Out of stock products can pose a number of problems to both the user’s experience and SEO.
Handling out of stock products requires some careful considerations:
- Managing crawl budget – if Google are using crawl budget on low-value pages with no products, they may not crawl other useful pages.
- Holding your position within SERPs – products may be back in stock soon, so by noindexing or removing the page you’ll lose your position within the SERPs and have to attempt to regain it once the page is recreated or reindexed.
- Managing user experience – you do not want to cause the user frustration when they land on a product page where the item is unavailable.
There are two potential outcomes when showing out of stock products:
- The user bounces from the site, and tries to find somewhere else to buy the product (potentially finding a competitor within the SERPs).
- The user stays loyal to the site, either waiting for the product to be restocked or finding an alternative brand/product to fulfill their needs.
By dealing with out of stock products correctly, you can ensure more users ‘stay loyal’ to your site rather than buying from a competitor.
The best course of action when dealing with out of stock product pages depends on the situation and how long the product will be unavailable for.
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Products that are temporarily unavailable
Where products are only temporarily out of stock, we recommend keeping the URL as is and waiting for products to come back into stock.
There are a number of things you can do to enhance the user’s experience on the site, helping to keep them loyal to your brand by either persuading them to wait for the product to become available, or getting them to purchasing a similar item:
- Make it clear that the item is currently unavailable.
- Offer discount codes to users who wait for the product to be restocked.
- Add a countdown to the page to inform users when the product will return.
- Encourage users to pre-order the item, including an estimated delivery date.
- Encourage users to sign-up to be notified by email when the product is restocked.
- Offer similar products on the page – either related products from the same brand, or the product equivalent across other brands.
As an example, where a user is searching for a specific pair of Nike running trainers which are currently out of stock, you could instead offer either:
- Other models of Nike running trainers
- Running trainers from other brands eg. Adidas or Puma
By keeping this page live, you can hold our rank within SERPs for important queries and ensure we are well placed when the product returns.
Products permanently removed
If a product has been permanently removed from a site and is not due to return, you need to deal with this page differently.
To further inform decision making, you need to understand whether these pages hold any value. There are two questions to ask in this situation:
- Does the page have backlink value?
- Is this page receiving traffic?
Zero value pages
If a page holds zero value and is not receiving organic traffic, you can serve a 404 status code and let it naturally drop out of the index without harming organic performance. Where pages are removed, you must also remove any links that point to the removed page to ensure users and crawlers do not run into errors.
Pages with value
Pages that hold backlink value need to be managed differently to avoid losing link equity that’s been built up over time.
To make sure any previously accrued link equity is kept and recycled across the site, removed pages with value should be 301 redirected to related pages.
NOTE: Avoid blanket redirecting pages to the homepage – pages should ideally be redirected to equivalent product pages (eg. an out of stock pair of Nike running trainers could be redirected to a different pair of Nike running trainers) – if there are no other related products, a redirect to the main category level page would suffice.
There are some products that may only be stocked during a specific time of the year (eg. Black Friday deals, Valentine’s Day gifts). Lots of SEOs make the mistake of removing these pages each year to then essentially start over with a new version of a page the following year.
We recommend keeping seasonal pages live throughout the year as opposed to removing and re-creating pages. By keeping the page live, you can build up link equity over time (as sites link to the hub page), whilst also helping these seasonal pages to hold their positional rankings when the event is in season.
During times where products or events are ‘out of season’, we recommend signposting this to let the user know that there are no deals or products available within the product category (find an example from Amazon’s Black Friday page below):
Here, Amazon are thanking the user for shopping with them during Black Friday 2019, and prompting the user to bookmark the page for more deals in 2021. They also link out to other deals pages, and show some of the current ‘Deals of the day’ available to the user.
This allows them to manage the user’s expectations whilst also potentially directing them to another relevant category or product on our site.
You should now have an understanding on how best to deal with both out of stock and seasonal products. Correctly dealing with these pages can improve a user’s experience on-site, whilst ensuring crawl budget is used to crawl and index high-value pages.