SEO is tied to user experience and out of stock, or no longer stocked products can have a negative impact on the domain as a whole.

There are some methods that can be implemented that satisfy SEO but lead to a poor user experience, and likewise, methods that can be good for user experience but detrimental to SEO.

Common mistakes that don’t meet both user and SEO needs can include:

  1. Users being redirected to a product category page without an explanation (which is even more frustrating if it is the same product category page and the user is just seeing the same page “refresh” in front of them).
  2. Users landing on a generic 404 page.
  3. Users being redirected to a similar product without any explanation.

Creating a good user experience with an out-of-stock page

The last thing a webmaster wants to do is leave a user frustrated, and unfortunately, when a user wants a product that’s not currently in stock, or is no longer stocked, it can lead to a disappointing and frustrating situation.

When creating out-of-stock product pages, you want to limit the frustration and disappointment as much as possible. This means that you should communicate that a product is out of stock by:

  • Communicating the fact quickly
  • Communicating the fact clearly
  • Offering alternative, relevant products, both in terms of product type and price range
  • Communicating in-store availability in physical stores

Maintaining SEO for permanently out-of-stock products

How you handle out-of-stock product pages will impact your organic rankings as well. If you remove a page from the website without handling it correctly, Google (and users) may still try and reach the page, which will generate a 404 error.

These 404 errors aren’t directly bad for SEO, as Google works on a URL by URL basis, but they can affect overall domain quality. They also waste crawl resource (from Google and other search engines), when the crawl resource should be focused on live pages. Additionally, if the product is still in demand and has a large total search volume, you can risk losing key ranking positions and organic traffic.

The best solution for permanently out-of-stock products is to keep the URL, but notify users that it is out of stock. To keep users on the website though, we have to do more. For this, you should clearly show similar products that the user can browse instead – this is typically done via having a section on the product page that shows “Products similar to this”.

In addition, as your products should also have appropriate product schema, you can also state to search engines that the product is out of stock through the ItemAvailability tag through product schema. This is typically clearly displayed in SERPs too.

Although this is more technically challenging than redirecting the page, retaining our rankings will be more beneficial in the long run. This way, we can keep users searching for the product to visit our website and has a better chance at driving conversions.

What if my CMS can’t do that?

Many CMSs like Salesforce do not have the capability to keep the URL like above and offer a good user experience at the same time.

In this case, you can redirect the product page to its category page or its closest relevant product. This way, you are not letting search engines needlessly crawl 404 pages, and you keep the value added by any backlinks to the product URL, thus retaining organic performance.

Maintaining SEO for temporarily out-of-stock products

Handling products that are temporarily out-of-stock should be handled in the same fashion as permanently out-of-stock products – the URL should be kept accessible on the website. By keeping the page, we don’t risk losing our rankings for the page, and when the product does come back, the page should automatically update accordingly (depending on the CMS used).

However, we also need to state clearly to users that the product is currently out of stock. Most CMSs, however, already come with clear labeling out-of-stock products to users.

If possible, you should also show a notice on the product page that lets the user know when the product will be back in stock. Alternatively, offer the user the option to leave you their email so that they can be notified when the product is next back in stock.

How you handle the user data is important, especially with the impending GDPR regulations.

If you’re interested in how can help out with your eCommerce website, see our eCommerce page.