How to find and fix orphaned sitemap pages?

Orphan pages are web pages with no internal links leading to them from other parts of your website. In other words, the page is inaccessible unless the user has the precise URL. This type of page is also called an orphaned page because search engine crawlers seldom index these pages since they can’t link to them from other pages.

In most cases, orphaned pages provide an SEO challenge. Although they don’t get much attention, orphan pages can actually affect your site’s rankings significantly. To keep pages properly linked you’ll need to know what causes orphan pages, where to find them and how to fix them. 

What causes orphan pages?

The creation of orphan pages is almost always accidental and can have several causes. By far, the most typical source is one of the issues below: 

  • Lack of processes for site migrations
  • Layout changes
  • Site redesigns
  • Out-of-stock items
  • Testing
  • Development pages

Orphan pages can also be created on purpose, such as with landing pages for sponsored advertisements and promotions. They can also be intentionally created when you don’t want a web page to be a part of a user’s journey.

How to find and fix orphaned web pages

Orphan page URLs tend to slip through the cracks, which means they aren’t always easy to find. There are five basic steps for finding orphaned web pages:

  1. Get the entire list of your website pages.

Since orphan pages are not connected to any other domain pages, you can’t just point your chosen website audit solution at the homepage and assume you’ll find all the orphaned pages. Instead, you must provide the full list of URLs for each site you wish to have crawled. Your URL list can be obtained in one of two ways:

  • Reading the sitemap file
  • Downloading a site URL list
  1. Run a website crawl for pages with zero inbound internal links

Create an audit rule that looks for pages that don’t have any internal links going to them to find any orphaned pages. If you want to ensure that any future unlinked pages are uncovered, you can schedule a regular crawl when setting up the original audit. Your content management system (CMS) should have the most up-to-date URL list for auditing.

  1. Review the audit findings

Once the audit is done the manual labor begins. You’ll have to go through the web pages that are found to figure out what they’re for. Do they play a significant role in generating traffic, paid advertising, or referral initiatives? How good are the backlinks, if any? Do people commonly use the site’s search bar to go to them?

  1. Fix any orphaned pages that may be discovered

Finding out the function of an orphan page and how it contributes to your website or marketing objectives will help you decide what, if any, action to take. Generally speaking:

  • If it is critical that site visitors locate the web page in the site’s navigation, link to it from relevant internal pages.
  • If it’s no longer relevant, put it in storage.
  • Leave it alone if there is no need to connect internally to the page from elsewhere in the site and it is fulfilling a business purpose.
  1. Perform the audit periodically to identify any new orphaned pages

Since pages have the potential to become orphaned over time – either as a result of adding new content without remembering to link to it or as a result of accidentally removing links to pages nested deep within the site structure – it is essential to check the website periodically for any new problems.

Final word on fixing orphan pages

Marketers frequently make the error of adding internal links to all orphaned pages uniformly. The fundamental problem with this method is that it assumes that a quick fix should be implemented on all sites simply because it can be. Some orphan pages, like pay-per-click (PPC) landing pages, serve a purpose, while others, like test pages, can be deleted without much fuss. The point is you don’t want to throw good money after bad by trying to fix something that isn’t broken or won’t make a difference anyway.

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