User-Focused SEO Strategies For Deleted Products

The flow of products in and out of Ecommerce websites can be a challenge when trying to retain SEO value, build brand, and satisfy the users intent. The management of this consistent change can sometimes fall by the wayside – causing a loss in value for SEO and an increased frustration for users.

This frustration can cause your brand advocates to hit the back button and move on to one of your competitors.

There are tactics and strategies to keep both the user happy, and align this fluid change in product set with high-value user-focused SEO to retain search value.

Below are 5 options (in no specific order) for handling deleted products on your Ecommerce website.

1. Redirect to the Deleted Product’s Category Page


Type of redirect to use:

  • A 301 redirect

Strategy:

  1. Whenever a user clicks on an external link – either from the search results, bookmark, social website, or from a link on another website, dynamically identify the category the product resides in – this should be the category that is one level up from the product page, or if there is less than 3 products in the defined category, keep climbing the taxonomy until there is at least 3 products in a category.
  2. Once this category is defined, 301 redirect the old product page to this category.

Pros:

  • Pushes ranking value into the category page.
  • Allows the ranking value to be split between remaining products in that category
  • Gives users the ability to find other relevant products that could fit their needs
  • Lowers the risk of users going back to the search results page and visiting a competing website
  • Once the search engine re-crawls the page and finds the 301 redirect the product will be removed from the search engines index.

Cons:

  • Possible user confusion. This risk can be mitigated by serving a small JavaScript overlay on the category page (this can’t interfere with the search engines ability to crawl the category page) explaining that the previous item is not available, but that these might be helpful.

2. Redirect to a Search Results Product Set


Type of redirect:

  • A 301 redirect coupled with a noindex/follow meta-tag on the search results page.

Strategy:

  1. Whenever a user clicks on an external link – either from the search results, bookmark, social website, or from a link on another website, spin a search based on the type of product or product title (minus stop words).
  2. Return the search results page to the user that includes similar products

Pros:

  • Keeps users engaged with the website.
  • Using the noidex/follow meta-tag allows ranking metrics to flow through the internal links on the search results set, but keeps the search results page out of the Google index.
  • Allows for discovery of similar products
  • Once the search engine re-crawls the page and finds the 301 redirect the product will be removed from the search engines index.

Cons:

  • Possible user confusion. This risk can be mitigated by serving a small JavaScript overlay on the category page (this can’t interfere with the search engines ability to crawl the page) explaining that the previous item is not available, but that these might be helpful.
  • Leaves the product selection up to the user. Thus, the website owner can’t control the outcome of the user journey or directly match/recommend a single product that best matches their intent.

3. Manually Redirect to a Similar Product


Type of redirect:

  • A 301 redirect

Strategy:

  1. Manually create a 301 mapping by selecting a similar product or page from the remaining product set so whenever a user clicks on an external link – either from the search results, bookmark, social website, or from a link on another website they are taken to the new page.
  2. If there are large sets of redirects that need to take place, an excel sheet can be used to manage these sets, and then pulled in and identified by the database to automatically include these new redirects.
  3. Create an environment to allow for the deleted item to be redirected to this newly identified page.

Pros:

  • Ability to easily match relevancy based on user need.
  • Ability to redirect to a similar product that high conversion rate – or even a new product that has a high relevancy to the deleted product.
  • Keeps users engaged within the website.
  • Allows for direct flow of ranking and social metrics from one product to another.
  • Once the search engine re-crawls the page and finds the 301 redirect the product will be removed from the search engines index.

Cons:

  • Possible user confusion. This risk can be mitigated by serving a small JavaScript overlay on the category page (this can’t interfere with the search engines ability to crawl the page) explaining that the previous item is not available, but that these might be helpful.
  • This is done manually and can be time consuming for large ecommerce websites.

4. Redirect Based on Relevancy Value


Type of redirect:

  • 301 redirect

Strategy:
Title relevancy is high enough redirect directly to related product.

  1. Whenever a user clicks on an external link – either from the search results, bookmark, social website, or from a link on another website, and it is detected that a 404 error will occur, dynamically spin a search on the back end utilizing title of the product.
  2. If there is a product that matches at a high enough relevancy (this will be defined based on product set) send the user directly to that product.
  3. If the relevancy of products is not high enough, send the user to a search results page with a group of related products.
  4. If a search results page will need to be presented, follow rules outlined in option 2.
  5. If a product page will be shown, follow rules outlined in option 3.

Pros:

  • This is a combination of strategy 2 and 3, and allows the backend to dynamically determine which option to use – thus serving the best option to the user based on value and relevancy.
  • Keeps users engaged within the website.
  • Keeps ranking and social metrics flowing throughout the website.
  • Once the search engine re-crawls the page and finds the 301 redirect the product will be removed from the search engines index.

Cons:

  • Possible user confusion. This risk can be mitigated by serving a small JavaScript overlay on the category page (this can’t interfere with the search engines ability to crawl the page) explaining that the previous item is not available, but that these might be helpful.

5. Custom 404 Page


Type of redirect:

  • 301 or none needed depending on how 404 serving is handled.

Strategy:

    1. Whenever a user clicks on an external link – either from the search results, bookmark, social website, or from a link on another website, redirect the user to a custom 404 page

This page should: Inform the user the product is no longer available; Provide related product selections; Provide a search box for the user to search the website for other products.

Pros:

  • Directly informs the user that the product is no longer available
  • Once the search engine re-crawls the page and finds the 301 redirect the product will be removed from the search engines index.

Cons:

  • Loss of ranking or social value that the deleted item had built.
  • Higher risk the user will hit the back button and go to a competitor of yours who still has the product.