If you have a website, you probably want it to show up high on search engine results pages (SERPs). The entire field of Search Engine Optimization is devoted to this goal. Before you start looking into adding new content on your website, it is important to fix any of the existing issues with your current content. Fixing broken links, 404 errors, website speed issues, and orphan content can all go a long way in improving your website’s ranking.
What Is Orphan Content?
Orphan content refers to any pages on a website that cannot be accessed through normal navigation. More practically, if there are any pages on your website that a user cannot get to from the homepage, this page is considered to be orphaned. You may choose to do this intentionally. For instance, a thank you page might be intentionally orphaned. Or a landing page that can only be reached through your email campaign could be orphaned. There are strategic design reasons to create content that is invisible to an average user. However, if you have content that an average user can’t get to, you should make sure search engines can get to it either.
Why Is Orphan Content A Problem?
There are many above-board reasons to have orphan content. If you have a special sale that you are only offering to your Facebook followers, you might use orphan content. So why is orphan content a problem? Every piece of content is an opportunity to signal Google on what your website is about. Through page titles, meta descriptions, and content, you can tell a search engine what you want to rank for. In the early days of Google’s algorithm, web developers abused this system through orphan content. Pages that were unaccessible for users would contain thousands of keywords and search terms. For this reason, Google penalizes websites when they find orphan content.
How Do You Find Orphan Content?
To find your orphan content, you will need to see your website through the eyes of a search engine crawler. There are a few SEO spider programs that work well. Siteliner and Screaming Frog are both valuable tools. Start by feeding them your homepage and they will crawl through the website and identify every page that is crawlable as well as any page that has specific tags to not crawl. Alternatively you can go to Google Analytics, select “All Pages” and sort the pages by pageviews (lowest to highest). This will show you any links that had 0 page views.
Common Orphan Content Issues
The most common orphan content issue is incorrect redirection for different variants of a URL. Here’s an example; your homepage can have any of the following URL structures:
Ideally, all four of these URLs should redirect to the same URL. Otherwise, you may have orphan content. If your about page is example.com/about all four versions of this page need to redirect to one single page. If they don’t a search engine may see two different pages “http://example.com/about” & “https://example.com/about”. It will see these pages as duplicate content (which can cause penalties) and it will see one page as orphan content if nothing links to it. When you get an SSL certificate for your website, you need to make sure all of the URLs redirect properly.
How Do You Fix Orphan Content?
There are three ways to fix orphan content:
- No Index / No Follow: There are meta tags that tell Google/Bing not to read or display pages on your website on their SERPs. No index tags tell search engines not to include this page in their list. No Follow tags tell search engines not to follow any links on the page. Use these tags if you want the content to be invisible to search engines and users.
- Add links: If the orphan content is meant to be seen by users on your website, you need to add links that get them there. Click depth refers to the minimum number of clicks needed to get from the homepage to a specific page. Depending on the importance of this content you may choose to go with low click depth by putting a link to the orphan page directly on the homepage or you may choose to go with a higher click depth by burying it a little further into the website. I.e. A user goes from the homepage to the “about” page to an “our team” page to a specific profile of one of your staff members.
- Delete: Of course another simple solution is to simply delete the content altogether. If the orphan content is old content from a previous version of the website or is no longer useful, consider deleting it.