Since ecommerce began, the issue of what to do with old products has been a question that retailers have asked, and the “best” answer is not the same for everyone. Depending on your CMS, your product database, audience, and your goals, what you do with your inactive website products might be different from what someone else does, but generally you will choose one of the following three options.
1. Leave The page up, but Remove the "add to cart" button.
If your product is only temporarily out of stock, you should definitely leave your product page up, and let your customers know that they can return to this page once it is back in stock. If your product has been discontinued, you also have the option of leaving the page up, but just have your CMS remove the order options for products that are inactive.
- You keep the organic rankings for that page, bumping competitors down and getting more search traffic.
- You keep the image rankings that you’ve built.
- Inbound links continue to carry full value to that page.
- People who land on the site find the page for exactly what they are looking for, even if they can’t order it.
- Large database of products to maintain.
- Google crawlers might be using up their allocation for your site crawl on old, non-profitable pages.
- Visitors may be frustrated when they land on your page because they can’t actually buy the product.
- If this product has been replaced by a new version/model the visitor might land on this old page and completely miss the new product.
One great way to handle inactive products on an ecommerce site is to leave the pages up and have links to the relevant sub-category/category pages that the visitor might be interested in. As an added bonus, these category links generate some good anchor text. For example: “This [product name] is no longer available, but we do have a wide selection of [sub-category name] and [category name] available!
2. Delete the Product Entirely
Inactivating your product so that it no longer shows on the site with the product URL returning a 404 error isn’t the best option, but it does have some advantages.
- People know immediately that the product they were looking for is no longer available, avoiding confusion about a "broken" site that won’t let you order the inactive product.
- A well-optimized 404 error page can guide people towards the products that you still have that they might be interested in.
- It's really easy to just return a 404 error page when a URL doesn't resolve.
- Most people will leave immediately if they don’t see what they expect when they hit your site.
- The old product pages returning 404 errors will start to drop out of the rankings.
- You lose image rankings as those are no longer available either.
- As these pages and images drop out of the index, links built to them will start to drop out as well.
3. Redirect it
Redirecting the removed product URL to a new page can either be helpful for a visitor, or incredibly confusing, depending on what and where you are redirecting.
Some ecommerce sites will put in a catch-all that redirects all not-found URLs to the home page, which isn’t a great solution. Yes, it prevents people from landing on error pages, but landing on the home page is just as confusing when you click a product-specific link. For crawlers, it means that every single URL that has ever existed still gets crawled and indexed, which can take up a lot of crawl bandwidth.
Instead of doing a mass catch-all to redirect to the home page, it’s recommended that you be more specific in your redirects. If possible with your CMS and database, redirect the old product to the nearest sub-category/category page.
For example, if the product, “Youth Girls Baseball Glove – Pink with Gold Stars” is located in the category: Baseball > Gloves > Youth > Girls, then you should redirect that specific discontinued product page to the “Girls” baseball gloves page. Then, if the visitor is searching for that product and ends up on your site through the old URL, they end up on a page that still has products highly relevant to what they are looking for and perhaps they will find something else to fit their needs.
Pros of Targeted Redirects:
- Your visitors get a page with products similar to the specific product they were looking for.
- Allows visitors to see newer products in the same category.
- Links to redirected pages keep much of their link juice (inbound link value), and can build link authority to the category pages.
Cons of Targeted Redirects:
- It can get difficult to manage if you have a large catalog.
- It can get especially difficult if your products are in multiple categories and there are no easy rules to define where to redirect a product to.
- Redirecting categories/sub-categories can result in redirect chains.
- Eventually, these redirected product pages will fall out of the search results as well.
What is the best way to handle product removal for SEO?
The answer here comes down to this: the best way to handle product removal is the one that is the most specific, and yet still manageable for you. If you have the resources to update every single inactive product to make the page user friendly while facilitating them to purchase other products, great! If that’s unreasonable, but you find that you can do a redirect to the most relevant parent category, awesome! What’s importa
nt is that you’re working with the goal to drive the visitor to the most relevant page on the site, and that you’re still meeting your website objectives (more sales) while doing so.