Building a successful website requires the use of links. If you don’t link to a page on your website, neither visitors nor search engines will be able to find it. Known as orphan pages, these unlinked pages can harm your website’s performance by consuming its crawl budget while also signaling a lack of relevance to search engines.
What Is an Orphan Page?
An orphan page is a web page that’s published but doesn’t have any links to it. Visitors can still access them by entering the orphan page’s URL in their web browser.
Many webmasters confuse orphan pages with dead-end pages.
While both types of pages involve a lack of links, they aren’t necessarily the same. An orphan page is simply an unlinked page, whereas a dead-end page is a page that doesn’t link to other pages.
They are known as “dead-end pages” because they are essentially a dead end for visitors and search engines.
How Orphan Pages Harm Your Website
Links play an integral role in the internet by connecting some 5 billion pages, as well as other files, together. Visitors and search engines use them to discover new pages that would otherwise go unnoticed.
If a page on your website doesn’t have any links, visitors and search engines won’t know it exists.
Known as crawl budget or crawl equity, it’s influenced by the presence of orphan pages. Even if Google discovers an orphan page, it probably won’t index it.
Nonetheless, Google will continue to crawl the orphan page, thus consuming some of your website’s crawl budget.
In turn, Google may crawl fewer pages on your website and less frequently.
Orphan pages will consume resources such as storage space and bandwidth; all without driving traffic or conversions.
If you don’t link to a page, search engines will assume it’s irrelevant, low quality or both. And if you fill your website with irrelevant and low-quality pages, its search rankings will likely suffer.
Identifying Orphan Pages
There are several ways to identify orphan pages, one of which is to analyze your website’s links in Google Search Console (GSC). Clicking the tab labeled “Links” in your GSC account will reveal which pages on your website have links to them. If you don’t see a page listed, it’s probably an orphan page.
More importantly, it allows you to see which pages on your website don’t have links Screaming Frog is one of the only link-checking tools that can natively identify orphan pages.
If you have Yoast Premium, there is also an oprhaned content tool.
Using software like Link Whisper on each blog will help you link to the most important and relative pages on your website.
A WordPress Plugin like Thirsty Affiliates will allow you to set up links that coordinate with a keyword or phrase you use on any page of your blog making sure your cornerstone content never gets orphaned.
If you’re not interested in using GSC or Screaming Frog, you can identify orphan pages the old-fashioned way with manual searching.
Start by creating a list of all your pages’ URLs. Next, head over to Google to perform a search for each URL proceeded with the “site” operator, such as “site:example.com/category/page.”
If a page is indexed, it will appear in the search results. If a page isn’t indexed, it won’t appear in the search results. Therefore, it’s probably an orphan page.
How to Fix Orphan Pages
To fix orphan pages on your website, you must build links to them. You can build links to most pages by adding them to your website’s navigation menu. If visitors can access a page by clicking one or more links in the navigation menu, it won’t be considered an orphan page.
You can also build contextual links to fix orphan pages.
Contextual links are defined by their placement, which encompasses text. They don’t appear at the top, side or bottom of text content. Instead, contextual links appear within text content.
The Tool Link Whisper will suggest which keywords on your blog post you could make contextual links based on other blog posts or pages on your website. Write the blog post, publish, and then edit to see the suggested contextual links from Link Whisper.
When publishing text content, look for words or phrases associated with the titles of other pages on your website.
Orphan pages are often the result of the same content appearing on multiple pages.
If you publish the same piece of content on two different URLs, regardless of whether you realize it, you may only link to one of the URLs in your website’s navigation menu or elsewhere.
The other URL will essentially act like an orphan page. It will consume your website’s crawl budget and server resources, but without links, search engines won’t index it.
If you have the same content published on multiple pages, consider using canonical tags [read more on this] to denote the preferred version.
You don’t have to build links to the undesired version. Rather, you can add a canonical tag to its HTML to point search engines to the preferred version.
Keep in mind, a sitemap isn’t a substitution for natural, organic links. Including links to all your website’s pages in an XML sitemap can help search engines find them, but very rarely do visitors ever access sitemaps.
As a result, pages linked exclusively from your website’s sitemap are still considered orphan pages.
When developing a website, you should try to build at least one link to each page. Without links, orphan pages will dilute your website’s performance.
Thankfully, you can fix them by building links.
You might also like this article on breadcrumbs how they improve the user experience.