Orphan Pages for SEO
Internal linking is critical to the well-being of a website.
Not only crawlers won’t be able to find your pages if they’re not linked anywhere (sitemaps are not enough) but the biggest issue will be having users click your pages and read them.
If users can’t find pages, either through your website or a search engine, those pages can’t convert. Period.
And SEO is all about conversions.
It goes without saying that orphan pages fail the test and they can’t be found either by search engines or users.
Therefore they can’t convert.
In this post, we explain how to find and fix orphan pages so they can begin to get you results and not lay around as extra kilobytes on your server.
What Is an Orphan Page & Why It’s an SEO Issue?
Orphan pages are pages of your website that no other page links to and that sometimes is also a dead-end page (i.e. contains no links to other pages of your website — except for, maybe, in-page jump links to subsections of the content).
That means unless they appear in the sitemap, search engine crawlers can’t find orphan pages, nor users can, and that’s a problem because you’re missing out on both search and referral traffic as well as the opportunity to use these pages for conversion.
Unless a page is an orphan on purpose (e.g. a landing page that users can only reach by subscribing to your newsletter) we don’t recommend having orphan pages on your website.
Let’s see how you can find (and fix) orphan pages on your website.
How to Find Orphan Pages on Your Website
Finding orphan pages means discovering all those pages that are like isolated nodes from your website architecture.
There are 2 methods you can use to find orphan pages on your website:
- Using ScreamingFrog (for static websites)
- Using Rank Math SEO (for WordPress)
After the discovery step, you will create a spreadsheet with a list of orphan pages to fix.
We suggest that you run this audit at least once a year (ideally every six months, especially if you have a large website) to keep your site clean of orphan pages.
To find pages with no internal links using this method, run your website through the ScreamingFrog crawler using your sitemap file, Google Search Console, and Google Analytics.
Follow this detailed guide by ScreamingFrog, which is complete with screenshots.
Basically, you will have to connect your Google Search Console and Google Analytics to your ScreamingFrog account and specify your sitemap, so the tool can compare the URLs and find the orphaned ones.
You will have to buy a ScreamingFrog license (£149/year) to run this process, as you can’t connect your Google Analytics and Google Search Console accounts with the free version of the software.
Using Rank Math SEO
As an alternative to ScreamingFrog, if you use WordPress you can install the Rank Math SEO plugin that will show you the number of incoming links and internal links per post or page.
See the example below:
Rank Math SEO shows you 3 Links icons after Keyword and Schema: a chain for internal links, a square with an arrow at the top right for outbound links, and a square with an arrow at the bottom left for inbound links.
For the “Contact Me” page in the screenshot, there are exactly 21 incoming links, so this page is not orphan at all.
With Rank Math SEO it will be easy to find out which pages and/or posts have 0 inbound links. The only downside is that there is no way to order your page by inbound link number, so you will have to manually scroll down the list of pages of your site and note down which ones have no inbound links.
Create a Spreadsheet for Orphan Pages
No matter what tool you used to find orphan pages on your website, now is the time to collect all those URLs in a spreadsheet, so you can make your fixing job easier.
Below is an example spreadsheet:
In the columns we reported URL and Title of the page, and a space for Notes where you can write down how you want to link this page, or if you want to delete or merge this page.
Naturally feel free to use this spreadsheet as a template to build your own. What matters is that you have all your orphan pages collected in one place that you can refer to when it comes to fixing them.
How to Fix Orphan Pages
There are 4 ways you can fix orphan pages:
1. Internal Links
Add internal links from other pages to this page so users and search engine crawlers can find it (and if it’s also a dead-end page, add internal links in the page so users and crawlers can move from this page to other pages).
There’s nothing wrong with linking from older pages to newer pages. Actually, it’s a good practice to improve the hierarchical structure of your website, so each node (page) is linked to similar or relevant pages as best as possible.
2. Leave As-is
Don’t make changes to the page if it’s a landing page of some sort that you don’t want linked from other pages.
It makes sense to leave it as-is in this case!
However, make sure this page is noindexed and/or blocked by robots.txt to avoid even accidental indexing through your sitemap.
If you think an orphan page no longer stands on its own feet but some of its content is still helpful, you can merge it with another page in order to create good content that both users and search engines will love.
An example may be an old post where you have some juicy statistics but the post is no longer helpful on its own; in this case, it’s a good idea to take all those statistics and add them to a newer post of higher quality that gets traffic.
Finally, you have the option to delete the orphan page from your server if you no longer have a scope for it.
For example, you may want to remove an old landing page for a product you no longer want to sell or an old blog post that doesn’t have any value for today’s users and that you don’t want crawled by search engines.
Conclusions: Find & Fix Orphan Pages for Better UX and SEO
As you could read, finding orphan pages on your website and fixing them is not too hard.
Sure, it takes some time, but the good news is that you won’t need to repeat the process more than once every six months to a year, depending on the nature and size of your website.
Definitely, fixing orphan pages is a best practice for both your UX and SEO, because you can get rid of any dead weight on your servers and only keep the content that matters, minimizing resource usage and optimizing content discovery and conversions.
In fact, the rule of thumb should be to only have pages that both users and search engines can find and use (with the obvious — few — exceptions).
Over to you:
How do you handle orphan pages on your website?
Let us know in the comments! We’re very interested in your feedback.