If you are running an eCommerce business, you’ll eventually have to deal with products that change, go out of stock, or get discontinued.
In this article we will be looking at how to best handle each of those situations from an SEO perspective.
How to Deal With Products That Are Out of Stock
Products go out of stock for various reasons, you sell out of them, encounter supply problems from the manufacturer or vendor, or develop a change in style.
If this is a product you will be getting back in stock and selling in the future, the ideal solution is to keep the page in place so it stays in the search engine index still ranks and brings traffic.
However you do have to consider the end user experience as well. If you can take orders and ship the products when it comes back in stock, keep the page in the search engine index.
If the product is out of stock and is coming back but you can’t take orders, you should show an “out of stock” or similar message on the page. Try to capture an email or other contact information, so you can let the customer know when the item is back in stock.
The ultimate goal in this situation is to keep the products in the search engine index, and driving traffic, so you don’t lose your rankings when the product comes back in stock.
How to Deal With Products that Change
In some cases, products will change or upgrade, such as the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. How you handle these products from a search engine perspective depends on the search volume for the term, and if you have any old stock to sell. If you have old stock to sell, keep the page as it is currently. To improve the user experience you may want to provide a link directly to the new product for people who are looking for that item. If you don’t have any old stock to sell but the page is still bringing traffic from search engines, you will want to keep the page, provide a link to the new product, and tell the customer the product is no longer available. The goal here is to try and transition customers who are looking for the old product into customers for the new product, without losing any search engine traffic. Eventually the search volume will drop off and you will want to remove the product.
How to Remove Old Products from A Search Engine
When you have a product that is no longer available, you can’t take orders for it, and it doesn’t get any search volume, you will want to remove it from the search engines. In a post panda world you don’t want to have a site that is larger than it needs to be, cluttered with products you no longer sell. These extra pages weaken the website as a whole, spreading link equity and trust to pages that dont convert into customers and sales. If there is a replacement product, you’ll want to serve 301 redirect from the old product page to the new product page. If there is no replacement product, you’ll want to serve a 301 redirect to the category or department page. If there is no category or department page, you’ll want to redirect to the home page.
The last thing you want to do is let the page lead you to an error page or a page that serves a 404 error/response code. If the page has any inbound links serving a 404 page, it lets that link value evaporate and that certainly doesn’t help you at all. If you have this condition for a lot of products or even a majority of products, it will be seen as a signal of low quality by the search engines. You can check the response code with a header response checker.
- Try to take orders or keep up product pages for products that are coming back in stock.
- For old products where the model has updated, keep up the page while there is stock and search volume. Link this page to the new product.
- For old products with no back stock and/or no search volume, issue a 301 redirect to the most appropriate new page.
- Do not let the expired product pages serve a 404 error code.
- Use a header response tool to check that you are issuing the proper response code.
- Having site with a lot of products you don’t sell, can’t take orders on, or are discontinued can be seen as a signal of low quality by search engines
Image credit: Shutterstock/Andrea Zabiello