What do you do with your eCommerce site product pages when they’re no longer available? Do you do anything at all? In this article, we explain SEO best practice for taking care of discontinued products.
Making sure you deal with your discontinued products is an
important part of your eCommerce SEO for several reasons:
When we say “discontinued products”, different eCommerce store owners will have different meanings. Broadly speaking, there are four situations where products are removed or aren’t available:
For the purpose of this article, we’re talking strictly about number one; products that are no longer available and won’t be for the foreseeable future.
There are three generally accepted options when it comes to dealing with discontinued product pages. The right one to use depends on the specific circumstances, but we’ll come to that later. First, here’s a quick summary to give you an idea of the tactics we’ll be looking at:
Each of these approaches has its own pros and cons so let’s look at which of these tactics is right for your eCommerce store.
It can be tricky reading through reams of content when all you want to know is what strategy to use depending on your situation. The tree diagram below should help you figure out which strategy you should be using:
A 301 redirect is a way of automatically sending a user from one
location to another. This is the ideal solution when you’re moving the same
page/product to a new URL and want to keep users landing on the right page when
they click existing links.
301 redirects are also the best options if you’re replacing a
product with a new version of the same product and creating a new page for it.
However, we don’t recommend redirecting to another product.
There are three reasons for this:
We recommend redirecting to the next level up in the navigation
like a sub-category or category page that lists the most equivalent products.
A 404 page is displayed when another cannot be shown. One of the
reasons for this is the product no longer exists because it has expired or has
A standard 404 page (such as the one below) provides very little
information that would be useful to a user arriving on the site via a product
URL. Clearly, it doesn’t contain what the user is looking for so the user
experience becomes poor and the journey stops. This is what you need to avoid.
If you’re giving potential visitors a bad experience, then it’s a bad experience
you’ll be giving search engines as well.
Instead, we recommend investing time in creating custom 404
pages for your discontinued products that specifically tell usrs the product is
no longer available and provides links to similar alternatives.. The advantages
However, there are some disadvantages to custom 404 pages. They
are more demanding and time consuming to create, they may require additional
development and therefore investment.
A good example of a custom 404 page from an eCommerce site is
You can see that the product the user was looking for no longer
exists, but alternative products are provided; the site registers user intent
and addresses it immediately.
This makes for a great user experience.
Re-purposing a page is similar to a 404 as described above.
However, rather than making the page return a 404 (which tells search engines
the page that was there is no longer) the page appears as a normal one – it
just has different content on it.
What you can do is replace the content on the product page with
updated imagery, text, links and status – to reflect that it’s no longer
available but also provide information on alternative products. This tells
search engines and users that the original product they were trying to find is
no longer available. However, it provides lots of useful information to the
user about an equivalent product without forcing them with a redirect.
This is an effective way of reducing bounce rates and also
provides more control over the content than a custom 404 usually would. This is
a good tactic to use for products that previously generated good traffic and
was of high value.
An example of a re-purposed product page is below:
It was back in March 2013 that Google released a video with information about what sites should do with pages for products that are no longer available. Here’s the video:
Search Engine Watch also did a good round-up of the points that
Matt Cutts makes in the video, which you can read here. This covers small
eCommerce sites, medium and larger sites.
More recently, in 2019, John Mueller explained a common issue
where expired product pages often return as soft 404s, even though site owners
have repurposed them to show users the item is no longer available and provide
recommendations for other products.
The issue was raised during a Google Webmaster Central hangout,
which you can view below (the issue is raised at 11:23):
Here’s What John Mueller had to say on the topic:
“I suspect what is happening here is that our algorithms are
looking at these pages and they’re seeing maybe there’s a banner on the page
saying “this product is no longer available. And [our algorithms] assume that
applies to the page the user ended up on. So that’s sometimes not really
If you’re really replacing one product with another it might
make sense to just redirect.
If one product is gone completely and is no longer available
then you could put it in this soft 404 state where you say this product is no
So try to stay away from phrasing like “no longer available” on repurposed pages that could trick Google into thinking the page itself is no longer available. Stick to phrasing like “out of stock” or “discontinued” that makes it clear to both users and search engines that the item is no longer available but the product page still holds some value.
SEO checklist for eCommerce websites
SEO tactics for eCommerce websites
Dave is head of SEO at Vertical Leap. He joined in 2010 as an SEO specialist and prior to that worked with international companies delivering successful search marketing campaigns. Dave works with many of our largest customers spanning many household names and global brands such as P&O Cruises and Harvester. Outside of work, Dave previously spent many years providing charity work as a Sergeant under the Royal Air Force Reserves in the Air Cadets sharing his passion for aviation with young minds. He can often be found in the skies above the south coast enjoying his private pilot licence.
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