Dealing with out-of-stock products and maintaining a good standing with Google
Operating a successful ecommerce website, you’re undoubtedly going to run out of stock for a certain product sooner or later.
Google has made some helpful recommendations to website owners that want to deal with this in a Google-friendly way. As Google keep telling us, search engines are leaning more and more towards prioritising websites that provide the best user experience, rather than sites that are built for crawlers and Google bots.
Accordingly, the best course of action when you are out of stock for a particular product depends on the size of your online store and, of course, how long you expect the low stock levels to last.
If a visitor comes to a page expecting to be able to buy a product and they cannot, you want to let them down lightly and avoid losing them as a future customer. Ideally, you’ll continue ranking in Google for the particular product page, so hiding the page or having it removed from Google index isn’t always an option.
Linking to Related Products
For small online stores, creating a page with similar products is a good option. Provide the user with other options by linking to other product pages within the website.
Google is not going to punish you because and having so few products, the user isn’t going to spit the dummy. Another option is to redirect the user to the category page of the particular product that is out of stock.
When is the 404 page a good idea?
For an eCommerce website with many products, setting up a custom 404 page with relevant links is advised when the product is permanently out of stock. This has the effect of potentially keeping the customer on the website without harming your Google rank to any great extent.
If a highly ranked product page is permanently out of stock, Google is going to notice the effect this has on visitor engagement and penalise your website accordingly. But if your stock levels will be replenished soon, you should set up a page that informs visitors of this and possibly gives them the option to pre-order.
Products and services that will be unavailable in the future
There’s nothing more annoying to a user than coming into a service or offer page only to find that it expired months ago. This is often the case for websites that advertise jobs, competitions and other kinds of services that have an expiry date, if you will.
Using a certain meta-tag (known as unavailable_after) for such pages allows you to signal to Google that the page should not show up in search results after a certain date. This is useful for larger websites with classified ads or online stores with products that are only available for a limited time.