What Are Zombie Pages And What To Do With Them?
Zombie pages are the living dead pages threatening to eat the brains of your website’s visitors without you noticing. In most cases, these pages exist on your website without your knowledge, get indexed by Google, and serve as clutter bringing down your website’s overall rank.
Zombie pages don’t offer any value to your site’s visitors. Most of these pages solely exist for a desire to rank for particular keywords, but since they don’t contribute fresh content, no one visits these pages and they end up hurting your SEO. Other zombie pages serve as a placeholder page but they don’t help in navigation.
In all scenarios, they don’t contain information that your site visitors are looking for, which is why they’re also ignored by search engines.
They Steal Your Traffic and Hurt SEO
The most unfortunate aspect of zombie pages is that they often live in your site’s top-level navigation as Products or Services pages.
In many cases, because of the way the site’s web authority is distributed via internal linking and site structure, these pages may have strong native ranking potential. This means that they might attract some traffic, but since they don’t have unique content, and little effort has been made to encourage further site navigation, users landing on these pages simply bounce off—indicating a negative SEO signal to search engines.
An example of a zombie page is a Services page that displays a list of links to other services for navigation—and nothing else.
Since it doesn’t help visitors by providing information that resolves their pain points, or perhaps even an empathic introduction to each service, visitors don’t bother to click deeper for specific information. As a result, high bounce rate and poor user experience bring these sites down in search rankings.
Other common types of zombie pages include:
- Archive pages
- Thin content landing pages
- Boilerplate content
- Old press releases/ event pages
- Pages with tracking URLs
- Auto-generated user profiles
- Category and tag pages in WordPress
- Individual Testimonial Pages
- Thank You pages
So, the question now is, how do you prevent the zombie pages from feeding off the performance signals of other web pages? Here is our three-step approach in dealing with zombie pages before they ‘infect’ your site:
Step 1: Identifying Zombie Pages
Search engines use performance metrics to identify zombie pages and subsequently drop their rankings in search results. Zombie pages may be shoved back to Google’s fifth page or even get de-indexed altogether.
The performance metrics they’re evaluated against include:
- Unique Pageviews
- Bounce rate
- Traffic volume per page
- Average time on page
- Pages per session
Before Google tracks your zombie pages and demotes them, take a proactive approach and track these pages yourself.
The fastest and most efficient way to do this is by using a website SEO audit tool like Rank Genie. It tracks performance of all the on-page elements on your site, including the quality of your link profile, domain elements, URLs, page speed, HTML elements like 404 pages, Text to HTML ratio, no-index pages, and of course, your zombie pages.
Rank Genie lets you know which pages are dragging you down, allowing you to visit your overall website optimization strategy.
You can also search google for all of your indexed pages by searching site:ourwebsite.com in the search bar and see how many pages of your website are indexed.
Step 2: Put the Dead Pages to Rest
Once you’ve identified the zombie pages, it’s time to quarantine them and take them out one by one. By dead pages we mean those that have old outdated content without any backlinks pointing to them, which no one ever visits. If no one is visiting a URL, it doesn’t need to be there because it’s only using up crawl budget.
Here’s what you can do:
Delete Content Completely
Put zombie pages to rest by completely deleting their HTML files and then removing them from sitemaps. Scour your site for other pages that link to these zombie pages, and remove their link or change them to an appropriate URL.
The best practice in this scenario is to instruct the browser to return a proper HTTP header, like the 410 error code: “content deleted” or simply “gone.”
Keep in mind that the 410 status code is different from a 404 that indicates “content not found.” With a 404, Google is sure that you removed the URL on purpose, and that it should therefore remove the URL from its index as well.
Dealing With Zombie Pages with Valuable Backlinks
In some cases, zombie pages have backlinks that you don’t want to lose.
Here’s how you can deal with such pages:
You can use a 301 redirect, to redirect the user who accesses the deleted page to another URL.
Using a 301 redirect means that Google assigns the link value of the old URL to the URL you have redirected the visitor to.
Use ‘noindex’ in Meta Robots Tag
Meta robots tag is a piece of code that provides search engine crawlers instructions for how to crawl and index the content.
Certain parameters used in the meta robots tag provide crawling and indexing instructions to the search engines.
In this scenario, you can use the “noindex, follow” parameter to instruct search engine to not index the page, but they can follow or crawl the links on that page.
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, follow”>
Step 3: Triage the Zombie Pages That Have A Little Life Left
Instead of sending your zombie pages to oblivion by deleting them, here’s how you can bring them back to life:
Redo the Page Completely
Use fresh, quality content with best SEO practices to drive traffic to your page. This strategy is great for pages that are important for navigation but don’t deliver any value.
Apart from adding content, use a technical site audit tool like Rank Genie to fix its technical SEO elements. This includes improving the page architecture, navigation, and boosting performance by adding more internal links from pages higher up in navigation or earning backlinks from credible sites.
Make The Zombie Page An Organ Donor
For zombie pages that have some good content, but not enough to have it its own URL, you can take chunks of its content and use it in higher ranking pages.
The key to addressing the zombie apocalypse is to cut off the infection before it gnaws away at your website’s traffic. Find these pages, triage the ones that need to be deleted and put them out of their misery, and revive the ones that can contribute to your SEO efforts.
Oh, and before I forget, sign up for our 7 day free trial and audit your website today.