Most sites that I audit come with some orphaned pages, often being caused by a handful of reasons. Typically, the odd orphaned page will not cause any issues with SEO albeit, this is often a symptom that the page is not important enough to be well integrated into the site. Perhaps it goes off-topic, related to seasonal events or maybe just a one-off if you have a robust strategy in place for handling these pages as they can compound over time and become more of an issue.
I’m typically not a fan of letting good content go to waste, so you can normally see a slight improvement in performance if you spend the time to really integrate the content with robust interlinking procedures.
Internal linking frequency can be an indicator to search engines on how important the page is, for example, a page in the navigation is typically more important from an internal linking perspective than a one-off link in a blog post to perhaps a tag page. This can often deduce that if a page has zero internal links then it may not be important.
How do I identify orphaned pages?
The very nature of them not being linked internally makes them difficult to find. A typical way a Search Engine Optimisation crawler will identify these pages is by cross-referencing the internal linking structure against the URLs in the XML sitemap. If a URL can be found in the sitemap and not within the internal link structure then you likely have an orphaned page (presuming the crawler can see all the pages on the site and are not blocked from certain areas). Pick your crawler of choice, I have always found SiteBulb slightly better on orphaned pages but SEMRush, ahrefs and Screaming Frog all give you insights.
This is presuming your XML sitemap is working, of course, another way around this is to go through your published pages in your CMS and validate they are still live. You may have sprung up test pages or seasonality pages – or maybe even deleted directory pages which held the main link. So always try to engrain a regular task of validating that the page is relevant and no major change has happened – I use the NHS website as a good example, at the bottom there are two dates, last reviewed and next review dates, I really like this way of working albeit can be unmanageable on a large site.
How do I fix orphaned pages?
I’ve seen people just throw a link in on a random page and it’s now fixed, right? Well, technical it no longer is an orphaned page but spending a bit of time to try and source the most relevant page will likely pay longer-term dividends. The first question that you need to ask is if the content is still relevant? If not, 301 redirects the content to another relevant page and ensures that it no longer appears in the sitemap (just make sure it is a 301 and not a temporary redirect).
If the content is useful try and pinpoint areas on your site whereby the content is best placed to be linked – don’t think short term, think if I never see this page again (hopefully you will) where would be the best evergreen area to place it?
How do I prevent orphaned pages?
There are two main causes – creating the isolated pages and not linking them. And deleting pages which link to pages with one link, now making them orphaned pages. Both of these preventative measures come under housekeeping, when you create a new page on your site if it’s for the purpose of social media or one-off events, have a proper redundancy procedure, if not – ensure you find a place to link it from.
The second part is making pages redundant, ensure any URLs you delete do not host solo links to pages – just go through the page you are about to delete and see where it links. Ensuring you carry out regular SEO crawls of the site, or perhaps buy my technical SEO audit service and you’ll always have the full picture of your site – which will naturally involve the number of orphaned pages I’ve found.
Additional points around orphaned content pages
- It’s important to not declare an orphaned page as a page with no links at all – in fact, many orphaned pages can have external links, we are specifically talking about internal links to that page.
- Ensure all your staff is trained on how to make a page redundant in the correct way.
- Regular crawling or purchasing of technical audits can ensure you capture all orphaned pages.
- Don’t just pick any old place to link to it – find the best possible place you can, if you can’t find a link placement, is the content really that valuable to have on the site?