SEO for Discontinued or Out of Stock Products
You know the drill: you’ve got an eCommerce store with hundreds or even thousands of products - some of which go out of stock either permanently or temporarily while you get a new batch ordered in. You know that you need to let your customers know whether products on your site are available to buy or not - but how do you deal with this from an SEO perspective?
How can out of stock products affect SEO?
Unfortunately, product pages for out of stock or discontinued products can have a massive impact on SEO performance, as well as sales. Whether discontinued on a temporary or permanent basis, these can affect:
Crawl budget: making sure that your crawl budget is not being taken up by pages that aren’t making you money or serving customers.
Technical SEO errors: either masses of 404 pages or incorrect redirects implemented that can affect the structural integrity of your site in the eyes of search engines.
SEO value: there is no use in ranking for terms that do not serve you. If the page contains a product that will never go on sale again, you could argue that it’s good for brand awareness, but even here there is little point in that page ranking, particularly if a user is landing on it and leaving your site immediately to find that product elsewhere.
Landing on pages with unavailable products isn't a great user experience. When dwell times and bounce rates are becoming more important factors in where your site ranks, this becomes crucial.
So now we know why these pages can be detrimental to SEO, let's see how we’re actually meant to handle them.
First things first, the classic SEO line on all of our lips: it depends. Ask yourself:
Is the product temporarily out of stock, or discontinued for good? This makes a difference in your approach.
Was the page getting organic traffic?
Did the page have valuable backlinks?
What development resource is available (some parts of this are slightly techy, so you may want a developer to help you out unless you’re confident that you can do this yourself)?
SEO for temporarily out of stock product pages
If your product is only going to be temporarily out of stock, definitely keep the page (as you’ll just be updating it later down the line anyway, and creating a new one just leads to complications and unnecessary work).
As you’re keeping the page, this is what you need to do:
Make sure the page still sends a 200 status code.
Make sure the page is still present in the xml sitemap.
Mark the product as temporarily unavailable (if possible, say when the product is likely to be back in stock).
Adding a little functionality such as a mail sign up so that the user can be notified when the product is back in touch is a nice touch.
Make sure to remove the “add to basket” functionality as this will just annoy potential users, some even say to remove the price but this is up to you.
Unfortunately, it’s almost inevitable that your bounce rates may increase on product pages that are out of stock (again, another bad sign to search engines).
You can mitigate this, to a degree, by:
Updating the product schema on the page to show the product as unavailable so that it is not marked as broken to the search engines and in the SERPs results. This means that the product will be marked as out of stock before the person has even clicked on to your site. Also remove the “offer” property so that the schema markup does not end up being marked as sending errors.
On the product page, add “closely related items” so that people can continue to shop.
Provide a search functionality on the site so that people can search for something else.
The following example is an out of stock product on the John Lewis website, you’ll see they do all of this very well indeed:
SEO for permanently discontinued product pages
As mystifying as ever: it depends. You’ve got a few options when it comes to products that will never be sold again.
Pretty self explanatory really, mark the page as no longer available. It sends a very clear signal to the search engines and eliminates the frustration of a user landing on a product page for something that they cannot buy. This solution was encouraged by Matt Cutts himself in this video for small and medium eCommerce stores.
Slight caveat though - don’t just use a standard 404 type page, make sure that it’s custom made for that product and links over to related products that you do sell (a new season perhaps or something closely related), a search bar and access to the site’s main navigation so that they can go and explore other things you might be able to sell them.
=> why a 410 rather than a 404 status code? 404 marks a page as “not found”, whereas a 410 status code indicates that a page is “gone” so it’s more accurate and doesn’t look to search engines as though you suddenly have an influx of broken pages.
When 410s are a problem rather than a solution
If you have an enormous amount of pages for deprecated products or you know that you’re going to churn out a lot of out of stock pages on a monthly or yearly basis, avoid using the 410 approach as it’d be detrimental: do not waste your website’s crawl budget on pages that do not work.
On top of this, if the pages that you are considering 410ing used to get a considerable amount of traffic, or upon inspection, have some decent backlinks - avoid this method altogether: you’re going to want to redirect these pages as they’re actually pretty valuable and you don’t want to waste all that good work. You’ll want to do the following.
SEO for valuable permanently discontinued product pages
Again, as the product is no longer available, keeping the page live is a bit pointless. But as it used to get a lot of attention and/or has some decent backlinks pointing to it (one of the most difficult aspects of SEO - which you do not want to waste by 410ing the page), what do you do to get rid of it, but preserve its value?
Enter the 301 redirect - the preserver of link equity (more or less - approx 90% of it anyway).
When considering removing a deprecated product page, take a look at it in an SEO tool such as SEMrush or Ahrefs to see whether it has any backlinks pointing to it:
Luckily for us, this page has no backlinks.
In this case, I’d just add a 301 redirect to the most relevant subcategory page (don’t redirect to another product page, as chances are that you’ll be marking that as out of stock at some point anyway so avoid redirect chains and loops by just pointing to subcategories).
If you have the development resource, it’s worth creating a dynamically generated message that lets the user know that they are being redirected because the product is out of stock (otherwise, consider how annoying it would be to try to go to a product page to buy it, but then just being redirected back to where you started without any prompting).
When to leave the page alone
Consider a page that has a discontinued product but that still receives a load of traffic. Perhaps it contains really useful information that users may still want to read (such as user manuals, care instructions, installation instructions etc). It’d be quite wasteful to 410 or 301 redirect this page as people are still finding it useful and reading what’s on there.
In this case, if the page ranks well and receives a decent amount of traffic, I’d keep the page, make sure it’s very clear that the item is discontinued and also link to related products or categories to continue to be useful to potential customers.
If the page loses traffic over time, make sure to: remove internal links to this page (there’s no point in keeping it particularly prominent) and remove it from the xml sitemap. I’d even go so far as to add a noindex tag.
=> A product that will be coming back in stock: keep the page live, make it as easy as possible for customers to know when they’ll be able to buy it, offer alternatives and update product schema.
=> Small/medium websites with a discontinued product that receives no traffic and has no backlinks: simply 404 the page.
=> Large sites with many discontinued products or discontinued products which received a lot of traffic or have backlinks: 301 redirect to the closest subcategory.
=> Discontinued page still receives traffic? Keep but add related products and make sure it’s clear that the product is out of stock.
Make sure to keep an eye on these and keep up with the process (over time, some of those pages that were getting traffic may die down so you may want to 410 them or redirect them etc).