Last updated on: January 4, 2024 at 4:31 pm

What Are Orphan Pages or Content & How Do I Find Them?

broken link

Do you have pages with the potential for ranking and organic search traffic that aren’t part of your site structure? Or pages that aren’t supposed to be in your site structure, but Google finds them anyway?

The answer is most likely yes. It certainly is the case for the majority of websites!

These are known as orphan pages, and re-associating the good ones with your website structure helps you fully utilize their potential (as does blocking search engine bots’ access from your low-value ones!).

Are you unknowingly hosting hidden guests on your website? These uninvited visitors could be sabotaging your organic search traffic and SEO success. Intrigued? Let’s dive in!

Orphan Pages or Orphan Content: What Are They?

Orphan pages or orphan content are web pages on your site that aren’t interlinked to any other pages. It’s like they’re stranded on an island with no bridge connecting them to the mainland of your website. They’re often not indexed, leaving search engine crawlers blind to their existence.

The fallout? These pages represent missed opportunities to captivate and retain customers, thus increasing your bounce rate. We certainly don’t advocate for any actions that jeopardize your SEO success, page traffic, or revenue. Remember, for crawlers to find your pages, they need to be interlinked.

Picture your website as a spider web. If parts of it are broken, the spider (or in our case, the user) will struggle to navigate. If this happens, visitors won’t stick around on your orphan page; they’ll exit your website altogether. Hence, avoiding unlinked pages is an absolute must-do!

Don’t Let Orphan Pages Hurt Your SEO!

Orphan pages represent lost opportunities to attract and engage customers. Don’t jeopardize your SEO success due to unlinked pages. Let Linkilo help you discover and re-associate orphan pages to enhance your website structure and improve organic search traffic.

Start Optimizing with Linkilo! Unlock your website’s full potential today!

Orphan Pages VS Dead-End Pages: A Quick Comparison

Before delving into identifying orphaned content, let’s iron out any confusion between two often-muddled SEO terms: orphan and dead-end pages.

  • Orphan Page: As we’ve established, an orphan page is not linked to or reachable from any other page on the same website.
  • Dead-End Page: On the other hand, a dead-end page is a webpage that does not link to any other internal or external web pages, leading to a “dead end.”

When visitors land on a dead-end page, their only options are to hit the back button or leave the site. Similarly, when search engine crawlers reach a dead-end page, they hit a roadblock, and no link equity can be passed on. Thankfully, dead-ends can be quickly rectified by adding links to your on-page content or ensuring sidebar or footer navigation is present on every page.

The SEO Consequences of Orphan Pages

Orphan pages pose two significant SEO issues:

  1. Low Rankings & Traffic: No matter how superb your content might be, orphan pages rarely rank high in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) or attract substantial organic search traffic.
  2. Crawl Waste: Low-value orphan pages, like duplicate pages, can distract the crawl budget from your essential pages.

When orphan pages account for a large portion of the pages Google explores on your site, such as over 70%, you’re looking at a rather grave SEO predicament. So, it’s time to address those orphaned content and maximize your SEO potential!

How do I locate orphan pages on a website, and how do I fix them?

An orphan page is classified into two types:

  1. The expected orphan pages, which you should not be concerned about.
  2. You should be aware of the pages that should not be orphan pages.

Their type will determine the path you follow to repair your orphan pages. So, when we notice a significant volume of orphan pages, we first look at what they look like and whether they are expected.

Expected orphaned content: not usually a reason for worry

 After doing a site crawl and comparing it to your server log files, to find pages Google can find but aren’t in your site structure, you can click on “found by Google” to receive a list of all your orphan pages.

Many of these orphan pages will be generated by:

1. Pages do not already exist on your site but are linked to another site. You usually receive an external link to a page, which you then remove or redirect. Google will still detect the old link because it exists on the other website.

How to fix: since you have no control over the links on other websites, the only option to resolve this type of orphaned content is to contact the site owner and request that they update the page to the correct new location.

2. Pages that return non- 200 status codes. Google may continue to crawl pages that produce 4xx status codes even after being updated on your site.

How to fix: Google will eventually stop crawling these pages. There is nothing to be concerned about.

3. Expired pages: This is prevalent on websites with many short-lived pages, such as classified ads, that expire quickly.

How to fix: We should only be concerned about expired pages discovered by Google if they have been orphaned for an extended period. Otherwise, the number of orphan pages indicates the website’s page rotation rate and should be considered food for thought.

Unexpected orphan pages: cause for concern?

1. Expired pages still returning content. Some websites stop linking to expired material (such as products withdrawn from the catalog) and fail to return a status code (such as HTTP 404 or 410), indicating that the content is no longer available. As a result, the previous page is still accessible.

How to fix: In addition to eliminating links to expired material, ensure that the expired page is updated with the correct status code. Make sure to 404 or 410 the content if it is no longer available.

2. Pages left out of a previous site migration: These are pages not redirected; thus, old content may still be visible.

How to Repair: If your new website contains similar material, you should redirect these old URLs to it. If there isn’t, these outdated/omitted pages should produce a 404 or 410 status code.

3. A syntax error while building sitemaps: This results in incorrect URLs that can still return content and create duplicates or HTTP errors.

How to fix: If you discover incorrect URLs caused by a syntax problem, work with your development team to find a solution.

4. A syntax error occurred while creating canonical tags, resulting in incorrect URLs. These URLs could be serving status codes 200 OK or error codes.

How to fix: If you discover incorrect URLs caused by a syntax problem, work with your development team to find a solution.

5. Important, high-quality pages that aren’t linked in your website structure. Some websites use navigation pages (content lists like category pages or internal search result pages) that are only linked if one or more criteria are met.

How to fix: The correct technique is to decide when a page no longer meets your business criteria to be a target for organic traffic and then remove it once and for all: remove links and return HTTP 404 or 410. Until that time, it should be linked to someplace on the website.

1. Get a complete list of all of your current website pages.

Using your favorite website audit tool solution and expecting it to find orphan site pages will not work because orphan pages, by definition, are not connected to any domain page. The crawler will never discover them. Instead, you must specify the entire list of site URLs to be examined by the crawler. There are several methods for obtaining the URL list:

Use your sitemap file

The sitemap is a file normally placed at the root of your domain to assist search engine bots in understanding your site’s content, like how frequently it is updated and how to display your material on search engine results pages effectively, or SERPs.

Obtain a list of site URLs

If a sitemap isn’t an option – for example, if the sitemap doesn’t include the entire page list – you can construct the list from your CMS. Installing a lightweight plugin, such as List URLs, on WordPress, for example, allows you to export a list of site URLs as a CSV file.

Or, using our link audit tool, you can go to the main Summary section and quickly identify any orphaned content on your site.

Google Analytics

If your web pages have Google Analytics installed, your Google Analytics data may be the ideal location to look for orphan pages on your website.

Start by compiling a detailed list of URLs on your site, which can be found on the left sidebar of your Google Analytics account. Click on “Behavior,” select “Site Content,” and finally, click on “All Pages.”

Because orphan pages are notoriously difficult to locate, it’s safe to assume that the number of times your target audience has visited them is comparatively low.

So, in your Google Analytics tool, click on “Pageviews” so the arrow points upward, and the tool will provide a list of your site URLs from least viewed to most viewed, moving OPs to the top of the list.

 To make your list comprehensive, set the date range – situated in the top right of Google Analytics – and set the date to when you started building your website to ensure that your list is as thorough as possible. Then, press the “Apply” button:

Next, expand the URL list by clicking on “Show rows” in the bottom right and selecting 5 000 from the dropdown menu:

Of course, if you have more than 5,000 web pages, you will have to export per batch until you get all Google Analytics visits data for your complete website.

However, because you will be searching for orphan web pages from least to most visited, your list will most probably include all orphan pages in only a few batches.

Once you’ve loaded all your URLs, click “EXPORT” in the top right-hand corner of Google Analytics and choose “Google Sheets” or any other file format you’re comfortable exporting your list.

After you’ve imported your URL data, it’s time to search for orphaned website pages.

You can discover and address any orphan pages on your site using a simple 5-step process:

  • Get a full list of your current website pages.
  • Run a website crawl for pages with zero internal inbound links
  • Analyze the audit results
  • Resolve any orphan page found
  • Rerun the audit periodically to catch new unlinked pages

Let’s take a quick look at each of these processes.

2. Run a website crawl for sites with no internal links

Set up the audit rule to catch pages that lack at least an inbound internal link to identify orphan pages. Set up a recurring crawl while configuring the audit to catch new unlinked pages in the future. It’s worth noting that if you depend on a URL list, you’ll need to acquire an updated list from your CMS.

3. Analyze the audit results

Analyze visits, traffic sources, page views, and entry and exit behaviors using your web analytics solution. In the sample below, we have a sample of a campaign page assisting traffic acquisition for a set period. When the campaign is over, the page no longer draws traffic and can be taken down.

4. Resolve any orphan Content Discovered

Once you understand the orphan page’s function and how it contributes to your website’s marketing goals, you may decide what action, if any, to take with the page:

  • Link to it from other internal pages if site visitors must find it via browsing
  • Archive it if it’s no longer needed
  • Leave it as-is if it’s serving a business need that doesn’t require internal linking to the page.

Two frequent reasons for orphan pages should be addressed and resolved as soon as possible.

These causes are page duplicates that should always redirect to the same URL.

If they don’t, certain versions of the page are likely to be orphaned because they aren’t linked.

The fact that they are orphans isn’t the main issue in this situation; it’s the fact that they are duplicates.

These may come up later while searching for orphaned content and must be dealt with, so it’s a smart option to get them out of the way before they do.

Non-Canonical www/non-www or HTTPS/HTTP 

Every public page on your site should generally use HTTP or HTTPS (preferably HTTPS) consistently and www or non-www consistently.

To see if this is the case, enter all of the following variations of your site’s homepage into your browser:

https://www.example.com
http://www.example.com
https://example.com
http://example.com

All four versions should immediately lead to the same URL.

That page should be canonical to itself for consistency.

If one of these versions fails to redirect successfully, it may hint at larger issues on the site.

Examine other URLs with that variation to see if it’s a more prevalent problem.

You should test a couple more pages on your site and verify your site’s.htaccess file to ensure that redirections for these are properly configured.

Here’s how to force HTTPS in. htaccess. If you do this, ensure that every page on your site supports SSL, or your users may see a scary browser warning.

Here’s how to force www or non-www. Check once more that this will not cause any server issues.

Trailing Slashes

Another issue to keep an eye out for is the regular employment of trailing slashes.

These two URLs, for example, may deliver the same content, but they are not identical:

https://example.com/page1/
https://example.com/page1

Examine a few pages on your site, both with and without the trailing slash, to ensure that they automatically redirect to the same URL and do so consistently.

Check that this is set up properly in .htaccess.

Here’s how to force a trailing slash in. htaccess, 

5. Rerun the audit periodically to catch new orphan pages.

Since pages can become orphaned over time – by adding new content and failing to link to it or mistakenly removing links to pages buried deep in the site hierarchy – it is critical to review the site regularly for new issues. As previously stated, you may enable Linkilo to rerun your audit regularly by scheduling a crawl,

The fastest way to find orphan pages on WordPress

If you use WordPress for your CMS, our Orphan Page Tool and Reporting can find orphan pages within seconds!

All you have to do is go to Linkilo>>Summary, and in the general statistics section, you can find orphaned content on your site:

How to avoid having orphan pages

You don’t want to remove old postings to keep their SEO trust. At the same time, you want the old content to be client-facing; rather than converting them to Orphan Pages, it is preferable to link them elsewhere on the website.

What to do with unwanted pages

Putting non-client-facing pages in the footer has proven to be a smart strategy. Contact Us,  Privacy Policy, and other sections are frequently in the site footer.

Click here to learn more about how many internal links you should have on each page.

This assures that the link appears on every page of the website, but users rarely, if ever, notice the footer.

Furthermore, an archive homepage can be built, displaying all undesired portions of the website and links, similar to a regular HTML sitemap page. Orphan Pages are avoided this way, while current pages continue to acquire SEO trust.

Important takeaways

Remember that while orphan pages may not be a major issue,  you should not be careless and leave your web pages alone if you want to deliver a pleasant user experience to your site visitors and enable search engines to index the most significant pages on your website.

So, when managing orphan web pages, keep the following in mind:

  • Eliminating orphaned content can improve your SEO. 
  • Do not confuse orphan pages and dead-end pages.
  • When identifying your orphan, you can use other tools, such as Google Search Console, Raven Tools, SEMrush, Moz,  Link Explorer, and Ahrefs.
  • You can use Google Analytics to find orphan web pages.

If you currently have a WordPress site, It is best to use our WordPress Plugin to fix your orphan pages quickly. Or you can use any SEO Audit tool to help identify orphaned content or consult an SEO expert for the best advice.

Ready to Say Goodbye to Orphan Pages?

Take control of your site structure and eliminate orphan pages with Linkilo. Our innovative tool is designed to optimize your internal linking strategy, allowing search engine crawlers to find your valuable content and boosting your SEO performance.

Get Started with Linkilo! Enhance your website’s visibility and engagement!
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jay kang

An entrepreneur and SEO expert, is the driving force behind innovative platforms like linkilo.co, productreview.tools and more. Committed to empowering marketers, Jay continues to make a positive impact in the digital marketing space.

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