Sometimes you have to look hard to find something on the Internet. Maybe it’s a specific service you need, a business, or a gift for your parents. Whatever it is, there needs to be a link to it for you to find it.

The Internet works by that simple logic—interconnected things in a worldwide network. To visit a website, at some point, a link existed pointing to the page you’re looking to navigate to. 

Consider a search engine as part of the equation. You can enter in a keyword or two and find a landing page related to the page you’re looking for. Or you might get a direct link from an external source, like from a friend’s email. Linking is what allows us to reach our digital destination. 

So, what happens when there’s a page you need to reach, but there’s nothing linking to it? What happens to a website that has these types of pages, and how does it impact SEO? Let’s start with what these pages are called: orphan pages. Now, let’s dig deeper into what are orphaned page characteristics and why these pages matter to your SEO and content strategy.

What are orphaned pages?

Orphan pages are pages of a website where no link is leading to it. An orphan page is in complete isolation in this way, meaning that the only way someone can visit this page is by typing in the direct link. 

There’s no search engine result in many cases because search crawlers travel websites via links to compile an index of what each website looks like.

Without links from your other website pages to a certain page, that page has no connection to the outside world. When people are browsing your site, there’s no way for them to get to the page. Thus, the name orphan since these pages are siloed and lack any link back to parent pages.

Common characteristics of orphan pages

Here are some common characteristics to help you understand and find orphan pages on your site.

An orphan page has no inbound links

This is the defining trait of an orphan page. If your page has even one inbound link, whether it’s from the homepage or on an old blog post, your page is not an orphan. That said, if you have pages on site that only have one link pointing to them, you may want to consider strengthening your internal linking and adding a few more.

An orphan page is a live page

Sandboxing, test pages, and the like may be characterized by some of the traits of an orphan page, but the key difference is that a true orphan page is a page that has value for users and is live, just unreachable. Despite it having a 200 server status, the fact that users have no way to navigate to it is part of the problem in orphan pages.

A page may be an orphan even if it’s indexed or a tool says it’s not

This is the trait that’s most difficult to verify as it requires some investigative effort. While some pages that are found and categorized as orphan pages turn out to be just that, some may be categorized this way due to the inaccurate methods of some tools. This can happen especially when a tracking tool like Google Analytics (GA) or Google Search Console (GSC) ignores certain indicators that a page really does have an inbound link. Google Ads that execute without specific URL parameters can be one cause of this.

Orphan pages and the missing link

Internal linking is key for any website because it’s one of the main ways that users navigate your site and find related pages, it keeps users engaged (rather than exiting the site and going elsewhere), and it directs users to the next step in the buyer’s journey.

How internal linking can prevent orphan pages

With effective linking, you improve the chances of every page throughout your website being reachable (and therefore, lower the likelihood of orphan page instances).

Internal linking is also a critical factor of an effective SEO strategy because it: 

  • Defines website architecture and hierarchy. Typically, the most authoritative pages on your website will have the most internal links.
  • Distributes page authority throughout the website. Internal links pass link authority from the source page to the destination page. If the source (let’s say it’s a solution page) has high authority, internal links from that page will pass authority on to the destination (maybe it’s an asset page).
  • Helps you rank for keywords. The anchor text of an internal link sends a signal to search engines that the destination URL is topically relevant to searches for that anchor text.
  • Helps differentiate two topically similar pages. A search engine might have trouble detecting the topical difference between fruit jam and a door jam. However, an internal link with optimized anchor text can help the search engine understand the difference and rank the target pages accordingly.

Best practices for internal linking so all pages are reachable

There are a few best practices you can follow to ensure your internal linking strategy is set up for success. Here are the ones we recommend. 

best practices for internal linking SEO
  • Optimize anchor text for your primary keyword target. Identify the primary keyword you want a given page to rank for—some pages will have the same primary keyword. Use that keyword or some variation of it in the anchor text to link from one page to the page you want to rank. This will keep it from being orphaned, along with helping search engines contextually understand what the page is about.
  • Link deep in your website hierarchy. Don’t just link to navigation and top-level pages since those pages will already have plenty of internal links. For effective internal linking to all pieces of your website, link to pages deep within the architecture, so every page is connected in some way and accessible to users. 
  • Internal links should read naturally and not be overly optimized. Don’t stuff keywords in anchor text phrases. Vary your anchor text when possible so you’re not using the same keywords everywhere and keep it condensed to a few words. 
  • Link to the most relevant content. If there’s a relevant page or piece of content that topically overlaps with the source context, link to that page.
  • Use rel=follow links. Follow links ensure that authority flows freely across pages throughout your website. A stray “no follow” link could prevent crawlers from getting to the page and any pages that are linked within it, potentially resulting in an orphan instance.
  • Use a reasonable number of internal links per page. There’s no set number of internal links you should have on a given page, so link in a natural manner and use your best judgment. A good rule of thumb to follow is no more than one link for every 100 words.
  • Use static HTML absolute URLs. Links within Java, JavaScript, Flash, or other plugins are typically inaccessible by crawlers, and therefore ineffective for SEO. Instead, use static <a href> links. Absolute URLs are more useful than relative URLs (e.g., https://www.conductor.com/platform/overview/ instead of /platform/overview/) because they ensure that search engines pass link authority to the correct URL in the preferred URL format.

How to find orphan pages

There are some places where orphan pages may be identified but aren’t necessary to seek out. This includes, for example, 404 and other 400 status pages. 

Have you ever clicked on a link only to find it leads nowhere with a “not found” error? This is common and can be a source of orphan pages. However, these are eventually resolved by search engines as something that’s not considered a permanent orphan page. So, you don’t need to do anything in a case like this as it won’t harm your ranking ability.

But there are cases where you’ll need to take action, and that’s where tools come in handy to help you find orphan pages are on your site.

Using Google Analytics or Google Search Console to find orphan pages

Believe it or not, it is possible to measure traffic to an orphan page, even without it being crawled by search engines. 

One way to do so is by turning to Google Analytics to identify all pages on your site that have recorded a page view. If Google Analytics tracking code has been placed throughout your entire website, everything is tracked when users hit any URL—orphan or not. 

Steps for finding orphan pages via Google Analytics:

  1. Go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages.
  2. Change the date range to go as far back in time as possible, which will show you all URLs that have ever been visited by a user.
  3. Export the entire list of URLs.
  4. Upload the list to a crawling tool, like Lumar, and run a crawl.
  5. When the crawl is finished, go to Links > Internal Links > Unique Internal Links. This shows you all the internal links throughout your site as a whole. 
  6. Then, to identify which pages are orphans, re-run the crawl in Lumar without Google Analytics integrated. If there’s a URL that showed up in the Google Analytics export, but not in the Lumar Unique Internal Links list, it’s an orphan page.

Steps for finding orphan pages via Google Search Console:

  1. Go to Performance > Pages.
  2. Make sure that Impressions are included in the presented data.
  3. Change the date range to go as far back in time as possible, which will show you all URLs that have garnered an impression in search results during that time frame.
  4. Export the entire list of URLs.
  5. Upload the list to a crawling tool, like Lumar, and run a crawl.
  6. When the crawl is finished, go to Links > Internal Links > Unique Internal Links. This shows you all the internal links throughout your site as a whole. 
  7. Then, to identify which pages are orphans, re-run the crawl in Lumar without Google Search Console integrated. If there’s a URL that showed up in the Google Search Console list, but not in the Lumar Unique Internal Links list, it’s an orphan page.

How to fix orphan pages

So, you’ve found the orphan pages you need to fix. But before you can fix them, consider addressing why these pages became orphans to begin with so the issue doesn’t happen again. For example, did your content team forget the page still exists instead of setting up a redirect for it? Taking this step now to identify and implement guidelines for redirects and internal linking will benefit you in the future by minimizing the likelihood of future orphan instances. But let’s get back to how to fix these pages.

Resurrecting an orphan page

This solution is an easy one. When you want an orphan page to be found and visited, all you need to do is create an internal link to it from another page on your website. You could also accomplish this with a link to the page from another website but linking from within your own is easiest and better for search engine crawlers and indexing. What really matters is that you create an opportunity for the page to be found by search crawlers and users.

Fixing an unnecessary orphan page

There are multiple ways to go about fixing the issue of an unwanted orphan page, meaning you don’t want the page to exist. One option is to archive the page. In this case, the page and its information are still viewable, but it’s no longer part of the live site—much like when an internal corporate document no longer in circulation is archived for the business’s posterity.

Another method is setting up a redirect of the URL to a new location—ideally a relevant equivalent page or the folder/directory it lived in. Search crawlers and users that come across it will be redirected to a page that you want them to see (and crawlers will index it accordingly).

The impact of orphan pages on SEO

The main reason orphan pages need to be fixed will depend on your goals. If you decide that the orphan page is valuable, then it needs to be accessible and usable. If, however, you decide the page isn’t valuable, then the reason for fixing is more complicated.

Bad pages affect SEO and your ability to rank

If a page doesn’t have any links pointing to it, search engines will assume it’s not important. What’s more, unusable pages are a waste of server space and crawling budget. 

Search engines don’t like when a page exists on a website with no relation to other pages. In the past, people attempted to hide pages like this from users (but not the search engines) via black hat SEO strategies that violate search guidelines.

Archive, noindex, or redirect orphan pages to ensure they can’t influence your page rankings or link health.

Useful orphan pages also affect SEO

While the unwanted orphan pages have their own effect on SEO, so do the orphans that are meant to be useful.

Orphan pages without inbound links endanger the site as a whole. Link health is one of the many factors used to rank websites and is a foundation of SEO. Without search engines determining the good and bad from each site on the web, there’d be little value in the ranking system. Site relevance would cease to matter. 

An orphan page that is valuable to users is also a missed opportunity to bring visitors to your site. You’re missing out on potential rankings, traffic, and conversions AKA revenue. 

Now, you know the ins and outs of what orphan pages are, how to find them, and—most importantly—how to fix them. 

If you’re looking to elevate your content strategy, enhance your SEO, and drive more organic traffic to your site, check out the 3-minute Conductor platform product tour. It only takes three minutes to prove how impactful this SEO enterprise technology can be (and how much time it will save you and your team). 

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