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Out of Stock Products

Overview

Customers occasionally ask us how we handle out of stock products on their website.  More often than not, this question is asked by consultants who've been hired to help stores with their SEO efforts.

The answer to this question changes depending upon the size of your catalog.  The following video by Google's SEO expert, Matt Cutts, does a great job of explaining how out of stock products should be handled.

Options

Over the years, we've heard of several more options to handle out of stock products.  Here are the options to handle out of stock products and pages:

  • 404 Page
    • Tells search engines a page (product) cannot be found.  This is the most common scenario if nothing special is done to handle out of stock products.
  • 410 Redirect
    • This is a slightly different take on a 404.  A 410 redirect tells search engines the page (product) is permanently gone.
  • 301 Redirect
    • A 301 Redirect could be created and pointed to another product in your catalog.  This would automatically direct visitors to a "like" product.  However, given it is not the exact same product, there's a real potential of frustrating shoppers here.
  • 302 Redirect
    • If you knew the product was only temporarily out of stock but would eventually come back in stock, then you could redirect shoppers to a page letting them know the product would eventually be back in stock.  You could even ask them to enter in their e-mail address so they can be notified once it comes back in stock.
  • unavailable_after Meta Tag
    • You could use the unavailable_after meta tag if you knew for certain when a product would be out of stock.  For example, you could expire all your fall merchandise in the summer.
  • Product No Longer Available Page
    • You could leave the page around and let the customer know the product is no longer available.  You could even encourage them to sign up for you mailer so they can be kept up to date regarding new products.

Below you will find additional information about these options and our recommendations.

404 vs 410 Redirect

Here's a quick video regarding the differences between a 404 and 410 redirect.

As you can see, there's not much difference between a 404 and 410, so you're probably better off simply sticking with a 404.

302 Redirect

Creating a 302 Redirect for products that are temporarily out of stock is a very good idea.  You could let the consumer know the product is currently not available, but it would be coming back into stock at a later date.  If you could tell them the exact date it would be available, that would be ideal.  Additionally, as mentioned above, you could even encourage customers to sign up to be notified once it comes back into stock.

This solution of course only works for a select group of retailers who have products that can be reordered.  However, another way of handling this situation is to simply leave the product online and allow the customer to pre-order the item while it is out of stock. Sure, you should display a message regarding how the product is currently out of stock, but you will be receiving a new shipment shortly so they should pre-order it now.  Using this approach would certainly simplify the programming and would be just as effective.

Product No Longer Available Page

At the urging of one of our clients, actually their SEO consultant, we were asked to develop this feature for their website. What it does is leave the URL of the product around forever and asks the visitor to sign up for their mailing list.  It also does a pretty good job of recommending similar products they may like.  However, we never liked the idea of leaving these pages around forever because we believe they will eventually dilute the overall search-ability of the active, in-stock, products in their catalog.

Looking back, we could enhance this feature to include the unavailable_after (date) meta tag.  This date could be set to something like 90 days after the product went out of stock, allowing enough time for people to see the page below to sign up for the mailing list or shop similar products.  After the date set in unavailable_after passes, we could delete the page which, of course, would return a 404 message.

Conclusion

The above Product Not Available Page seems like a clever solution, especially if the unavailable_after meta tag was used and the page was eventually deleted. However, I think we need to ask ourselves if we're being "too clever" here?

Frankly, creating an awesome-looking 404 page would probably do the trick and be a fraction of the cost.

We love to debate, learn and grow our knowledge, so please submit a Support Request if you have any suggestions.  Thanks.

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