In order for your content to rank on Google, it needs to be easily found.
Google can then follow these links and save the post or page.
Sounds easy, right? Well, it is in theory. But when you are busy creating and publishing lots of content, your internal linking strategy can soon be forgotten.
After all, there is more than enough to think about, what with checking your spelling and grammar, making your content engaging and optimising your meta data.
So exactly what is ‘orphaned content?’
When you have a piece of content (a page or a post) which is not linked to from anywhere else on your site, this is known as “orphaned content”. Simply because it is hard for both the user and Google to locate.
In this article we will take a closer look at orphaned content to find out what it is, what its implications are for SEO and how to make sure it does not damage your chances of ranking well.
What is orphaned content?
Yoast defines orphaned content as “content that doesn’t get any links from other posts or pages on the same website.”
This lack of links makes the piece of content difficult to find – both for visitors to your site and for search engines.
You might think that orphaned content refers to a page which does not have a parent -because of the name – but this is not always the case.
Orphaned content is content which does not have any contextual links (or ‘text links’ as they are also known).
This means that a piece of content could still be orphaned, even if it is linked to from the sitemap, category page, tag page or homepage, if it does not have any text links within other content.
Contextual links provide more SEO value to content, as they provide both Google and your users with more information, or context, thanks to the anchor text.
Orphaned content happens when you create a new piece of content and publish it, without thinking of where else you can link to it on your website.
The effects of orphaned content on your SEO
To find out the effects of orphaned content on the SEO of your website, we have to go back to the very beginning and look at how search engines work.
When Google and other search engines crawl content, they follow all the included links and find the other pages. They then save these pages in their index.
Because orphaned content does not have any contextual links from other pages, Google will consider this content to be less important than content which does have text links pointing to it.
The net result is that this can result in poor rankings.
How to avoid orphaned content
It clearly makes little sense spending time, effort and money on creating amazing content which no one will ever see!
But do not worry – even though orphaned content can be detrimental to your SEO, just like everything else on your website, it can also be fixed!
If you have a list of SEO checks that you do before your content goes live, then be sure to add internal linking to that list.
Search your site for relevant blog posts or webpages that you can add a link to.
You can also fix orphaned content retrospectively and you may wish to add this to your monthly SEO to do list.
Adding a link to blog posts or pages with the highest number of sessions will ensure that your new piece of content is discovered and that their authority is passed on. However, do not just link all of your pages to each other.
Be sure to keep your internal links relevant and avoid any temptation to stuff every blog post and webpage full of internal links, as this can be just as damaging.
Remember, Google tries to put the user first so if it is not useful for them, Google will be less likely to rank it highly.
Also, as part of your internal linking strategy, you should ensure that you have identified your cornerstone content.
This is the content which is the most important to your site and should therefore have the most links pointing to it.
Keeping this hierarchy will ensure that you are clearly indicating to Google which are your most important pages.
How to find orphaned content
Premium SEO tools such as Yoast and Screaming Frog can help you to find your orphaned content posts and pages easily, as they have features which specifically do this for you.
However, if your budget does not stretch to subscriptions to these tools, you can find them for yourself via Google Analytics.
Search Engine Journal has a great guide to finding orphaned content on Google Analytics.
Should you always fix orphaned content?
The short answer is no. It is not always vital that orphaned content is linked to.
For example, if you write a lot of short term blog posts which refer to a time sensitive event or competition, you probably do not need to link to them from anywhere else.
The value of this particular piece of content is short term rather than something that will become evergreen content and continue to generate traffic year after year.
For these types of posts, you should concentrate your efforts on promoting them on your homepage and social media channels instead.
You should also think about deleting any pages that have become out of date and no longer have any relevance, ensuring that the link to them is also redirected, so that you are not left with any broken links on your site.
The rules for creating effective anchor text
As we have mentioned, contextual links are important to ensure that content is not orphaned and this means text links.
Anchor text is the clickable text that is used for the link and you should consider this carefully.
Google’s Penguin algorithm update, first released way back in 2012, made it so that anchor text became the easiest way to determine how relevant a website is.
You should therefore make sure that the anchor text is succinct and that it describes the page that it is pointing to accurately.
For example, a blog post about the best island destinations in Thailand might have the anchor text “islands in Thailand”.
You may wish to use the exact keyword which you are trying to get your content to rank for.
However, you should ensure that there is a healthy mix of differently worded anchor text, to ensure that it is not over optimised and still appears natural to the reader.
Avoid words or phrases such as “here”, “click here” and “find out more” which do not give the user or search engines any more information about what they will find when they follow the link.