphan Pages: How to Find and Fix Them

October 13, 2021

Orphan pages are often overlooked in SEO, but they can be a big help in improving your site’s SEO performance.

In this article you’ll learn what orphan pages are, why they matter, how to find them and how to adopt them into your site structure for a winning SEO strategy.

What are orphan pages?

Orphan pages are indexable pages that have no internal links. This means there are no links to this page from anywhere on your site, and as such, orphan pages live outside the site structure.

Without internal links, orphan pages can’t be accessed from anywhere on your site. This makes it much harder to find these pages, but not impossible.

Orphan pages can still be accessed a couple of ways. One is through referrals, for example if another site links to it, or if the page is linked to from a newsletter. Another is via organic search, if the page is ranking for certain queries. Then also through redirects, in the case that other URLs are redirected to these pages.

So while it’s still possible to find and access orphan pages, it’s not an easy task. Users generally cannot get to these pages very easily, and neither can search engines — which in short, is not good for your site. We’ll dive into this more below.

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Why are orphan pages bad for SEO?

For most sites, orphan pages are a missed opportunity. Here’s why:

  1. Orphan pages might not be indexed (anymore)
  2. Orphan pages can take up a lot of crawl budget
  3. Orphan pages generally don’t perform well
  4. Orphan pages can hurt user experience

Orphan pages might not be indexed (anymore)

If a page has no links pointing to it anymore, it's going to have very little page authority and search engines may decide to just drop it from the index altogether.

Pages that aren't indexed don't rank, and in turn don't generate any organic traffic.

Orphan pages can take up a lot of crawl budget

Having large amounts of low-value orphan pages can take up precious crawl budget, which could go towards crawling your more important pages and new content on your site. So, these orphan pages could be holding back your SEO performance!

Orphan pages generally don’t perform well

Even if they are found and indexed by search engines, orphan pages generally don’t perform well.

Links communicate to search engines authority, relevancy, and quality. Without this, pages will have little page authority and it’s unlikely that they will rank well.

Making orphan pages part of your site structure (again) really helps you in improving their SEO performance. Link authority flowing from other parts of the site will help the orphan page perform better. And if the orphan page has a trimmed down navigation menu (e.g. if it is a landing page or campaign page), adding in that navigation will improve the performance of other pages too.

Orphan pages can hurt user experience

Orphan pages don’t provide the ideal user experience.

If found organically by users, the page could have outdated content such as a past event or sale that expired. Or if the page still has useful content, and the user wants to come back to it at a later time, they’ll have difficulty finding it again.

And of course, if this is a page you want users to find and go to, they won’t be able to get to it from anywhere else on the site.

Either way, this makes it a challenge and hurts the user experience.

Common reasons orphan pages exist

In some cases, it’s completely normal to have non-indexable orphan pages — such as for a PPC landing page or for a specific campaign targeting a select audience.

But in other cases, orphan pages exist by mistake and fall through the cracks when it comes to SEO checks. Some common reasons for orphan pages include:

  • Poor housekeeping
    Removing the page that linked to the orphan page.

  • Trouble tracking
    If your team is regularly updating your site and doing site migrations, you can lose track of pages and where they are linked.

  • Lack of updating
    Keeping outdated campaign or landing pages after they are needed — such as past event pages, discontinued product pages, and limited time sales — and not moving to another part of the site, like an archive page.

Are orphan pages hurting your SEO performance?

Run a quick check with ContentKing to see what can be improved and be alerted to any issues in real-time.

How to quickly find orphan pages

Since ContentKing monitors your website over time (rather than taking snapshots) — you can easily find orphan pages because the platform will still track pages, despite them not having any links. ContentKing keeps a log on everything that goes on on your site it monitors before and after statuses.

Here's how to find the orphan pages with ContentKing:

  1. Log onto ContentKing
  2. Click to the Pages overview
  3. Go to the Type column and only select Page filter
  4. Next, go to the Indexable column and select Yes filter
  5. Then go to the Linked column and select No filter

If you haven’t been monitoring your site with ContentKing, you can still hunt down orphan pages. Here’s how:

  1. Export & Cross Reference: Export a list of known pages from ContentKing or a legacy crawler and cross-reference that with Google Analytics and Google Search Console data using a VLOOKUP in Excel or Google Sheets. Pages that occur in the Google Analytics and Google Search Console dataset, but don't occur in your exported list of known pages are your orphan pages.
  2. Log File Analysis: Export a list of all requested URLs, and then filter out non-page URLs, non-indexable pages and pages without internal links. Again, you'll need a monitoring solution like ContentKing or a legacy crawler to determine whether pages are non-indexable and have internal links. The list of URLs you're left with are the orphan pages on your site.

How to fix orphan pages

Once you find the orphan pages on your site, it’s time to decide what to do with them.

Start with determining if these orphan pages still serve a purpose.

If the answer is yes, adopt them into site structure

Adopt the pages into your site structure. Add internal links to these pages, and make sure that they are included in your XML sitemap as well.

If the answer is no, check if they carry value

If the answer is no, you will want to check if they have value and can help your site rather than just getting rid of them. Look at the following:

  • Are these pages getting (organic) traffic?
  • Do these pages have external links pointing to them?
  • Do these contain useful content for your visitors?

If the answer to all of these questions is no, then get rid of them.

If the answer to at least one of these questions is yes, then 301-redirect to the most relevant alternative page.

Value of ongoing monitoring

Every part of a site can have an impact on your SEO performance — including orphan pages.

That’s why it’s important to continuously monitor your site, so something like this doesn't fall through the cracks. Finding and optimizing orphan pages helps improve your visibility and ensures that customers won’t be missing out on any worthwhile content on your site.

FAQs

Can Google find orphan pages?

That depends on whether the pages are included in the XML sitemap, and whether there are any other references such as incoming canonicals, redirects and hreflang pointing to the orphan pages. If they are included in the XML sitemap, and/or there are any such references then it's likely Google can find the orphan page.

That's not to say Google will index the pages. If Google doesn't consider the pages to be imporant enough, they may choose not to index them.

Do orphan pages hurt SEO?

Yes, and there are several reasons why. Firstly, you may have orphan pages with great content that may not be indexed anymore. If they're not indexed, they're not ranking for anything — a big missed opportunity there! Secondly, orphan pages can still take up crawl budget and hurt your overall user experience.

ContentKing Academy Content Team

Jessica is a content marketer for ContentKing. Her days are spent writing marketing content, cycling around canals in Amsterdam and attempting to master the Dutch language.

Steven is ContentKing's VP of Community. This means he's involved in everything community and content marketing related. Right where he wants to be. He gets a huge kick out of letting websites rank and loves to talk SEO, content marketing and growth.