Have you ever heard the term “orphan pages” in the context of SEO? If not, you’re not alone. While orphan pages might not be the most talked-about topic in the world of search engine optimisation (SEO), they can have a significant impact on your website’s ranking and traffic.

In this blog post, we will define orphan pages, explain why they matter, and explore strategies to prevent them from affecting your site’s SEO.

What are Orphan Pages?

An orphan page is a web page that exists on a website but is not linked to or from any other page on the site. This means that search engines can’t find or crawl the page and that users can’t navigate to the page unless they have the URL.

Orphan pages are similar to islands in the middle of the ocean. They exist, but they’re not connected to anything else, and no one knows they’re there.

How Orphan Pages Get Created

There are a few common ways that orphan pages tend to get created on websites:

1. Accidental/Legacy Orphan Pages

Sometimes, orphan pages are created accidentally or are legacy pages that have simply been forgotten about over time. For example, an old blog page or article that was linked to from the site navigation in the past but then wasn’t migrated or properly redirected when the site was redesigned. These pages may have had decent traffic at one point but then were orphaned unintentionally.

2. Orphaned Due to Site Redesigns

One of the biggest culprits of creating orphan pages is site redesigns and URL structure changes. When the information architecture of a site gets changed significantly during a redesign, pages often get left behind and overlooked. Any pages that were removed from the main site navigation or footer links have the potential to become orphaned if not properly handled with 301 redirects.

3. Pages with Thin Content 

Pages that were created with very thin, low-quality content are also at risk of becoming orphaned over time. Often, these pages were created in an attempt to target specific keywords, but if they haven’t gained any real links or traffic, they can easily get forgotten about as sites change and grow. These types of pages provide very little value and are unlikely to be linked internally or externally. They become orphaned due to their poor content quality, not because they were removed during a redesign.

Here’s a breakdown of the common examples of orphan pages:

  • Outdated campaign pages 
  • Old product pages for discontinued items
  • Duplicate or scraped pages created by site platform issues  
  • Auto-generated category, tag, author, or date pages  
  • Test or placeholder pages that remained live
  • Pages created for backlink building that lack real content

Orphan pages are problematic for both user experience and SEO if left unaddressed. They clutter up search results and create dead ends that offer no value for site visitors.

The Problems with Having Orphan Pages

Orphan pages can negatively impact your site in a few key ways:

1. Lower site authority

Orphan pages often have low-quality content and a lack of backlinks pointing to them. This drags down the overall authority and trustworthiness of your domain. Google wants to see sites that are well-structured with pages that are meaningfully interconnected. Orphans break up that structure.

2. User experience issues 

Orphan pages lead to dead ends for users. When people land on pages with minimal content and no way to navigate deeper into your site, they will quickly hit the back button and go elsewhere. This leads to bounce backs and hurts user engagement metrics.

3. SEO Problems

Here are some of the SEO problems you may encounter with orphan pages: 

  • Orphan pages may be focused on outdated topics or keywords that distract from your current optimisation goals. This can dilute rankings.
  • Google will penalise thin content pages meant purely to rank for specific terms. Orphans often fall into this low-value category.
  • The lack of internal links to orphans keeps their rankings low. And they won’t be passing page authority signals to other connected pages on your site.
  • Orphans that rank for competitive keywords essentially steal that traffic from better pages on your site. You want to consolidate ranking power, not dilute it.

By removing or redirecting orphan pages, you ensure Google only indexes and ranks your best content. This leads to higher click-through rates and more qualified visitors over time.

How to Identify Orphan Pages on Your Site

There are a few key ways to identify orphan pages on your website:

Using Site Analytics

Check your site analytics and look for pages that are getting little to no traffic over an extended period of time. Pages with very low visit counts are more likely to be orphaned. Prioritise investigating pages with 0 visits in your analytics reports.

Crawl Reports 

Use a crawl report from a tool like Screaming Frog to analyse your site’s structure. Look for pages that are not linked internally. A page with no backlinks and low authority is likely an orphan.

Link Analysis

Conduct a link analysis to spot pages that have no external or internal links pointing to them. Pages that are not well connected through links have a higher chance of being orphaned.

Checking inbound links, site analytics, and crawl reports together will give you a good view of potential orphan pages. Focus on pages that repeatedly show up as disconnected across these methods. With a multi-pronged approach, you can accurately identify orphaned pages that need attention.

Redirecting Versus Deleting Orphan Pages

Once you’ve identified orphan pages on your site, you’ll need to decide whether to redirect them or delete them entirely. There are pros and cons to each approach:

Pros of Redirecting Orphan Pages

  • Redirecting (301 permanent redirect) passes on link equity and authority to new pages. This retains any SEO value from existing backlinks.
  • It avoids “Page Not Found” user experience. Redirects send users and bots seamlessly to a relevant alternative page.
  • Redirects tell search engines the new location for that content. This helps avoid temporary drops in rankings.

Cons of Redirecting Orphan Pages 

  • Too many redirects can create a convoluted site architecture over time.
  • Redirect chains, where pages redirect multiple times, can degrade user experience.
  • Redirects still take a small amount of server resources versus deleting entirely.

When to Delete Orphan Pages

Deleting pages completely makes sense when:

  • The orphan page has no quality backlinks or authority to retain.
  • The content is outdated, irrelevant, or duplicative.
  • There is no reasonable page on the site to redirect it to.
  • The orphan page was created by a previous site owner or for spamming.

How to Prevent Future Orphan Pages

Orphan pages often arise due to a lack of planning and oversight. Here are some ways to prevent creating new orphan pages going forward:

Conduct Regular Content Audits

A content audit examines all the pages on your site to evaluate relevance, quality, and performance. As part of the audit, identify pages that could potentially become orphaned in the future. Look for pages with thin content, low engagement metrics, and a lack of inbound links. Consider consolidating or refreshing these pages to strengthen their position within your site’s structure.

Improve Internal Link Building 

Links between related pages on your own site help define information hierarchies and webpage relationships. Make sure new pages are linked to relevant pages. When creating content, actively look for opportunities to add internal links pointing to supporting content. This interconnectivity ensures pages don’t become siloed and orphaned over time.

Plan Site Architecture Changes Carefully

Major site architecture changes like category mergers, URL migrations, or IA redesigns require mapping out link flows and redirects to prevent new orphans. Make a plan to redirect old URLs to appropriate new landing pages. Implement 301 redirects to pass on link equity and ranking signals while alerting bots and users about URL changes. Inform internal teams and external content producers about URL path updates they may need to implement in the future.

How to Use Orphan Pages to Your Advantage

While orphan pages can negatively impact SEO if left unchecked, they also present opportunities. With some strategic effort, you can transform orphan pages into beneficial assets. Here are a couple of ways to take advantage of orphan pages:

Turn into Resources or Landing Pages

Instead of deleting or redirecting orphan pages, consider reworking them into dedicated resources or landing pages. For example, an orphan blog post could become a focused guide on that topic, with additional information, visuals, and examples. 

Or you could expand a thin, low-value orphan page into a robust landing page with lead generation and calls-to-action. Adding forms, offers, and upgraded design can help drive conversions from orphan pages.

Improve Thin Content 

If orphan pages contain some helpful information but lack depth, use it as a starting point. Go beyond surface-level content by expanding details, adding stats and data, incorporating multimedia, linking to authority sources, etc. 

Improving thin orphan pages with useful, comprehensive information can make them worth keeping. Plus, you’ll benefit by having that enriched content on your site.

The key is identifying orphan pages with potential and dedicating time to optimise them. With strategic effort, you can transform orphan pages from liabilities to assets.

Tools to Identify and Manage Orphan Pages

Orphan pages can be difficult to identify manually, especially if you have a large website. Thankfully, there are some handy tools available to help find and manage orphan pages:

SEO Crawlers

SEO crawlers like Screaming Frog or DeepCrawl will crawl your site and provide detailed reports on orphan pages and other issues. They can identify pages with thin content, low engagement, or that aren’t linked internally. This allows you to see which pages are potentially orphaned quickly.

Link Analysers 

Link analysis tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush provide visibility into your external and internal links. You can use them to identify pages that don’t have any backlinks pointing to them, which may indicate they are orphaned. They also help you find broken links that may be leading to orphan pages.

Redirect Plugins

There are WordPress plugins like Redirection and Simple 301 Redirects that make it easy to set up redirects for orphaned pages. Once you identify the orphans, you can use these plugins to redirect them to relevant active pages on your site. This passes on the SEO value while eliminating orphan content.

By utilising SEO crawlers, link analysers, and redirect plugins, you can efficiently discover and either fix or redirect orphan pages. This will help eliminate issues they might cause for search engine crawlers and SERP rankings. Ultimately, a proactive approach prevents orphans from damaging your SEO.

Final Thoughts

Orphan pages might not be a term that’s widely discussed in the world of SEO, but they can have a significant impact on your website’s performance in search results. By taking steps to prevent orphan pages from appearing on your website, you can improve your site’s SEO performance and attract more traffic. Remember to use internal linking, include a sitemap, and update your site often to create a well-structured website that search engines can easily navigate.

If you need assistance with your SEO strategy or want to ensure that your website is optimised to its fullest potential, consider partnering with a leading SEO agency in Melbourne. At TopRankings, our team of experts specialises in helping businesses improve their organic search rankings and drive more targeted traffic to their websites. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you achieve your SEO goals.