What are orphan pages?
hen you're managing a website, it's important to ensure that your most valuable content can be found by visitors & search engines. While this sounds relatively easy, undetected issues such as orphaned pages can make this more complicated than expected.
So, what are orphan pages? They're pages on your website that aren't linked to internally. This means that they can't be found via your main navigation menu & they're not linked to within any of your blogs or landing pages. It makes them impossible to find unless someone knows the page's URL & types it into the URL bar.
HOW ARE ORPHAN PAGES CREATED?
Orphan pages can be created intentionally or unintentionally. When intentional, they're designed to be accessible to a select few people. For example, to developers & marketers when a new page is being tested or to a specific group of people being targeted by a brand (i.e. for a subscriber only offer).
When unintentional, they could have been created in a number of ways. Some of the most common include:
a.) an inexperienced person using the CMS & unknowingly generating a new page.
b.) during a website migration when a page has been overlooked.
c.) when a page that was meant to be removed remains live even after internal links have been deleted.
d.) deleting a parent page (i.e. a category page) after a child page (i.e. a product page) has been created.
As you can see, it's not hard to accidentally create an orphan page. What's more, if no one is on the lookout for them, they can go unnoticed for a very long time.
HOW DO ORPHAN PAGES AFFECT SEO & USER EXPERIENCE?
When it comes to SEO & user experience, orphan pages can be problematic. For example, if an orphaned page is full of valuable content, website visitors & search engines won't know that it exists. People miss out on must-read information - information that could drive more sales, bookings or leads. Search engines have no idea that an important URL exists so it's never indexed. The end result? Your site loses high quality, relevant traffic & the potential to generate more revenue.
What about orphan pages & sitemaps or external links?
If your orphan pages are included on your sitemap, search engines can find & index them. While this might sound like a good thing, it can prove troublesome. Consider the following scenarios.
Your orphan page:
a.) contains content that's very, very similar to another page on your site. If Google views it as a doorway page, you could be penalised.
b.) is full of irrelevant information. This will confuse search engines (it doesn't reinforce who your brand is, what it does or why it's an expert in its field). It will also confuse visitors & could negatively impact your brand.
Now, let's say that you don't have the URL of your orphan page in your sitemap. It was, however, once live & proved to be one of the most popular pages on your site. While it benefited from a number of relevant backlinks, you felt that it could be better optimised & replaced it with a new page. If the original page wasn't removed & a redirect wasn't created, it could still be displaying in search & outranking your new page.
None of these scenarios are ideal. What's more, if your page isn't relevant, but search engines are still spending time crawling it, it's wasting your crawl budget.
ARE ORPHAN PAGES EVER OKAY?
There are times when orphan pages are okay & even recommended. Two common examples of orphaned pages that are purposely built & perfectly acceptable include:
a.) Special offer pages that are available exclusively for a select number of people.
b.) Landing pages that are designed for specific PPC or paid social campaigns & aren't intended for viewing by all.
When you create pages like these - pages that you don't want everyone finding - it's important to make sure that they aren't displayed in results. To do this, you use the noindex meta tag.
This code is placed in the head section of your page & it will stop the majority of search engines from indexing your page.
If you're using Yoast, simply select the noindex option, as shown on the screenshot below.
AVOIDING UNWANTED ORPHAN PAGES
If you want people & search engines to find your page, you need to make sure that it can easily be found. Creating a page that isn't linked to internally - an orphaned page - is only useful if you don't want it to be accessible to everyone. When this is the case, don't forget to use things like the noindex meta tag or the noindex function on Yoast. For more information on how to find & deal with orphaned pages on your website, watch this space (part 2 coming soon). Want to know more now? Get in touch to book your free, no obligation 30 minute consultation call to discuss bespoke SEO training. ♦
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Beylkin is the founder of Words on Marketing. She began her marketing career in Australia in 2005, working for an early stage startup. Since this time, she's worked with brands big & small, from Microsoft & Montcalm Luxury Hotels to Quiz Clothing & cranberry panda. Now based in London, she spends her days helping individuals & brands achieve more with marketing.