In this article, we’ll show you how to handle removed & out-of-stock eCommerce products without affecting your SEO for different use cases:
- Temporarily unavailable products
- Permanently discontinued products (with alternatives)
- Permanently discontinued products (with no alternatives)
Let’s dive in!
How Does Deleting Products Hurt My eCommerce SEO?
Think about the last time you arrived at a 404 page as a searcher. There was a brief moment of confusion and a sudden realization: this is not the page I wanted.
What did you do? You went back to the SERPs.
This happens every time Google sends a searcher to a product page that’s been deleted.
Most eCommerce businesses either take down their removed listings or set up 404 redirects. The pages keep ranking for a while, but searchers get frustrated.
And when searchers are frustrated, they go back to the SERP, skyrocketing your bounce rate and crashing your UX score.
(You’ll also lose backlinks to that page, which affects your link equity.)
If you’re not a huge eCommerce business, deleting products is an SEO nightmare.
Fortunately, deletion is not the only option.
1. How to Handle SEO for Temporarily Unavailable (Out-of-Stock) Products
If your product is temporarily unavailable, i.e., out of stock, don’t remove the listing or create a behind-the-scenes redirect.
Instead, handle your temporarily unavailable products on the page:
Hide the “Add to Cart” CTA
Don’t make the searcher click in vain (they’ll get frustrated). Hide the CTA or grey it out.
Display Your Out-of-Stock Message
Make it clear the product is out of stock.
Invite visitors to get email updates when the product is back in stock and mention the expected back-in-stock date.
Optional: Offer an Out-of-Stock Alternative
If you have similar products or predict the product will be out of stock for longer than a month, offer an alternative.
Don’t set up redirects. Instead, offer the alternative in the copy or the page below the “Add to Cart” CTA.
From a UX and CRO standpoint, it’s always smart to display Related Products. You can easily integrate related products from the (sub)category into all your eCommerce product pages.
For example, if Hiking Backpack A is out of stock, offer an alternative with similar specifications (Backpack B).
Instead of discouraging the visitor, you’ll maintain your page experience and rankings. The searcher will dwell on your site instead of immediately bouncing from the 404 page.
Update Your Google Product Feed
If a product has run out of stock, quickly update your Google Merchant Center product feed.
2. How to Handle Permanently Removed eCommerce Products: Alternative Available
If you’ve discontinued or upgraded a product to a better version, don’t delete your original product page just yet.
Create a 301 Redirect
A 301 redirect sends searchers and users permanently to the alternative product’s page. It’s the closest thing to replacing the page.
However, the alternative should be similar to the original product.
Otherwise, the searchers won’t get what they need and leave, increasing your bounce rate.
Note: 301 redirects don’t affect your SEO since 2016. Just remove pages with 301 status codes from your sitemap (i.e., your old product pages) so Google doesn’t crawl the old page, and you avoid cannibalization.
Sanity-check the redirect before it goes live. You don’t want a redirect chain where the visitor is sent from one page, redirected to another, and ends up on a completely different page.
It’s bad for user experience, and Google can display a notice that they’ve been redirected too many times.
Update Your Backlinks to Avoid Cannibalization
If you upgraded a product with a close alternative, review your backlinks and ask for them to be updated.
If your backlinks are directed to the old product page, it might start competing with your new products.
3. SEO for Discontinued eCommerce Products: No Alternative Available
If you’re permanently discontinuing your product and you don’t have an alternative, be transparent with visitors.
Remove the CTA
Explain the product is no longer available and remove the “Add to Cart” CTA.
Source: Digital Piloto
Offer Related Products
Then, offer related products or link to the (sub)category page.
It pays to be transparent with your visitors from a UX standpoint. Yes, you’ll lose some, but it’s better to be honest, and offer options than to come off as scammy because you directed them to a different page.
4. What If You Need to Delete a Product?
You have to be conservative with your crawl budget if you own a big eCommerce website.
Even though deleting a product page is never good for SEO, it might be the best option if you’re juggling millions of pages.
Create a Good 404 Page
If you delete a product page, create a relevant 404 page. Don’t redirect searchers to your homepage or use catch-all redirects.
Instead, use your eCommerce 404 page to display:
- Your best-selling products
- Related products
- Category and sub-category branches
You want to ensure their search intent is still somehow fulfilled, albeit imperfectly. Give searchers options to keep them browsing.
Check for Broken Links
Then, check for broken links.
If the page received backlinks, update them with a close variant or redirect them to the category page.
Otherwise, they’ll disappear as the pages are removed from the index.
Deleting an eCommerce product page is never a perfect process, but mitigate the damage by deleting it properly.
Is It Possible to Remove eCommerce Products Without Hurting My SEO?
Yes! Fortunately, there are plenty of options to handle removed products without deleting them:
- Temporarily out of stock? State it on the page and offer alternatives
- Discontinued with an available alternative? Create a 301 redirect and update backlinks
- Discontinued without an alternative? Remove the CTA and offer category page links
And even if you have to delete a product, there’s a good way to do it with a relevant 404 page and updated backlinks.
Remember: SEO is about searchers. Be transparent and give them options. So, no matter what happens with your product, they’ll trust you to wait for more.