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June 24, 2020

Brick-and-mortar companies and online businesses are withstanding unique challenges due to the existing pandemic. Several e-retailers are currently experiencing quick out of stock and discontinued items from the remarkably high demand of products being purchased online.

Challenges that businesses are currently facing include:

  • Similar items are out of stock at the same time
  • Unaware of when new items will come back in stock
  • Delays in product re-stocking
  • Continuing to hold a decent ranking due to lack of stock and high demand

When considering your SEO strategy, it’s crucial to ensure that your product pages continue to rank. This may be a frustrating process for retailers and consumers in short-term, but its essential!

Keep reading to discover ways your business can manage temporarily out-of-stock pages.

Is this a technical SEO problem?

It’s not really a technical SEO problem, however, it’s essential that your pages continue to rank, even though they’re not as useful temporarily. Here are some approaches you should and shouldn’t take when handling your pages:

#1: 404 (Not Found)

Don’t 404 product pages that you’re going to need later on. The goal is for your customers to return to you so that you can ensure their loyalty and sell your products when they eventually come back in stock.

When items are restocked, you want to have the ability to act fast and make the page accessible again. It takes time for Google to make your page rank highly again once you 404 the page. The last thing you want is for your product pages to rank well when your products are almost out of stock again. 

#2: 301 (Permanent Redirect)

If your product still exists, then you’ll want to avoid applying 301 to your page. Redirecting your page permanently won’t provide any benefit unless you’re permanently replacing the product with something similar. Plus, reversing a 301 application can be time-consuming and challenging.

#3: 302 (Temporary Redirect)

Although this seems like the best option, unfortunately, the timing could still get in the way if the product is back in stock.

If you’re out of stock for an item and you replace it temporarily, visitors will still be able to search the old product and will be redirected to the replacement, which will likely provide an unpleasant, frustrating visitor experience. In times like this, the goal is to keep your conversion rate up, so a 302 is not always the best solution.

#4 Item Availability Schema

Often, businesses use the [availability] property when displaying products to set options such as: In Stock, In Store Only, Out of Stock, and Sold Out. Google can choose to present this information to assist with organic search results. However, businesses may face challenges with their competitors.

It’s great to be transparent with online shoppers, but you probably won’t want “out of stock” to appear in your product description when your competitors aren’t displaying anything. Also, you may be able to easily switch the product from “out-of-stock” to “in stock” and think that everything is okay, but Google still needs some time to update this information. The success of this approach all depends on timing.

What are the best solutions then?

It may seem like there’s high risk and little hope associated with handling your out-of-stock pages, nevertheless, all it takes is to provide value to your search visitors and create a quality user-experience to keep them a loyal customer.

Internal Search

A common question online retailers ask themselves is – should I remove these products from being displayed temporarily? When you consider your SEO strategy, this can be a challenging decision.

When removing products from being shown, blocking the internal link equity even temporarily will likely impact your website rankings. There’s a chance this will result in a blank page that doesn’t truthfully represent your typical inventory.

Here are 2 solutions to consider that will be worthwhile, especially during this time:

1. Filtering Out-of-Stock Products

Businesses with e-commerce sites are usually unwilling to hide products in order to upkeep the perception that they have several items available, however, this is impractical if the items aren’t actually in stock.

Allowing customers to filter the out-of-stock items will address these problems. Doing this will be beneficial for you and consumers because they’ll be able to view the products you usually carry, so they can re-visit when you’re in stock again. You can also make the filter unavailable to search bots. This will pass link equity to all products.

2. Don’t Prioritize Out-of-Stock Products

Place out-of-stock products near the bottom of internal search results while continuing to manage filters and sorts within the stocked and out-of-stock groups. This way, visitors can view an entire list of your products, making the available ones the first items they see. It’s highly unlikely that visitors will browse through pages of unavailable inventory.

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Although there isn’t a simple solution to this problem, from an SEO standpoint, its essential at the very least to maintain the ranking power of the pages by preserving their value and providing visitors with more options.

Stay tuned for more tips on our next blog!

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