You probably already know about the importance of search engine optimization (SEO). Even with a well-planned content strategy, issues can sometimes impede your efforts. One such issue is the orphan page, a page that’s near impossible to get to from anywhere else on your site. It exists, but there is no external source leading to it. It’s a problem that not only frustrates visitors but can also impact your ranking in the SERPs.
Finding and fixing orphan pages as part of your SEO content audits can improve organic traffic to your articles or daily blog posts. The following guide teaches you how to find orphan pages on your website and fix them.
What Are Orphan Pages?
An orphan page is any post on your site with no internal links, leading to them. These pages are difficult to find on your website by both users and search engine crawlers. By adding just a single link to an orphan page, you can improve your site's SEO and overall link structure.
That doesn’t mean an orphan page is impossible to access. Visitors may stumble across it via:
- Backlinks: Another site included a link to the page on their website. Their visitors may choose to click on it, which would bring them to the orphan page.
- Organic search: The page may be ranking for specific search terms, making it visible somewhere on the SERPs.
- Email newsletters: You may have included a link to the page in a newsletter you sent to your email subscribers.
- Redirects: Another URL redirects visitors to the page.
Orphan pages are accessible; they’re just much more difficult to find. They can also be problematic for your SEO.
Orphan Pages vs. Dead-End Pages
Some people use the terms “orphan page” and “dead-end page” interchangeably. While it’s an easy assumption to make, the two types of pages have one distinct difference: Orphan pages have no links from other pages on your website, whereas dead-end pages have no links to other pages.
Both orphan pages and dead-end pages can be detrimental to your SEO efforts. Knowing the difference between the two will help you take the appropriate steps to solve the issue and get back on track.
How Do You Get an Orphan Page?
In many cases, orphan pages happen entirely by accident. Common reasons include:
- You deleted the page that linked to the orphan page.
- You haven’t archived or removed the outdated page.
- You lose track of one or more of your web pages and their connections during a site update or migration.
- You accidentally created duplicate content (similar content in multiple locations within your site).
In other cases, you make orphan pages intentionally — even if you weren’t aware of the term. For example, you might have a landing page for a specific campaign you’re running. You may have created a test page and then forgotten to remove or archive it. While you created the campaign or test page purposefully, it’s not connected to anything else on your website. Even in this case, it’s still an orphan page.
Why Are Orphan Pages Bad for SEO?
You’re likely devoting a lot of time and effort to your SEO strategy. Generally speaking, you would expect to see some progress after a while. The problem with orphan pages is that no matter how well-executed your strategy, they can derail your efforts.
Pages Might Not Get Indexed
Search engines have crawlers (spiders) that “crawl” the internet to discover new content and index it. As the crawlers scour your site, the internal links provide them with access to go page to page and collect the information.
Without any internal links leading to a page on your website, the crawlers will have a much harder time finding it. As such, it might not get indexed. That means it won’t show up in organic search results because the search engine doesn’t know it exists.
An Orphan Page Mimics a “Ghost Page”
In the world of SEO, there are white SEO and black hat SEO strategies.
- White hat SEO strategies: These are techniques approved by search engines to increase your rank in the SERPs. In essence, they’re ethical optimization methods.
- Black hat SEO strategies: These are practices that go against the search engine’s guidelines. They’re unethical or manipulative tricks to boost a page’s ranking.
Once upon a time, people would use “ghost pages” to improve keyword rankings while staying hidden from website visitors. Eventually, search engines cracked down on the practice, penalizing sites that had them.
Orphan pages look like ghost pages to search engines. Even if they’re accidental, the search engine assumes you don’t want your visitors to see them and will therefore treat them as a black hat SEO tactic.
They Lead to Crawl Wastage
Your website has what’s called a crawl budget. That’s how many pages crawlers explore and index in a given timeframe. Again, any page that doesn’t get indexed won’t rank. Orphan pages can eat up your crawl budget, keeping crawlers from getting to the high-quality content that matters.
Your User Experience Suffers
You want your site to be easy-to-use and provide a seamless, positive user experience for visitors. Orphan pages can hinder that desired experience, which can then significantly impact your SEO:
- A page that actually does rank could be providing outdated or irrelevant information.
- The page could contain essential information, but visitors will have trouble locating it if they want to return to it later.
- You might want your visitors to view a specific page, but they won’t be able to navigate to it from anywhere on your website.
Orphan pages can make for a negative user experience. Search engines would be able to take note of that and could penalize you in the SERPs.
There’s Little Authority in Orphaned Pages
Even if search engines find your orphan pages, they aren’t likely to rank very high in the SERPs. That’s because links signal quality and authority. In other words, a page that doesn’t have any links to it will have little authority in the eyes of search engines. As such, they won’t rank well on the results pages.
How to Find Orphan Pages on Your Website
Just as regular wellness visits with a physician help to keep you healthy and detect potential issues before they become severe, regular SEO audits are essential for keeping your website optimized. Part of those audits should include checking for orphan pages. Not only will that keep you from accumulating too many, but it can make dealing with them easier.
There are a few tools that you can use to identify — and subsequently fix — orphan pages within your website:
Google Analytics can help you track your website’s performance and collect visitor information:
- Analyze customer behavior.
- Monitor the success of marketing campaigns.
- See top sources of visitor traffic.
- Discover potential orphan links.
If you haven't already, you’ll need to install Google Analytics. You can get a complete list of your website’s URLs by going to “Behavior” and then selecting “Site Content” followed by “All Pages.” The “Page Views” option will provide you with a list of URLs with the least amount of views to the most. Those at the top of the list are potential orphan links.
Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider can help you identify orphan links from three sources — your XML sitemap file, Google Analytics, and Google Search Console. However, you will need to connect Analytics and Search Console to your account. Go into their respective configuration windows and make sure to check the “Crawl New URLs Discovered in Google Analytics” box under the “General” tab.
To add the XML sitemap file from your content management system, go into “Configuration” and select “Crawl Linked XML Sitemaps” under the “Crawl” tab. Then select “Crawl These Sitemaps” and provide the destination of your XML sitemap’s URL.
When you’re ready, open SEO Spider, enter your website, and click “Start.” After it finishes, select “Crawl Analysis” followed by “Configure.” Make sure the “Sitemaps,” “Analytics,” and “Console” boxes are checked. Start the Crawl Analysis to populate a list of all orphan links.
In addition to detecting orphan pages on your website, SEMRush’s Site Audit can tell you how to correct them. If it’s your first time using the tool, you’ll need to create a new project and allow Site Audit to crawl your website.
After completing the crawl, go to the “Issues” tab and then “Select an Issue.” Under the “Notices” header, you’ll be able to see if Site Audit found any orphaned sitemap pages and/or orphaned pages from Google Analytics data. You will need to connect Google Analytics to Site Audit to access this check and then wait several minutes to trigger it. The former detects pages in your sitemap files that lack incoming internal links. The latter detects pages lacking incoming links recorded in Google Analytics.
Note: The tool only checks pages recorded within the last 30 days.
Clicking on the check’s name will give you a list of affected URLs. Hovering your mouse over the “Why and How to Fix It” section offers recommendations for correcting them.
SEO Scout offers a range of tools to help you optimize your site, including internal linking analysis. It can identify pages within your site with few to no incoming internal links, which could be telling Google those pages are low-value.
Go to the “Internal Links” panel and select “Preset Filters.” You’ll see several options, including one labeled “Orphan Links.” Clicking this filter will give you a list of URLs with the fewest incoming internal links. The ones with the least — or even zero — incoming links will appear at the bottom.
Link Whisper is a WordPress plugin that can help you identify orphan pages quickly and easily.
Install it, then go to “Report” to analyze all of your website’s URLs. After completing the “Internal Links Report,” you’ll see a list of your pages, including how many inbound internal, outbound internal, and outbound external links each one has. Select “Inbound Internal Links” to view the URLs with the least inbound internal links.
The tool can also help you add new internal links on other pages that lead to the affected pages.
Yoast SEO is another WordPress plugin that can help you quickly detect orphan pages. It will collect those pages in a separate tab labeled “Orphan Content.” Selecting the tab will show you a list of the affected pages and any links leading to them. The plugin can also offer internal linking recommendations.
Note: This feature is only available with the premium version of Yoast.
How to Fix an Orphan Page
After identifying orphan pages on your website, your next step is determining how to deal with them. You have a few solutions, and the ones you choose will depend on each individual page.
If It’s a Relevant Page - Link to It from Other Relevant Pages
If the page is still relevant, you probably want your site visitors to find it — especially if it’s otherwise optimized. That includes pages without any incoming internal or external links. Incorporate it into your website’s structure by linking to it from other related pages and content. Tools like SEO Scout, Link Whisper, and Yoast can provide recommendations.
If It’s an Irrelevant Page - Delete It
If the page isn’t relevant anymore, you could delete it. Be sure to set it to return a 410 or 404 status code, too. Eventually, search engines will drop them from their indexes and stop searching for them. If the page has any incoming links from other sites, you could use a 301 status code instead. That would redirect the link to another relevant page within your website.
Another option is to archive the orphan page if you don’t want it anymore. The page — and its content — are still viewable, but it gets removed from your live site.
Fix Orphan Page Issues to Help Improve Your SEO
Even though they typically occur accidentally, orphan pages can pose significant problems for your SEO and derail your efforts. However, you can’t fix what you don’t know is wrong. That’s why routine SEO audits are so important.
SEO audits can help you detect issues, including orphan pages, periodically so that you can fix them right away. Staying on top of your efforts will minimize the time you have to spend correcting problems while also helping you ensure success.