Inventory management for a large e-commerce business can be quite challenging and hence many times we come across out-of-stock product pages while browsing through an online retailer’s website.
When it comes to SEO, handling out-of-stock pages and adhering to the best practices plays a crucial role in a website’s overall user experience and search traffic. A large number of out-of-stock pages can lower user engagement and increase your site’s bounce rate.
(Bounce rate: According to Google, bounce rate is “the percentage of all sessions on your site in which users viewed only a single page and triggered only a single request to the Analytics server)
So, let’s understand how to manage out-of-stock pages in a way that is SEO friendly and gives users a positive experience while browsing.
Example of an Out-Of-Stock page in walmart.com
There are three scenarios for out-of-stock products:
- The product is permanently out of stock
- The product is temporarily out-of-stock, but the retailer doesn’t know the exact date of its availability.
- The product is temporarily out-of-stock, and the retailers know when it will be back.
Best Practices for Permanent Out-Of-Stock Pages:
- If you know that a product is discontinued permanently, and you have a similar or near equivalent product page available, then it is recommended to permanently redirect the out-of-stock page to the equivalent page and simultaneously update the internal links and XML sitemap.
- In case a near equivalent page is not available then it is okay to return a 4xx status code and provide a custom 4xx page to users with permanent out-of-stock messaging and product recommendations.
- If a custom 4xx page is not available, then return a page with 200 OK status code and provide users with a message which clearly states that the product is out-of-stock. Add related product recommendations to keep users engaged on the page. It is then recommended to remove the URL from XML sitemap as well as make sure that all internal links to the URL are removed. This will make the page inaccessible to search engine crawlers and users.
The page should also be updated with structured data to indicate search engines and users that the product in question is out-of-stock.
Best Practices for Temporary Out-Of-Stock Pages:
Sometimes there is a product that is out-of-stock temporarily and retailers know when it will be back. It is also possible that the retailer is not sure when the product will be back in stock. In these cases, it is important to ensure that the message is communicated properly to the users so that it doesn’t affect the overall browsing experience and make the page less visible to search engines.
Use of Structured Data: When you know the product is eventually going to be back, it is best not to delete the page and keep it live with a 200 OK status code. However, you can use product structured data markup on the out-of-stock page so that the product availability details appear on the SERP along with other product details. This gives users information on the availability of products before they click on your website.
Seasonal Pages: Seasonal pages are used to drive conversions during a limited period. The main marketing strategy behind seasonal pages is to drive traffic and conversions during holidays. For Example: Black Friday Sale, Valentine’s Day Offer, Independence Day Sale, etc. Now the main challenge is to manage such pages during off-season. Should we delete such pages and recreate them every year? The answer is NO.
The best way to handle seasonal pages is to serve 200 OK status codes all year round and repurpose them every year. You should also remove the seasonal pages from site navigation during off-season and eliminate all internal links to such pages. In case you have some traffic coming to these pages, it is recommended then to have custom messaging on the page so that users are given accurate, updated information and navigational options.
Here is a great example of Costco’s Valentine’s Day sale page:
Pre-Ordering: Pre-ordering is a great way to capture sales from potential customers. Even if the product is not available currently, pre-ordering can help you retain customers who would have otherwise left your website to search for the product elsewhere. With pre-ordering, you can ensure your customers that the product will be available and sent to them at a later date.
Here’s how Walmart lets customers preorder several products including movies, music, video games, etc.
Clear Messaging: Make sure that you clearly communicate to your users that the product is temporarily out-of-stock and will be back soon. If possible, give them an exact date by when the product will be available to them. This saves a lot of time and effort of the users who will probably not engage with the page till more details about the product are not available on the website.
Also, it is a good thing if you can communicate to the users why the product is out-of-stock and how you are solving this problem. If a certain version of the product (color, size) is out-of-stock, communicate that to the user as well.
Email and Push Notification: Enable e-mail notifications on product pages so that customers can get email alerts when the product is available. This helps the retailer to make a sale when the product comes back in stock. Your most loyal customers would love to buy from you again if you maintain proper communication with them.
Example of Corkcicle, a leading US-based drinkware retailer using the “notify me” option for their sold-out products.
Suggest Related Products: If a product is out-of-stock, that doesn’t mean we have to lose out on a sale or conversion. A retailer will have several similar products in a particular category that can be presented as an alternative to the customer. Although customers didn’t get the product they were looking for, they might find a better alternative from the related products section.
Here is an example of Costco having similar products sections for out-of-stock pages
De-prioritize: Another good way of handling out-of-stock pages is by pushing them at the bottom of product landing pages. This helps in better accessibility of available products and makes them more visible to users and search engines.
Inventory management in SEO is important as it is related to user experience which further impacts traffic and conversions. It’s a huge challenge for big retailers with thousands of products on their website to maintain user engagement. Better inventory planning can help them reduce the number of out-of-stock pages on their website.
Another helpful tip to make sure that even if users land on an out-of-stock page, they don’t leave the website with a bad experience is to adhere to the proper SEO practices
We at Merkle are focused on helping our clients scale their businesses with data-driven and user-focused SEO strategies. Reach out to us!