In the rush to publish more content, you end up leaving many pages without any internal links pointing to them, making it hard to users to find them. We call these orphan pages. You might be aware of this term. But are orphan pages bad for SEO?
Some orphan pages are fine, such as landing pages, job pages, and email capture pages. You probably don’t want the search engines to pick up these low-value pages. However, you do want Google and Bing to index and rank your latest product page or blog post.
So while orphan pages aren’t necessarily bad for SEO, you should treat them with care. Come with us as we explore orphan pages and their SEO impact.
What exactly are orphan pages?
Imagine launching a new product page or blog post on your website. But, you forget to add any internal links from other existing pages. In the case of a blog post, you’ve probably set up your website to display the latest posts on the blog page automatically, creating an internal link.
But your new product page might be left out in the cold alone. Unless you’re directing users to either page using social media, an email, or telling them about it, they won’t find them. We call these orphan pages.
Having multiple orphan pages that aren’t easily found, isn’t just bad for users, they make it harder for search engines to discover, index, and rank them. Of course, Google, Bing, et al, use sitemaps to discover new pages.
More importantly, they crawl your website using the existing internal links. Hence the need to build new internal links the moment you hit the publish button.
So an orphan page exists in a vacuum with the only mention of it being on the sitemap.
Are orphan pages bad for SEO?
Not necessarily. It’s come down to purpose. If you’re trying to rank every page and post that you release, having orphan pages is bad, especially if they are left orphans for a while.
However, Google and other search engines won’t penalize you for having loads of orphan pages. They will be slow to find, index, and rank pages, which isn’t a penalty but a result of not following best practice.
What causes orphan web pages?
There are plenty of reasons why you might forget to build internal links to a page or accidentally create an orphan page.
The most common reason is bad site planning. If you’re adding random pieces of content, some will be left behind. So, it’s important when you produce an outline that you include a section on where to link to and from.
Adding random content to your website also dilutes your topical authority, which is a big no if you trying to dominate the search results.
Another reason is you add a page for a certain purpose, such as an event or sale, and forget to delete it after. Having such landing pages are useful, but you need to be careful when launching and managing them.
If you haven’t properly redirected traffic from an old page to a new one, you might inadvertently create an orphan page and a 404 error. It’s important to test every 301 or 302 redirect you deploy.
Finally, if you do a lot of A/B testing, you’ll be creating multiple versions of the same page. Forgetting to delete the option you don’t go with can quickly create several orphan pages that could also be considered duplicate content.
Orphan page vs. dead-end page
Now you have a clearer idea of orphan pages, it’s worth talking about dead-end pages (DEPs). These don’t link to any internal pages on your website. As the name suggests, they lead nowhere. Imagine them as a cul-de-sac.
Unlike Orphan Pages, you can land on a DEP from different pages because they have links pointing to them from other pages in or out of your site. And yet they give the user nowhere to go, meaning most will abandon your website, pushing up your bounce rate.
As DEPs have no internal links, when search engines crawl the page, they have no else to visit and so pass no link equity (or juice) to other pages. They might even stop at that dead-end, bypassing a page you actually wanted crawled, such as your latest product page or blog post.
So, DEPs can help orphan website pages by providing internal linking opportunities. Orphan web pages will not become dead-end pages as long as they contain links pointing to other pages on your site or other websites.
If you plan to use DEP for lead capture, it might be best to no-index them, so they don’t get crawled or indexed. Doing so ensures low-value pages stay out of the index (and don’t take up your crawl budget) yet provide you with a place to collect information.
Can Google find orphan pages?
Theoretically, yes. Google and other search engines should be able to find orphan pages. Search engines start every new crawl by looking at the sitemap. So, you must keep yours up to date. Many CMS produce an updated sitemap every time you publish a new page.
However, Google may take a long time to find new pages without internal links from existing pages as it crawls your website using these relationships. Hence, you must build internal links or delete and add 301 redirects.
Finding orphan pages
Ideally, you want to fix any orphan pages quickly otherwise they might cause some serious issues. But how do you find them? Thankfully, we have a few options.
The most basic is to look at your website’s sitemaps. Can you spot any pages that shouldn’t be there or need some internal links pointing to them?
You can load your website’s analytics program and look for pages that get 10 or fewer visitors per month. It’s likely these pages could do with some internal links to stop them from being an orphan!
As an SEO pro, I love tools! Luckily, we have a few that can help us, including:
How do I fix them?
After discovering an orphan page on your website, it’s best to take action.
No-index meta tag
If you want to keep an orphan page, but don’t want it to be crawled by the search engines, use a no-index meta tag. I recommend doing this as you can always remove the tag, built some internal links, and allow the search engines to find and index it.
You’ll also want to remove the URL from your sitemap.
Should the page no longer be useful, delete it and use a 301 redirect to keep your user and Google happy. You’ll also want to remove the URL from your sitemap.
The search engines should index the new page quickly while removing the old URL. Plus, your user won’t see the dreaded 404 page, that’ll harm their experience!
Else, build internal links
Finally, if it’s a new page or one that’s become orphaned by mistake, add at least 3 internal links pointing to it from other pages on your website. Doing so will make it easy to find, both for the user and search engines. Also, ensure to include it in your sitemaps.
Can I avoid creating orphan pages?
With a solid plan in place, you can avoid creating unintentionally orphaned web pages. If you know what internal links to add from existing pages before creating a new page, you’ll be building a strong website.
One way to ensure you don’t create orphan pages is by running a Content Map as it has space to record the number of internal links pointing at each page.
Keep monitoring your website
Orphan pages may not be a massive problem. However, it’s worth checking your website for them every few months. Don’t be complacent, particularly if you want to provide a great user experience and allow the search engines to fully crawl your website.
When dealing with orphan site pages, remember:
- Don’t confuse orphan pages and dead-end pages
- Eliminating orphan pages can improve your SEO
- You can use Google Analytics or Screaming Frog to find orphan web pages.
- How you fix an orphan page will depend on the page’s purpose for your site.
- If you’re unsure, work with a professional SEO.
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