At first glance, a product being out of stock or discontinued may not seem like it deserves a second thought. But what happens when a product page is deleted or left without the ability to checkout?
Being a responsible eCommerce shop owner, you put a ton of energy and money into optimizing your content, driving traffic to pages, and increasing your sales. Making the decision of how to handle out of stock products hurting your SEO deserves some consideration.
Do Out of Stock Items Affect SEO THAT Much?
If you don’t already know, then the first thing to say here is that each product should be considered a page. All modern eCommerce software will create a page for every product you add. That being said, product pages should be treated with the same importance as regular website pages.
“During 2016 we consistently observed more and more shoppers skipping the ‘front door’ (the homepage) and landing directly on product pages. Due to long tail search and dedicated posts or ads on social media for specific products, traffic to product pages has gone up and so has their conversion rate.” (via Talia Wolf, GetUplift.co)
In fact, modern internet shopping, internet marketing, and search patterns have all lead to individual product pages becoming your sites’ landing pages, rather than Home, About, etc. For this reason, we want to be vigilant about out of stock products.
If you have been working on your websites SEO and conversion rates, then you are likely to see this fact reflected in your analytics, or in SEO reports from Logic Web Media. If your home page or static pages are attracting the most traffic, then it might be time to invest in some SEO services. But, I digress.
There are two important items that are impacted when your products are out of stock or deleted from your website altogether.
1. User Experience (UX)
Out of stock or deleted product pages can be frustrating to the user. Have you ever been looking for something on the internet and been driven to a page that is either a 404 error or simply sold out? This is an example of poor user experience.
2. Technical SEO
There are several ranking factors that are impacted when products are deleted or out of stock. One of them is 404 errors, which will result in completely losing your link value. Another factor will be bounce rate, which will increase as users land on a useless page and immediately leave.
So what are some solutions? Let’s look at the different types of out of stock…
SEO Solutions to Out of Stock Items
For Out of Stock Items that Are Not Coming Back
The first step in determining how to handle out of stock products for SEO would be to look at your analytics.
Is the page getting good traffic?
Is the page registering as a landing page?
Are there any external links to the product page?
If you answered NO to those questions, then there’s a couple simple solutions:
Delete the page and let it 404
404s get a bad rap, and only some of it is for good reason: 404s are generally bad for UX. However, if your product page is not ranking and not receiving traffic, then it doesn’t really matter. Also, 404s will drop out of the Google index eventually, which makes this the easiest solution.
301 Redirect the page
Although many SEO’s decide to redirect literally everything that is no longer needed on the website, I would caution against this – EXCEPT in cases where people have answered NO to all of the above questions.
301s are thought to pass link juice back into the site, rather than being stopped dead by a 404. While this is accurate, too many 301s can be seen as spammy link practices and should be done with discretion.
When done right, 301s can help user experience by redirecting the user to a similar product or to the parent category. By showing other options, you prevent people from landing on a 404 and leaving the site immediately.
For your products that are not ranking and not registering traffic, this is a viable option. I do not recommend 301s for ranking products, but I will get to that shortly.
If you answered YES to any of those questions, then there are a few options:
Delete the page and create a unique 404 page
404ing a page is sometimes the easiest and cleanest way to get an old product out of your CMS and your sitemap. However, you don’t want to have a poor UX or increase your bounce rate by having users fall on a 404.
The best way to combat this is to create a 404 page that is engaging and promotes conversions. Some companies will show a list of products, a search bar, or another call to action to help steady their conversions and bounce rate. Others just try to be clever with their 404s because it makes people happy, which is the ultimate UX.
301 Redirect and create a post-redirect message
301 redirects on your pages of value will ensure that your websites link juice stays flowing freely through the site. However, this can be potentially hurt your conversions if a user is looking for something specific and keeps getting redirected to something they don’t want without explanation.
For these reasons, I recommend redirecting to a (very) similar product or to the parent category, and include a post-redirect message. This message should include information on why they are being redirected, and why they should look for another product.
Deploy Robots exclusion protocol (Advanced)
This solution is great for when you are no longer carrying an entire line of items, or if you’ve let your eCommerce store get bogged down with undeleted items.
“[…]if you’ve got a huge number of pages, I would go ahead and take the extra step of using something like unavailable_after so that those pages don’t crowd up the search results with expired listings that are just going to annoy users.” (via Matt Cutts, Google Webmasters)
Robots exclusion basically tells Google to stop showing particular pages within the index. Pages are typically removed within 24 hours of the unavailable_after date.
This is a viable option because it limits the chances of users finding the dead page in search results and clicking on it. The few caveats with this method is that you are potentially losing link juice and any backlinks to these pages will be lost.
<META NAME="GOOGLEBOT" CONTENT="unavailable_after: 25-Aug-2019 15:00:00 EST">
For Out of Stock Items that Are Coming Back
Products that are due to return are a little easier to deal with, and have a lot more options to sustain SEO, UX, and conversions. Without having to wrestle with options (and opinions 🙄) surrounding 404s, you are free to focus on front-end changes to improve UX.
Be clear about stock availability
The phrase “Out of Stock” should always be accompanied by a date when it will return. If you give an approximation, then be sure to update it if you go passed that date.
Add related items
While you don’t want to overwhelm the user, it will be valuable to have some options. Having related items on the out of stock product page will encourage users to explore other options on your site.
Get their contact info
Instead of directing the user to another item or giving them a date to check back, offer to notify them. Have the user submit their email address and create a list in your Mail Chimp or Constant Contact to send out once the product becomes available.
Get ahead of the click
Out of stock items are terrible for your bounce rate. Even if you have all these other options on the product level, you are likely to get a quick bounce. The internet, after all, is fraught with snap decisions.
A potential solution to this issue is to stop a click through to the product page before it happens. By labeling on your category page when items are out of stock, users are more likely to scroll by without clicking on the product.
While out of stock pages seem like something to ignore, there are definitely some SEO considerations to explore. As with all things relating to eCommerce and conversions: there is always room for improvement and for more sales.
“Out of stock” is an inevitability in the eCommerce world. Best practice is to make them work for you, and bring something beneficial to the table:
- Reduce bounce rate
- Lead capturing with stock notifications
- Disperse link juice and maintain flow
- Improve UX
- Convert new products