The Challenge of Out of Stock Product Pages
There has been much discussion about how to handle out of stock (OOS) and discontinued product URLs in the SEO community, mostly due to the impact that different strategies can have on a website's visibility and user experience. The two most popular solutions are either redirecting these pages to the nearest relevant product or category URL or offering users the ability to backorder the product with an overlay or schema mark-up explaining that the product is currently unavailable.
Matt Cutts discussed this topic last year, providing differing suggestions depending on the scale and nature of a business website.
So what are the advantages, disadvantages and different use cases for OOS strategies?
Redirections can pass some of the product URL's link equity to the nearest product or category page and also offer a quick buying alternative for the visitor, who is then less likely bounce back to the SERPs.
However, it can also potentially result in a confusing or frustrating user experience, where the customer - instead of seeing the requested item's profile, lands on a different category or product page to what they were expecting. Finally, redirections also prevent previous customers from revisiting any previously purchased products.
Custom 404 and Product Page Overlay
Using overlays on out of stock product pages can provide a straightforward user experience with the added potential for backorders and returning visits. However, it does not help the ranking of relevant category pages, which tend to have a higher priority because of their ability to immediately generate revenue. It can also be a frustrating experience for the visitor however if they can’t purchase what they were looking for, potentially resulting in lower average order values and conversions.
The following table sums up the pros and cons of the different methods for treating out of stock and discontinued products:
Due to the contextual advantages and disadvantages associated with these strategies, as well as the fact that previously sold items can be attributed with value other than their physical ownership (such as the generation of on-site product reviews, design and straightforward site navigation), a full consensus on handling out of stock products is unlikely.
All potential strategies have advantages and disadvantages and the scale of your website as well as the type of business you run will ultimately decide the best course of action. From our experience of working with large scale retailers however, we have had great success redirecting out of stock products to closely related product category pages.
In one example, within nine days of implementing redirects, the product category pages received an additional 21,000 visits and in turn, this increase in traffic resulted in a five digit revenue increase over the same period.
You can read the full case study here.
Norman Pongracz – SEO Consultant