Out-of-Stock Products: SEO Best Practices for E-commerce

by Garrett Nafzinger

It’s a given in the e-commerce world: products fly off the virtual shelves, and sometimes, you hit the bottom of the barrel. While these out-of-stock scenarios are part and parcel of online retail, they can throw a wrench in the works for both user experience and SEO if not managed thoughtfully.

Why Keeping Out-of-Stock Pages Matters for SEO

It can be tempting, almost a knee-jerk reaction, for online retailers to wipe an out-of-stock product page off the map and sub in a different product. But hold your horses—this quick fix might do more harm than good for your SEO efforts. Here’s the lowdown:

  • Established Ranking: Imagine this—a page you’ve built from the ground up, earned its stripes in search rankings, and is drawing traffic thanks to some quality backlinks. Yanking it away just because the product’s out of stock? That’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
  • User Experience: Ever been given the run-around, clicking on a link only to land on an error page or getting bounced around without a heads-up? It’s annoying and disappointing—a double whammy that can ding your site’s SEO reputation.

How to Keep Your SEO Game Strong with Out-of-Stock Products

Let’s dive into some street-smart strategies to keep out-of-stock pages from becoming SEO dead-ends.

  1. Keep the Page Live and Label It Clearly: Leave the page up, slap a clear “out-of-stock” label on it, and if you’ve got a clue when it’ll be back, share the deets. This move keeps your page in the SEO game, makes for a better user experience, and you can even snag emails for restock alerts.
  2. Suggest Alternative Products: It’s like saying, “We’re fresh out of that one, but hey, check these out!” Pointing customers to similar products keeps them shopping with you and not the competitor.
  3. Thoughtful 301 Redirects: Got a product that’s not just out of stock but out for good? A 301 redirect can guide shoppers to a similar product or category, passing that SEO juice to the new page without leading them to a dead end.
  4. ‘Notify Me’ or Pre-Order Options: Don’t miss out on eager customers. A “notify me” button or pre-order option can keep the interest alive and give you a lead to work with.
  5. Schema Markup to the Rescue: Implement the “ProductAvailability” schema markup to make it crystal clear to search engines whether customers can hit the ‘Buy’ button or not.
  6. Strategic ‘noindex’ Tagging: If it’s curtains for a product and not taking a comeback tour, slap a “noindex” tag on it. This tells search engines to skip over these pages, keeping your site’s SEO neat and tidy.

Common Pitfalls to Sidestep with Out-of-Stock Items

Here are some no-nos that can trip you up:

  • 404 Errors Are a No-Go: A flood of 404 errors is bad news for your site’s SEO health. Avoid it like the plague.
  • 301 Redirects Are Not a Cure-All: Only pull out the 301 cards for discontinued items that have a similar product or category to redirect to. Otherwise, “noindex” is your friend.
  • Don’t Ghost Your Own Page: Wiping out a page altogether? That’s an SEO opportunity down the drain.

Wrapping It Up

Managing out-of-stock products is no walk in the park, but with the right SEO strategy, clear communication, and a focus on user experience, you can turn a snag into a chance for engagement and loyalty.

Further Reading

If you’re looking to get your ducks in a row with out-of-stock products, here are a couple of go-to resources: