Everyone really wants to know: “What do I do with dead ecommerce product pages?!”
Well, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. And, in order to make the right decision for your business and website, you need to address some key fundamental questions.
- 1. Will the product return?
- 2. How much search traffic does that page generate?
- 3. What links, & how many, point to that page?
Numbers two and three loosely tie together. One can assume that if the page generates a lot of traffic, then there will be a significant amount of links (at least enough to make a 301 worthwhile). While it’s important to address these key questions, regardless of the amount of traffic or links- I will still usually suggest using a 301 redirect for users-sake- as ending up at a dead-end (404 error page) is the worst scenario.
After you’ve answered those questions- you need to develop a process for various types of “product statuses.” For example, if a product is simply out of stock- you wouldn’t want to delete the page and reactivate it once it’s back in stock. And the opposite goes for products that are no longer available, you wouldn’t want to keep the page up just to maintain search traffic. That’s why you need a process. One that is identical across the board for all products and services, and one that is communicated to all employees that maintain and update your website.
The Product Scenarios
- The Product May Return
If the product has a chance at returning, then keep the page until you know for sure either way. Make sure you offer a message to the visitor stating the product is not available and suggest some related products. Ideally, these solutions would lead them to make another purchase or at the least continue browsing your website.
- The Product is Out-of-Stock but Will Return
This is common sense. Keep the page. Include an icon or message on the page telling the visitor the product is out of stock and estimated time of reappearance. Also, it’s smart to include options like “notify me when this product is back in stock” – such as an email, text or phone call alert.
- The Product Will Not Return
If the product has no chance at returning, you should typically remove the page. HOWEVER, I don’t suggest simply removing the page and moving on. In my opinion, regardless of search traffic and links, the page should be redirected. Use a 301 with an added query string to a related products page, a category-level page, or the next best product page. Make sure to include the query string though, so users don’t get confused and leave your website frustrated.
- Other Options
Depending on your business and product turnover rate, an archive of old products might be beneficial. If you do create an archive or “museum” of sorts, make sure the site architecture is built in which it doesn’t duplicate content or lose search traffic to those once high-traffic product pages.
Or, if you didn’t want to 301 with a query string for products that won’t return- create a new category landing page for those dead products. For example, if you have a lot of discontinued products that are closely related, redirect those dead products to a landing page that states “Unfortunately that product has been discontinued. Browse closely related products that we think you will love just the same!” or something to that effect.
While some options for handling dead product pages are better than others (for SEO), it’s always important to put your users first. They are your customers and they always come first. You can have SEO-friendly and user-friendly processes for handling dead product pages.