We have all found the perfect item when searching in Google, we click through to buy it, only to find out the website does not have that product anymore. Landing on an ecommerce product page from Google and discovering the product is discontinued or has been deleted from the website can be a frustrating user experience.

Below you will learn 5 leading practices to manage your ecommerce website’s unavailable or deleted products, all while helping your SEO.

1. Redirect to the Deleted Product’s Category Page

Type of SEO redirect to use: A 301 redirect

Ecommerce Strategy: 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 products in a category.

Once this category is defined, 301 redirect the old product page to this category.

When a product is listed in multiple categories, pre-defined a default category for redirection.

Ideally, the most closely related to the brand.

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 SERPs and visiting a competing website.
  • This will remove the product page from the search results set once the search engine re-crawls the page and finds the 301 redirect.

Cons:

  • Possible user confusion. This risk can be mitigated by serving a small JavaScript overlay on the category page (this should not interfere with the search engines ability to crawl the new page if set-up properly) explaining that the previous item isn’t available, but these might be helpful.
  • Rankings loss over time.
  • Loss of positioning in search results with popular non-branded terms is likely to happen over time.

2. Redirect to a Search Results Product Set

Type of SEO redirect: A 301 redirect coupled with a noindex/follow meta-tag on the search results page.

Ecommerce Strategy: 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). Return the search results page to the user that includes similar products.

Pros:

  • Keeps users engaged with the website.
  • Using the noindex/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.

Cons:

  • Possible user confusion. This risk can be mitigated by serving a small JavaScript overlay on the search result page (this should not interfere with the search engines ability to crawl the new page if set-up properly) 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.
  • Rankings loss over time.
  • Positions in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) with highly relevant keywords will be lost over time due to the noindex tag presence in the search result page and lack of keyword relevancy.

3. Manually Redirect to a Similar / Highly Relevant Product

[highly recommended to keep positions for non-branded keywords]

Type of SEO redirect: A 301 redirect.

Ecommerce Strategy: 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.

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.

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. This option is the most likely to help prevent losing positions in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) in the long-term.

Cons:

  • Possible user confusion. This risk can be mitigated by serving a small JavaScript overlay on the new product page (this should not interfere with the search engines ability to crawl the new page if set-up properly) explaining that the previous item is not available, this is a close match.
  • Or, by including a very visual note in the new, relevant product page.
  • This is done manually and can be time consuming for large ecommerce websites.

4. Redirect Based on Relevancy Value

Type of SEO redirect: A 301 redirect.

Ecommerce Strategy: 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.

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.

If the relevancy of products is not high enough, send the user to a search results page with a group of related products.

If a search results page will need to be presented, follow rules outlined in option 2.

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.
  • Helps reduce the risk of losing positioning in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) with popular non-branded terms over time (if there is a direct 301 redirect based on a high relevancy match).

Cons:

  • Possible user confusion. This risk can be mitigated by serving a small JavaScript overlay on the new page (this should not interfere with the search engines ability to crawl the new page if set-up properly) explaining that the previous item is not available, but that these might be helpful.
  • Loss In Rankings (If there is not a high-relevancy match).
  • If there is not a high enough relevancy match, rankings positions in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) with highly relevant keywords will be lost over time due to the noindex tag presence in the search result page and lack of keyword relevancy.

5. Custom 404 Page

Type of SEO redirect: No redirection is needed. Error pages should always return a 404 header status code.

Ecommerce Strategy: 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.
  • The search engines will remove this page form their 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.

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