Discontinued Product and SEO – To Remove or Not To Remove?

In normal business processes product lines are continually changing, especially with items that are fashion based or seasonal. In current times though the question of what to do with discontinued product pages has become a hot topic.


At Vesta we have seen many suppliers dramatically cut their SKU range in order to consolidate production in a time of stretched resources, this means that now, more than ever, you need to make sure you are handling product discontinuations in your store correctly.


As an Ecommerce merchant I think there are 2 considerations:


  1. Consider the impact on the user experience when browsing and finding discontinued items (or worst case, not knowing until after check out).
  2. Maybe even more importantly, what will it do to your SEO and product pages.


It is also necessary to distinguish between a temporary disruption or a permanent discontinuation.


What if it is Temporary?

If an item is temporarily out of stock there are a few things you can do to ensure your customer has a positive interaction.


  1. This one may be obvious but don’t allow the customer the option of adding the product to their cart. It is a time waster for both you and them to go to the trouble of going through the purchase process and then discover the item is not available when you have to contact them after the fact.
  2. Create an opt in for the customer to leave their contact details. You can then contact them as soon as your stock arrives.
  3. Put a note in the product description telling the customer when you expect the item to be available, if you are going to allow the product to be purchased while out of stock. Make sure you make it very clear how long they will have to wait.
  4. Recommend a similar replacement product to the customer – including a link to its product page. Prominently featuring similar products is also helpful.


What if the product is gone for good?

When a product is discontinued you don’t want to waste its SEO value. It takes time and work to build that SEO collateral. The amount of interest it has generated, the searches, sales and backlinks all add to its value.


There are a few ways to preserve it.


Keep the Product Page

Don’t delete the product from your site. Mark the item as out of stock so that it cannot be added to cart – again very annoying if you don’t do this. In the product description add a notice that it has been discontinued. Finally, recommend an alternative or a similar product, with a link for direct access.


It is important to present an alternative action to your customer. It has taken effort to get your customer to this point and this opportunity should not be wasted.


If there is no call to action for the customer, they could leave as soon as they discover the product is discontinued. This would increase your bounce rate for the page and negatively affect your SEO score.


You can keep track of how much interest the page generates over time via your Analytics. If you find the interest decreases and the bounce rate is increasing, consider removing the indexing of the page.


Some ecommerce platforms allow you to hide the product from searches and listing pages, but continue to allow it to be found if the page is accessed directly via URL e.g by clicking the product in google. This can be a good option provided you follow the redirection steps above.


Use a 301 Redirect

You don’t want a huge amount of discontinued product pages on your site – this makes for a bad customer experience. If this is happening, you can delete a discontinued product and use a 301 Redirect.


A 301 Redirect is a permanent redirect from one URL to another. You can think of it as leaving a forwarding address when you move. Your customer is seamlessly directed to a new page. From an SEO point of view a 301 Redirect helps you maintain your search rankings.


If you choose to use this redirect, consider the following:


  1. Tell the customer they have been redirected and why. If you don’t tell them, they will be confused. They thought they were clicking through to an Echo Dot Smart Speaker with Alexa, and they found a Google Home Speaker instead. Always consider your customer’s user experience.
  2. If your site is a large one with many products you can automate this process and take the customer back to a category or sub-category. Again, you should tell them what you have done.
  3. Your redirect should take your customer to a page with a similar product or content or they will not get what they are looking for. When this happens your bounce rate will go up.


Avoid 404 Pages

If you simply hit delete and remove the discontinued product, your customer will arrive at a 404 Page if they happen upon your old product link. This is known as a broken link and could be found in several places – in an advert, a promotion, or a blog post.


No customer likes a 404 Page. It means the page they were looking for can’t be found. It is a dead end. They have to go back, and will possibly just leave your site.


Some argue that you can make a 404 page work for you by including proper messaging explaining to your customer where the product has gone. This can work on small websites but it takes a lot of maintaining.


To sum up

In summary personally I think a 404 page is best avoided. Instead my general advice is to automate the process of marking products as discontinued and pointing customers to a suitable replacement, without deleting the product page.


Let the SEO you have on the page continue to work for you, and use it as a new opportunity to convert your client.

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