Most people don’t understand that there’s a lot more to SEO than searching for some keywords and trying to incorporate those keywords into your content and titles. The truth is there are a lot of other considerations that must be taken into account and appropriately dealt with if your website and only marketing strategy have any hope of succeeding.
Today, I am going to help you improve the quality of your site’s optimization by helping you correct a common error many small businesses didn’t even know existed: orphan pages.
What Is an Orphan Page?
An orphan page is a kind of like an island in that both orphan pages and islands are isolated and not easily accessible. In short, an orphan page is any section of a website that’s not linked to any other content. They muddy your SEO score and reduce organic ranking potential because Google bots can’t find and crawl the content. They’re essentially wasted content from the perspective of organic rankings.
Why Are Orphan Pages Bad?
The first reason orphan pages are harmful to your site because they can confuse visitors to no end. To align your goals with that of the Google search algorithm and to give yourself the best opportunity for SEO success, your number one priority should be providing visitors with a quality experience. Accessibility and intuitive navigation may seem like small matters at first, but be aware that even the smallest irritations and oversights can drive up your bounce rate and cause visitors to flee in droves.
Even if a visitor isn’t agitated by an inability to navigate through the rest of the site, you’ve certainly missed an opportunity to further engage that visitor with linked content. Furthermore, note that the Time on Page and Bounce Rate ranking signals impact your overall SEO metrics, but it gets even worse. Another side effect is Google may not be able to adequately and accurately crawl orphan pages.
You see, Google can find and rank content on your site using a few different methods. One method is to follow every internal link on a website, and then to recursively follow every link on the linked pages, and so on until it has accessed all of your content. Another method is to comb through all of the pages listed in your sitemap. If you’re not already using an XML sitemap to help Google index your site or you simply don’t know how to set one up, I highly recommend reaching out for the help of a qualified professional as soon as possible.
At any rate, the following key points summarize how orphan pages negatively impact your website:
- You lose an opportunity to further engage visitors with internal links
- Bounce Rate and Time Spent on Page metrics suffer
- Google has a harder time finding all of your content, and may completely forgo the indexing of an orphan page
Now that we know why orphan pages need to be addressed, let’s look at the steps necessary to identify and remedy them.
Check for Duplicate Pages and URL Errors
There are two common causes of orphan pages that aren’t too difficult to find and check for. The first is URL errors whereby two URLs may look identical but are actually undeniably different due to an extra slash on the end. For instance, consider the following example:
To test any given page, simply try loading it in your browser with and without a slash at the end of the URL, which will verify it leads to the same content. Furthermore, it’s possible to set the final slash as your default URL structure in the .htaccess file.
The next problem, duplicate pages, stems from chaotic, spaghetti URLs that fail to use canonical structures. These types of duplicate pages are caused when there are multiple versions of a page utilizing different combinations of http, https, and www URL structures. For instance, consider the following examples:
As a general rule of thumb, it is most advantageous to stick with canonical URLs that employ HTTPS, not only because it’s more secure, but because it’s more trustworthy to your audience as well. Doing so will help prevent duplicate pages that are orphaned.
Make a Comprehensive List of Website Pages That Can Be Crawled
The very first step is to compile a list of every page on your website. If it sounds like a tedious chore to open every page in WordPress and then copy and paste its link, relax. This step can easily be accomplished with spreadsheet software and free third-party tools:
- Use free SEO spider crawling software like Visual SEO Studio, WildShark SEO Spider tool, or ScreamingFrog, which provide free crawling tools in addition to paid versions.
- Export the data to a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel. If you don’t have Excel, you can download OpenOffice for free.
It’s typically best to initiate the crawling software from your home page and to omit pages that aren’t indexed or those that are intentionally blocked from Google in the robots.txt file to imitate the same conditions as the Googlebot crawlers.
Gather Data from Google Analytics and Compare
The next step is to add a list of pages as seen by Google, which would not include orphan pages. The idea is to plug this data into your spreadsheet and to then perform some automated wizardry to let the spreadsheet do the heavy lifting for you. This is especially useful if you have a large site with tons of content, so you don’t have to manually compare each URL in each column.
To gather this data, two conditions must be true. You must have Google analytics activated and the page must have been previously visited. After logging into Google Analytics, click on the left drop-down menu and look for the Site Content submenu. Next, click on All Pages. Then import this data into a column on your spreadsheet.
Finally, we need to compare the column of URL’s identified by the crawling software against the Google Analytics column. If you’re not a Microsoft Excel wiz, follow this guide to input the comparison formula to make your life a whole lot easier.
If you are into a window treatment business and the process of identifying and correcting orphan pages makes your head spin, you’re not alone. Plenty of small business owners simply don’t have the time to run through their site with a fine-toothed comb, which is a shame because they’re missing out on an opportunity to optimize their sites for the best organic rankings. If this sounds like you’re in a situation, I’d highly recommend reaching out to a competent window treatment digital marketing specialist to help marketing your businesses in the digital era.