One of the biggest issues we’ve come across in ecommerce sites is the massive amount of 404 errors. This is usually rooted to deleted products that are out of stock. It comes as a surprise to us at FIRST Digital that many big companies in New Zealand – and around the globe, even – don’t have a solid plan in place for handling out of stock products or deals that have expiry dates. In most cases, we’ve seen these companies delete the pages which end up as 404 (page not found) errors.
Even worse, these pages lead to a template 404 page that does not take advantage of the traffic that still goes there. Other companies, on the other hand, leave hundreds or even thousands of out-of-stock pages online without optimizing them. Both cases are painful for an ecommerce SEO professional to see.
So, what should you really be doing about your out of stock product pages?
First things first, find out more about your out of stock product page before you make a decision. Check if:
- The product is out of stock permanently or temporarily
- The page has links – You can use a tool like Ahrefs, Majestic or Moz Open Site Explorer to find out more
- The page has traffic – You can use Google Analytics to check on landing page sessions for the out of stock product.
- The product had conversions (before going out of stock) – you can use Google Analytics to check on product performance prior to it being out of stock.
If the product is only temporarily out of stock, FIRST suggests taking the following actions:
- Label the product as “Temporarily Out of Stock”
- Add options for pre-order, back order or stock notification
- Suggest products that are closely related
If the products are permanently out of stock, you have two options:
First, you can consider not deleting the pages (keep them live), and instead using them as an opportunity for different thing such as:
- Upselling products that are in stock – Keep the page live and dynamically serve up a list of products that are either similar, another model or a variation of that product (ie different specs, different colour) or if this is not possible, you can present products from the same category or even competitor brands that you also sell. You can also think of related products that the customer might be interested in and suggest these.
- Building your email list – Add a call to action on the page asking the visitor to sign up for email alerts so they can be notified when the product is in stock again.
Second, if you’ve already decided on deleting your out of stock products, then plan how you will be redirecting the 404 pages. Use permanent redirect (301) to point them to a similar product.
If you find yourself in the middle of fixing a massive amount of 404 issues (say more than 10,000 pages), please don’t be tempted to automatically redirect them to your home page. What we recommend is prioritising your 404 pages to redirect based on the traffic they receive. To do this, you can go to your Google Analytics page and do the following:
- Click on Behaviour
- Select Site Content
- Click All Pages
- Under Primary Dimension, select Page Title
- In the Advance Search Field, type in Error or 404
This should give you a list of your 404 error pages (it might be a clickable link that says Page Title of your 404 Error page – click this to expand the list). Export the list to find out the page views for your pages that show 404 errors.
From the SEO point of view, the worst thing you can do to your out of stock product pages is to simply delete them. You will lose all SEO benefits from that URL. If you’ve worked hard on building links and doing your on-page optimisation correctly, using 404 negates all that work. Think about the time you’ve invested in getting rankings for that specific product. If your ranking page goes to a 404 page, you lose out on that ranking.
Redirecting your out of stock pages preserve ranking signals accrued by those old products. However, you need to take extra care when you map out your redirections. Redirecting your out of stock product pages to the home page or to category pages can potentially lead to soft 404 errors. Redirecting them to products that are not related may result in losing ranking signals. Your best option would be to redirect them to related or similar products. Now, this may not always be the easiest thing in the world to do, so be patient and prioritise based on page traffic.
Last but not the least, we’ve created a flow chart which might help you decide on what to do with your out of stock product pages or expired pages:
If you have further questions or concerns about how to deal with your out of stock product pages or expired deals, please don’t hesitate to contact your FIRST Digital team.