In eCommerce, products come and go for various reasons, so having a well-thought-out, out-of-stock plan is crucial to your SEO strategy.
Rules to Create an Out-of-Stock Plan
I have three rules to help you create your own Out-of-stock Plan for an eCommerce website.
1. The 404 Pitfall
If you are searching for a product you desperately want but find a “404 – Page Not Found” error staring back at you, this would be frustrating, right? This is precisely why it’s essential not to return a standard 404 error when products go out of stock on your website. Instead, gracefully communicate that the product is unavailable and provide alternatives.
When you return a 404 error for out-of-stock products, you’re essentially telling search engines that the page doesn’t exist. This can have a detrimental impact on your SEO efforts, as it disrupts the user experience and sends negative signals to search engine crawlers.
2. Soft 404s
We spoke in detail about Soft 404s previously, but Google may treat out-of-stock eCommerce pages as ‘Soft 404s.’ A ‘Soft 404’ is a page that doesn’t return a traditional 404 status code but instead presents a page with little to no content of value.
Google interprets this page as a poor user experience, making it less likely to include such pages in its search engine results pages (SERPs).
This means that when you return a “product not available” message instead of a 404 error, you have a better chance of retaining your page’s presence in search results, even if the product is temporarily out of stock.
3. Handling Permanently Out-of-Stock Products
For products that are permanently out of stock, it’s wise to take further action. I would suggest:
- Removing Internal Links: Eliminate any internal links pointing to the out-of-stock product. This helps prevent users and search engine crawlers from stumbling upon a dead-end page.
- URL Redirect: Consider redirecting the URL of the out-of-stock product to a relevant PLP or a similar PDP where possible. This redirect ensures that visitors who access the old URL are directed to alternative products they might be interested in.
By implementing these steps, you improve the user experience by guiding customers to available products and maintain a healthy SEO visibility for your website.