The meaning of orphan pages

Orphan pages pose a hidden challenge in the world of Web site management. These pages are not connected to the rest of a Web site. This leads to problems with SEO and user experience.

In this article, I explore the meaning of orphan pages and their impact. I also highlighted strategies to identify, resolve and prevent them. This is essential for a healthy and efficient website.

What are orphan pages?

Orphan pages are pages that are not accessible via links from other pages within the same Web site. Thus, they are isolated from the rest of the Web site and thus effectively “orphans.” Visitors and search engines therefore do not find these pages by navigating from the home page or other internal pages. Only the direct URL gets visitors to these pages. (1)

Difference between orphan pages and dead-end pages

Both orphan pages and dead-end pages cause navigation problems on a Web site. Yet there is an important difference.

Orphan pages are pages with no inbound links (with 0 inbound links from the website itself). They form, as it were, islands within a website that are isolated and inaccessible through the usual navigation paths.

Dead-end pages are accessible via internal links, but do not themselves contain outbound internal links. Thus, these pages represent a “dead-end” for both users and search engines. Not only do they reduce the user experience, they also reduce the effectiveness of search engine crawling on a Web site.(2)

What is an orphan page? (video)

No time for a long article? No problem. Watch the video below for a summary of this article.

What is an orphan page? (video).

How do orphan pages arise?

Orphan pages arise from a number of different scenarios, which often arise from changes to a website or careless content management. Some common causes:

  1. Removed navigation elements: when a Web site is redesigned or updated, links to certain pages may be removed from navigation elements. Navigation elements include menus and footnote links. The pages themselves are not deleted.
  2. Temporary promotional pages: sometimes there are temporary pages on a Web site intended for promotions or events. When the promotion or event is over, the links to the pages are usually removed, but the pages themselves remain.
  3. Outdated content: old blog posts or articles become isolated when websites remove their focus or structure and the links to these pages.
  4. Website migration errors: some pages get lost while migrating a website to a new CMS or server. This happens when pages are not correctly linked to a new structure of a website.

Examples of common mistakes

  • Do not update sitemaps: Orphan pages remain invisible to search engines if they are not included in the site’s sitemap.
  • Neglect internal link audits: internal link audits should be updated regularly. If this is not done, orphan pages are overlooked.
  • Removing content carelessly: removing pages or content without checking the associated internal links can lead to an orphan page.

Preventing and resolving the creation of orphan pages is critical to a website’s user experience and SEO performance. Regular audits and careful management of website content and structure ensure that these pages are effectively addressed.(3)

Problems caused by orphan pages

Orphan pages cause several problems for a Web site. These mainly affect SEO and user experience and affect a website’s performance and effectiveness. Some of the problems are highlighted below:

Impact on SEO and search engine ranking

  1. Invisibility to search engines: Orphan pages have no internal links and are therefore harder to find by search engines. Thus, the page is not indexed. This makes the page less visible and results in fewer visitors.
  2. Crawl budget wasting: for every website, search engines have a limited “crawl budget.” So they can only do a certain number of pages within a certain period of time. Orphan pages waste the crawl budget if they are found only through the sitemap but offer no value.
  3. Missed opportunities keyword ranking: Orphan pages contain quality content targeted to specific keywords. Because these are not indexed, websites miss the opportunity to rank for these terms.

Negative impact on user experience and navigation problems

  1. Poor website navigation: Orphan pages prevent the logical navigation flow of a website. Users who land on an orphan page have trouble finding other relevant pages of a Web site.
  2. Frustration: it can be frustrating for visitors if they cannot find important information or pages. This can lead to a poorer user experience and a higher bounce rate.
  3. Inconsistent information: Orphan pages feature outdated or inconsistent information. This has a negative effect on the professionalism and credibility of a website.

Why does Google want to avoid orpgan pages?

Google wants to provide valuable and relevant information to its users. Orphan pages prevent it for the following reasons:

  1. More difficult to index: Orphan pages have no internal links. This makes it harder for Google’s crawlers to discover and index them.
  2. Less valuable or relevant: internal links are a key quality indicator for search engines. Google may view a page that does not contain internal links as less valuable or relevant.
  3. Lack of context: internal links provide context. They help search engines better understand the content of a page. Orphan pages do not provide this context. This can affect ranking.

Search engines consider orphan pages less valuable because they are hard to find, lack quality signals and do not have inbound internal links to the page itself.

Identify orphan pages

An important part of the SEO roadmap is detecting orphan pages. This can be done with specialized tools and techniques that identify these hidden pages.

Tools and techniques

Several tools and techniques help identify orphan pages. These tools analyze the structure of a Web site and detect pages that have no inbound internal links. Screaming Frog and Ahrefs are two of the most commonly used tools.

Overview of tools and techniques for detecting orphan pages

  1. Web crawlers: Web crawlers like Screaming Frog scan a Web site and list all the pages they find. Identify orphan pages by comparing this list with the sitemap.
  2. SEO audit tools: tools like Ahrefs offer SEO audits that detect orphan pages. These tools check the website for various SEO problems, including pages with no inbound links and broken links.

Screaming Frog

Screaming Frog SEO Spider is a desktop program. It crawls websites in the same way as a search engine. This tool gathers essential elements of a website, detecting SEO problems, including orphan pages.

This tool can search an entire website and also collect all URLs. Compare this list with the URLs in the sitemap. In this way, orphan pages are identified. You can easily create an export of all orphan pages here. See the roadmap for this here (above 500 pages you need a paid version of the program).

Orphan pages resolution and prevention

Not only fix existing orphan pages, but also make sure that no new ones are added. Restore a Web site’s navigational structure and carefully plan the Web site design(4).

Restore links and navigation structure

Reconnecting to orphan pages can improve SEO performance and provide a better user experience. Here are some practical tips:

  1. Incorporate into navigation structure: for SEO optimization, orphan pages should be avoided. Should they be present, they should be included in the main navigation, sidebars or footnotes. Internal links from relevant pages can also be included. This way, visitors can still reach the page.
  2. Breadcrumbs: implement breadcrumbs on a website. This not only helps with SEO but also promotes usability. Users better understand the structure of a website with breadcrumbs.
  3. Correct links: check regularly for broken or outdated links. All content must be linked correctly.
  4. Update sitemaps: The sitemap should always be up-to-date and contain relevant pages. This includes the former orphan pages.
  5. Redirects: for outdated or irrelevant pages, redirects help. These link to more current or relevant pages.

Website design

Plan website design carefully to avoid orphan pages. You can do so using the strategies below:

  1. Holistic site architecture: design a website with a clear and logical structure. Make sure each page has a clear purpose and is connected to the bigger picture of a website.
  2. Conduct regular content audits: regular content audits help assess a website’s content and link structure. This allows one to identify and modify problems and prevents orphan pages.
  3. Strategic link building: when adding or removing pages, consider how it affects the rest of a website. Link new pages correctly and remove or update old links.
  4. Good documentation: keep a record of all pages and their navigation paths. This is especially true for large or complex Web sites.
  5. Responsive web design: responsive web design makes a website accessible and navigable on different devices. Moreover, this ensures a consistent link structure.

Using the above tips, webmasters and SEO professionals manage orphan pages efficiently. They minimize their impact and keep the website healthy.

Summary

Orphan pages have a big effect on a Web site. So it is important to notice, address and prevent them. This can be done by conducting regular site audits, ensuring strategic link management and thoughtful site architecture. Attention to detail is important in this.

Resources

  1. Team, S. (2023a, October 4). Orphan Pages: How They Affect SEO (And How to Fix Them). Semrush Blog. https://www.semrush.com/blog/orphan-pages/
  2. Wikipedia contributors. (s.d.). Wikipedia:Dead-end pages – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Dead-end_pages
  3. Poddębniak, G. (2023, November 15). What are Orphan Pages and How To Fix Them. Onely. https://www.onely.com/blog/what-are-orphan-pages-and-how-to-fix-them/#:~:text=Common%20causes%20of%20orphan%20pages,purposes%20like%20promotional%20campaigns%E2%80%8B.
  4. Orphan Pages: Best Practices and Tips To Prevent Them In 2023. (2023, March 13). LinkDoctorTM. https://linkdoctor.io/orphan-pages-ultimate-guide/
Senior SEO-specialist

Ralf van Veen

Senior SEO-specialist
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I have been working for 10 years as an independent SEO specialist for companies (in the Netherlands and abroad) that want to rank higher in Google in a sustainable manner. During this period I have consulted A-brands, set up large-scale international SEO campaigns and coached global development teams in the field of search engine optimization.

With this broad experience within SEO, I have developed the SEO course and helped hundreds of companies with improved findability in Google in a sustainable and transparent way. For this you can consult my portfolio, references and collaborations.

This article was originally published on 19 April 2024. The last update of this article was on 12 June 2024. The content of this page was written and approved by Ralf van Veen. Learn more about the creation of my articles in my editorial guidelines.