In the eCommerce world, products become discontinued all the time. So, what do you do with the product page for an old product? Do you keep the product page? If you do, how can you maintain the SEO value for that product page? Should you redirect consumers to a working page for a similar product? Should you redirect them to the parent category page of the discontinued product? Or should you show them a 404 error page?
Too many online stores don’t have a plan in place for discontinued products or for what to do once the product display page is removed. Here’s what you need to consider and how to have an effective plan of action for your business.
Why is it important?
Product pages will make or break your eCommerce store. And unfortunately, some eCommerce website owners ignore the SEO opportunities and value of their product pages. It’s important to be aware of your expired product pages because links can do a lot for your site’s SEO value.
Product pages often have links pointing to them. Those links have equity, which allows them to appear in search engine results:
These links are both internal and external. External links can come from press mentions and promotions, individuals pinning the product, social shares and more.
Internal links are part of your site architecture— passing value through keyword rich hyperlinks to help you improve the overall rank of your product pages. Internal links can come from other products in an item’s product description or at the bottom of a product’s page showing relatable items. You can also link to your product pages from blog posts.
Internal linking, especially with a flat site architecture where it takes a few clicks to get from your home page to a product page, giving your product pages more link equity. Understanding how links factor into an SEO strategy is useful, however, you need to understand the user aspect of it. A few things to consider include product recency and pageviews.
Product recency should be one factor in your redirect strategy. Pageviews is another factor. How many times do people hit your outdated product page? Understanding these metrics can help you define a strategy for cleaning up an old product page. The other thing to be aware of is how your CMS handles discontinued products.
What happens to pages of products that are no longer available?
So what exactly happens to a product page when said product is out of stock? That largely depends on what platform you’re using.
For Magento users, you have two basic options:
- Disabling a product — With this option, the most commonly used for discontinued products, your product won’t appear on the frontend of a site search or category listings. If say a consumer has a direct page URL, like from a Pinterest link, then they’ll get a 404-page error. This option is best used when a product has been discontinued or goes out of stock and you don’t plan to restock it.
- Hiding a product — If the item is set to out of stock, then it won’t appear in category listings or the frontend of site search listings. But it will have a working product page for people with a direct link to said product page. The product will just show as out of stock and won’t have an option to add it to a shopping cart. Use this method when a product is temporarily out of stock or if a discontinued product is still receiving lots of direct traffic to the product page from other websites.
Shopify lets you hide any out of stock products from your collections. Doing this requires two steps:
- Enable inventory tracking for all your products.
- Change the automated collection conditions for all your collections, and then change the conditions to say products must match all conditions and have an inventory stock that’s greater than 0.
These steps keep any out of stock products from appearing to customers
BigCommerce gives users four options for out of stock products:
- Completely hide the product — The product will be removed from all product listing pages, and the product details page won’t be accessible to site visitors or search engines.
- Hide the product but leave its page accessible — The product will be taken off product listing pages, but the product details page will still be accessible to those with its specific URL. Search engines will also be able to crawl this page.
- Redirect to a category page — Your product will be removed from product listing pages, and anyone trying to access the URL for the product details page will instead be redirected to the product’s category.
- Do nothing — This option leaves your product visible on product listing pages, as well as leaves the product details page accessible.
WooCommerce does give you several options for how to handle discontinued products with the WooCommerce Discontinued Products plugin:
- Flag an item as discontinued.
- Remove certain functionalities, like add to cart.
- Hide the item from search pages, shop, and archive.
- Suggest alternative, similar products.
- Keep discontinued product pages live for SEO.
Creating a Plan for When a Product Goes Out of Stock
Whether due to an amazingly talented marketing team, a seasonal product or the manufacturer no longer makes a product, some items will go out of stock or get discontinued. How you handle these product pages will either positively or negatively impact your SEO, sales, and user experience.
But how do you properly handle it? How do you determine if the page is worth redirecting or leaving a 404 error page?
First, you’ll want to find links to broken pages. Ahrefs is a great resource to use if you have a large eCommerce site. It helps you find broken links in bulk. Once you find those links, you need to export your broken links list from Ahrefs and then start fixing them. You can also use Google Search Console to find the top 1,000 broken links and 404 error pages.
Search Console will provide these details in the index coverage of the new layout:
Ultimately, what you do can be broken out into four areas:
- How long you want to keep a product page up? — In some cases, products may have a lot of promotion around them so killing them off right after they discontinue may not be the best idea. You also should keep a product page up until traffic to that page has slowed way down and consumers aren’t actively shopping or searching for those products. Also, if you don’t have any similar product pages to redirect them to, don’t confuse them by sending them to a category page. Instead, keep the product page up for a bit, just modify it. Set the product as backordered but not eligible for ordering at this time, change the product description to say this specific item is no longer available or add any kind of relatable items to the page’s recommended product area.
- Is 404 the right choice? — In terms of expired content, the 404 error in many ways should be your last option because 404 pages notify search engines that your content is no longer available. You can use a custom 404 page that includes keyword-rich links to relatable product pages on your site. Other approaches for dealing with expired page content include the 301 permanent redirect, 302 temporary or leaving the page as it is, but only if the page’s content is useful and.
- Size of your eCommerce business — According to Google’s Matt Cutts, good SEO practices for what to do when your products go out of stock include: small eCommerce businesses linking to similar products, medium-sized ones using 404 errors or letting customers know when the product is coming back (if you know) and large businesses that have thousands of product pages setting the date for when the page will expire using the meta tag, unavailable_after tag. This lets you basically tell Google when you want a page to no longer be available in the search results.
- Customer experience — Along with on-page ranking factors, customer experience is a top factor for dealing with discontinued products. Whatever you do should create a positive customer experience and encourage customers to stay on your site and purchase, not push them away.
Need help creating a detailed ecommerce SEO plan? Get in touch and we can help analyze your site for major technical and On-Page SEO issues that are holding you back from growing your business.