Orphan Pages & SEO: How to Find and Fix Them?

Orphaned pages are just what they sound like – web pages that are deserted, abandoned and forsaken. Orphan pages are problematic for SEO and can weaken your SEO efforts, so you probably should feel a little sad when you find them, not just because of what they’re called.

You’ve probably heard that orphan pages are bad for website performance and that they need to be fixed to avoid your SEO strategy crumbling down. But what exactly are orphaned pages? How do they occur? And most importantly, how can you find, identify and fix them? 

Time to help them find their way back home and unite them with their parent pages!

What Are Orphan Pages?

To find and visit a webpage, it needs to be clickable and discoverable. In other words, it needs internal links. Orphan pages are pages of a website that aren’t linked to other pages on the website and don’t have links pointing to them. An orphan page is, thus, in complete isolation, meaning that the only way someone can visit this page is by typing in the direct URL, as there are no internal links leading to it from elsewhere on the website.

Without links from your other website pages to a specific page, that page has no connection to the “outside world.” These pages are siloed and lack any links back to parent pages, hence the name “orphan.” However, make sure you don’t mistake an orphan page for a dead-end page – a webpage that might have incoming, but no outgoing links, thus creating a “dead end.

What Causes Orphan Pages?

Orphaned pages can happen intentionally or accidentally. Orphan pages may be intentional, as with promotional and paid advertising landing pages, specific campaigns targeting a select audience, or any instance where you do not want the page to be part of the user journey, thus creating private pages to share with specific people.

However, more often than not, pages usually end up orphaned by mistake and fall through the cracks when performing SEO checks. The most common reasons for orphan pages include:

  •       Issues with the site architecture
  •       Pages missed in a site migration
  •       Lack of updating

How Do Orphan Pages Affect SEO?

As orphan pages are web pages that do not have any hyperlinks pointing to them, they exist on your website, but no human users or search engine bots pay them any attention. Website visitors nor site crawlers will be able to find them. 

Even if orphan pages get indexed due to being linked to historically or from other sources (like XML Sitemaps or external links), having no internal links will impact their ranking and organic performance. Links communicate authority, relevancy, and quality to search engines. Without these, it’s unlikely that these pages will rank well as no link equity can be passed.

Why Orphan Pages Are Bad for SEO

The absence of links to a page means that no visitor or site crawler can access it. Search engine crawlers typically find pages either by following a link from another page or by seeing their URLs listed in your sitemap. If your page does not show up on these channels, regardless of how well-optimized the content on the page is, it’s a wasted ranking opportunity.

Orphan Pages are overall considered negative SEO because it means you’re not tapping into the page’s full potential. It leads to a frustrating user experience, poor crawl results, poor traffic, and low to non-existent PageRank. No authority is passed, and there’s no way for search engines to evaluate its relevance. If there are many pages that are orphaned, intentionally or not, this will diminish the organic search performance potential for that page and content.

Why Dealing With Orphaned Pages Is Good for Your Website

The main goal for SEO is to provide a good user experience and improve search engine visibility for relevant searches, thus ranking higher in the SERPS and driving more traffic. Having a vast number of orphan pages negatively affects these efforts.

The idea is to identify and explore the orphan pages with untapped potential, then either re-link them to the website structure or remove them entirely to reduce the continued risk of index bloat and crawl budget waste. If valuable, making orphan pages part of your site structure once again really helps improve its SEO performance. Link authority flowing from other parts of the site will help the orphan page perform and rank better.

How to Find Orphan Pages

Some pages on your website simply do not rank well — or at all. Sometimes, they don’t get any traffic even if they contain valuable and high-quality content. In this case, you’re probably dealing with orphan pages. Finding orphan pages is important because it helps to identify pages with no internal links, which can be an issue for users, as well as the discovery and indexing of the pages by search engines.

Now that you’re armed with all the information you need, it’s time to find those forgotten and abandoned pages. To fix your orphaned pages, you need to locate them first. There are several orphan page tools and methods you can use to identify what’s floating and missing during a site audit:

 

1. Check Your Site’s XML Sitemap

If you have an XML sitemap for your website, it’s a great place to start. This path is actually easy to check for Orphan pages and yet often overlooked. An XML sitemap will contain a list of all the pages on your site, and you can find it in the root directory of your website. Once you have located your sitemap file, take a look at the listed URLs. If there are any pages that aren’t linked from anywhere else on your site, they’ll be orphaned!

 

2. Use a Site Crawler / Audit Tools

If you’re using Google Analytics to track your website’s traffic, you can use it to find orphan pages as well. You can also use tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs to help you discover orphaned pages.

 

3. Compare Crawlable URLs and Analytics URLs

Once you’ve got your data sources, you’ll need to combine all the different sources –  compare the URLs found from your external data sources and the URLs found from crawling your own website. Luckily some tools can do all the heavy lifting for you, like Google Search Console, SEMrush, and Ahrefs.

If you find Orphan pages by matching them with Google Search Console & Analytics data, the significance of this discovery may be a bit greater than through the sitemap alone. If you have your server logs at hand, you can also use them to make a comparison, as they are server-side data that are exact.

How to Fix Orphan Pages

Even the best content creators and SEO experts can sometimes overlook internal linking. Anyone can miss a thing or two when it comes to SEO on-page optimization – what’s important is that it’s fixable. Fixing an orphan page can be less daunting than you might think.

Once you have gathered all the data and made a list of orphan pages on your site, it’s time to decide what to do with them. Your final verdict should depend on the purpose of each orphaned page and how it can help with your SEO goals. You don’t want to waste resources fixing something that’s not broken or is unlikely to have a positive impact. So, it all comes down to accessing which orphan pages are worth resolving and which ones should be entirely removed.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself that should help you make the right decision:

  • Is the page important? If yes, where should it exist in the sitemap? Adopt the pages into your site structure, add internal links to these pages, and make sure that they are included in your XML sitemap. If not, simply get rid of it.
  • Is the page ranking for any keywords? Does it contain useful content for your visitors? If yes, find a place for it on your website. If not, eliminate it.
  •  Is the page optimized? Does it offer a good opportunity to rank if you start fixing the missing links? If yes, keep it and optimize it. Otherwise, remove it.

How to Prevent Orphan Pages from Occurring

To avoid having orphan pages make a mess in the future, take a closer look at why and how these pages became orphaned in the first place. To combat your enemies, you need to face them. Did your team forget the page still exists instead of setting up a redirect for it? Were the products all sold out, but the product page still existed?

When you know what was the leading cause of orphan pages on your website, pay close attention to it in the future. This will benefit you in the long run by minimizing the likelihood of future orphan pages occurring.

It’s Clean-up Time!

Every part of a website can impact your SEO performance — including orphan pages.  From an SEO perspective, having orphan pages means that you may have solid and valuable content that is wasting its potential or simply hurting your SEO efforts. That’s why it’s essential to continuously monitor your website and prevent pages from falling through the cracks.

Orphan pages can present a problem for SEO, but the good news is that these issues can be quickly identified and fixed if paid attention to. So, don’t wait it out. Start searching for those orphan pages and linking them back to their parent pages to improve your visibility and ensure that your visitors don’t miss out on any valuable content on your site.