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Can Out of Stock Products Positively Impact SEO?

     
1:51 pm on Jan 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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System: The following message was cut out of thread at: http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4726139.htm [webmasterworld.com] by goodroi - 10:14 am on Jan 29, 2015 (utc -5)


I have a question and wonder is others have seen this situation. I have a lot of products roughly 10K. I have two main competitors. They both have many products but I would estimate 20% or more are out of stock. In fact many have been out of stock for well over a year. On the out of stock items the prices are well below the current market prices. I have always wondered why you just don't delete these. But now I question if this may not be helping them. I suspect that these items get traffic because they appear so cheap. Traffic would be viewed by Google as popular. So in effect the lack of updating their site could benefit them. Any thoughts? Both sites appear higher in the SERPS.
6:38 pm on Jan 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I can't imagine it would really help. If it's marked out of stock, any traffic they get would probably use the back button - unless there's something else so compelling on their site to stick around for.
7:02 pm on Jan 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I see this so regularly and it drives me crazy YET Google not only keeps them listed but they rank well...I agree with you, it certainly does not appear to affect them negatively whatsoever.
7:09 pm on Jan 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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If googlebot crawls the page and finds the phrase "out of stock' in a prominent location, then in my view the algorithm should count that as a negative and demote the page in the rankings.
7:13 pm on Jan 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Netmeg makes a good point. Also, we need to remember that Google ranks Web pages, not businesses. It isn't realistic to expect Google to rank sites according to what's in stock, what the shipping charges or returns policies are, the quality of customer service, etc.
7:16 pm on Jan 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Yes, it can be beneficial. Where I have found it to be benefical is if you are selling a niche item. It can help you suggest a relevant alternative which can help new visitors that are interested in that niche learn more about your company or find a similar or even better item to purchase.

It is beneficial from an SEO perspective in that you the site may rank for a lot more searches than some would say you technically should because you do not have the item the searcher is seeking.
7:21 pm on Jan 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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> So in effect the lack of updating their site could benefit them.

Sure it would. If they are getting traffic on those pages, "traffic is traffic" - what the pages do with it after that is anyones guess. Out-of-stock doesn't matter. I can't count the number of times I have clicked on a link and hit a Amazon page that the product was unavailable. Then did a site search.
Additionally, that is branding exposure, and keyword exposure (that the next guy may not get).
7:24 pm on Jan 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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any traffic they get would probably use the back button - unless there's something else so compelling on their site to stick around for.

But if they had a form for "Notify me when this product is in stock" or something similar, a lot of people (depending on the type of item) may stick around and fill out the form (especially if people thing the low price will still be available when the product becomes available), which Google could view as a positive sign (time on site before leaving/returning to Google).

Even if the product won't ever be in stock again, this could be a benefit for the merchant- time spent on site for Google plus a collected e-mail address for marketing purposes.

This could also work for branding purposes. If consumers see the company in the SERPs for a lot of different products, it's obviously going to help with brand recognition. If they come to out of stock pages a lot, they *could* get the impression of "This site has such great prices that people always snap up all their stuff. I should come back more often or look at what else they have." Similar to the way that Amazon usually had lower prices than anywhere else, so many consumers decided to shop there by default, not bothering to see if Amazon's are now higher than elsewhere.
7:58 pm on Jan 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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It isn't realistic to expect Google to rank sites according to what's in stock


Pages are ranked on a combination of many factors.

When the page says plainly that the product isn't available, why can't that be a ranking factor too?

It would certainly improve my user experience if pages for out-of-stock products were less prominent compared to those who actually have the products.
8:34 pm on Jan 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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One thing that I have noticed is that it is primarily very specific widget searches that lead to a product out of stock pages. I rarely see broader widget searches returning these pages.
8:50 pm on Jan 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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When the page says plainly that the product isn't available, why can't that be a ranking factor too?


If "out of stock" or "this product isn't available" were known (or even suspected) to be a negative ranking factor, wouldn't unscrupulous sellers just alter the message to make it less obvious to search engines?

Also, what's in stock or out of stock on a given site may vary from day to day.
8:55 pm on Jan 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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This may be coincidence more than correlation, but for one of my ecommerce sites, but I did see a rise in traffic after removing some long-term out of stock products.

Maybe that is what helped me escape from Panda 3 earlier this year? (when Panda 4 was launched.)

who knows?
9:23 pm on Jan 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Google ranks Web pages, not businesses


That may be the current state. They sometimes say things that hint this could change.

For example, from Mr Cutts:

We have a potential launch later this year, maybe a little bit sooner, looking at the quality of merchants and whether we can do a better job on that, because we donít want low quality experience merchants to be ranking in the search results

That was some time ago though, so maybe they are ranking businesses now.
10:01 pm on Jan 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Let visitors know what the status of the product is... whether it's temporarily unavailable or no longer being made.

If there is a replacement product available, and you stock it, definitely link to that page. If there's no direct replacement, perhaps you can suggest an alternative that would work. If you're expecting new stock in a few days, let visitors know.

When you do this, a lot might depend on the choice of font sizes and layout on your product page.

jrs79 is right on with these suggestions...
Yes, it can be beneficial. Where I have found it to be beneficial is if you are selling a niche item. It can help you suggest a relevant alternative which can help new visitors that are interested in that niche learn more about your company or find a similar or even better item to purchase.

Your approach is likely to depend on the specifics of the product and your niche. Do you offer email or telephone support? I've dealt with companies who have made me a lifelong customer by taking the trouble to help me solve my problem and find something I could use in a given situation.

I wouldn't keep a product page, though, that's a dead end. That can only create a bad experience.
11:01 pm on Jan 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Robert,

But the dead end product page is how they discovered my site and they converted. Why would I drop it?

I also see that most larger companies seem to leave out of stock pages. I will add that I am not an ecomm expert. Most of the time I live in the B2B world. Anyone care to talk about how they handle pages that will not be restocked?

You are correct about out of stock pages only working for certain products and niches and to answer your questions all of the sites that I work on are "brands." Some are super small, but yes they all have employees, phone, and email support.

For example, let's say that my site specializes in rare widgets. You are looking for 1980 widget by company A. You find my out of stock page for this product, but you don't bounce because you learn that I have 1980 widget company B's version or the 1985 widget by company A. This is the scenario where I see these pages working well.
11:41 pm on Jan 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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You find my out of stock page for this product, but you don't bounce because you learn that I have 1980 widget company B's version or the 1985 widget by company A. This is the scenario where I see these pages working well.

jrs79 - I think we're in agreement. If the product won't be restocked, then send users to a relevant alternative. If the product will be restocked, let visitor know.

Choice then would be which of these should be featured more prominently.

What I suggest trying to avoid, though, is a page that goes no further than telling the visitor that the product is no longer available. That's what I mean by "dead end".

At the least, provide an explanation if you can of why the product is unavailable and what's superseded it. Be a source of information. (Eg, if the product contained toxic chemicals and was discontinued, describe the kinds of alternatives you sell that would work and be safe. It's helped me to know where the engineers who designed a certain product moved to when their company was hit by a natural disaster. Again, depends on the niche.)

Provide a site search box in any case.
12:11 am on Jan 30, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Thank you for clarifying "dead end." Sound advice above. We are in agreement.
1:51 pm on Jan 30, 2015 (gmt 0)

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buckworks wrote:
Pages are ranked on a combination of many factors.

When the page says plainly that the product isn't available, why can't that be a ranking factor too?

It would certainly improve my user experience if pages for out-of-stock products were less prominent compared to those who actually have the products.

Buckworks is exactly right. By giving undeserved high rankings to pages about out-of-stock products, Google misleads searchers and in most cases makes it harder for them to find the product they need. Google should try to fix this obvious flaw in their search results.
5:08 pm on Jan 30, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Our end-of-life items keep their pages, which return 200 Status responses.

However, the Product Title is struck-out, and you cannot navigate to it through the internal navigation. Further, a great big link points at the best replacement (manually selected)

Out of Stock (legitimately) stays fully exposed on the site, but you cannot buy it.

This combination means we retain inbound traffic, we do not lose onsite traffic to dead-end pages, and customers can only buy items we can fulfil immediately, increasing user satisfaction. And if they really want an item that is out of stock, they can call us on our prominently displayed phone number and place a backorder (or fill out a notification form, but few do)

We have well over 10K items live. Maintaining the site is a lot of effort, but has a substantially improved experience over our competitors who allow "product rot".
5:25 pm on Jan 30, 2015 (gmt 0)

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A lot of people are saying a page shouldn't rank if the product is out of stock, but here's an example of where that's not a good idea:

The site I work on is largely filled with seasonal items. The kind of thing that if we don't have it, our competitors don't have it, either, due to the nature of the item. When the item goes out of stock, we have a form that people can use to be alerted to when the item is in stock.

Now, if pages were to be deindexed when this item went out of stock, there would be no page ranking for relevant keywords when the stock came back, and that'd be a poor user experience for Google's own users.
7:27 pm on Jan 30, 2015 (gmt 0)

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deindexed when this item went out of stock


Not deindexed. Downranked a bit, though.
7:35 pm on Jan 30, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Not deindexed. Downranked a bit, though.


Is it realistic to expect that Google should monitor "in stock" vs. "out of stock" in real time (or at all)?

Edited to add:

If Google did use "in stock" or "out of stock" as a ranking factor, wouldn't unscrupulous vendors simply list items as being in stock until people tried to order them? (That already happens from time to time, in my experience.)

[edited by: EditorialGuy at 7:44 pm (utc) on Jan 30, 2015]

7:43 pm on Jan 30, 2015 (gmt 0)

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It likely wouldn't be real time, although Google is amazingly fast sometimes.

If I change the wording on a page in various other ways that will affect how it ranks. Why should something as significant as an out-of-stock message have no effect?
7:54 pm on Jan 30, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Why should something as significant as an out-of-stock message have no effect?


+1

As a USER, if I am making a commercial query, I would much rather find a site with the item in stock on the first click then find a page with the item out of stock / no longer available.

I would bet that most people would feel that way too when searching.
8:10 pm on Jan 30, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Yes, some unscrupulous vendors might do as you say, but the smart ones know that whatever they might gain in traffic they'd lose in reputation management.

I had the experience within the last few days of searching for a particular item and I think it was page 3 before I finally found a shop that could supply it.

Nieman Marcus said, "THIS ITEM IS CURRENTLY SOLD OUT".
Amazon said: "This item is only available on another website."
Macy's said: "backorder
usually ships within 81 business days."
Nordstrom said: "This item is currently unavailable."

Those aren't vendors who are likely to try cheating on their descriptions for the sake of a few extra clicks in the search engines.

The fact that I had to plow through all those pages was a poor experience for me, and I also consider it unfair to the gift shop in Ohio where I finally found the item.
8:34 pm on Jan 30, 2015 (gmt 0)

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It seems to me that, if Google really wanted to get into the business of counting items on virtual shelves, it would give first priority to using such data in calculating AdWords Quality Scores.
9:02 pm on Jan 30, 2015 (gmt 0)

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So my thinking about out-of-stock products is not too far off from my thinking about expired events. Both of which I try to look at from a user's point of few rather than Google's.

My expired events - if they are one-time events (like a Bicentennial for example) once they are over, I delete them.

If they are likely to recur, I leave them (with a big notice saying they are EXPIRED) and take them out of the active navigation. Once they are updated with a new event date, they automatically go back into the navigation (and the expiration notice disappears)

So for ecommerce, if a product goes out of stock:

1) if it's a temporary out-of-stock, with an expected availability date, I'd leave the page and leave it in the navigation albeit plainly marked that it is temporarily out of stock, but will be available on (date).

2) if it's a temporary out of stock with no expected availability date, it comes out of the navigation. It might drop out of Google. I'm okay with that.

3) If it's an item that has been replaced or updated by another item, I 301 it to the new product making sure to put a notice WHY they are landing on a page with the newer item. Nothing more irritating that being redirected without knowing why.

4. It's permanently out of stock, the page is deleted. I suppose you could make an argument for an archive of past products, but it probably wouldn't convince me. Let's be honest here. We're fooling ourselves if we think anybody wants to land on a page for a product we don't have and likely will never have. And if you have enough of them, Google's probly going to start looking at it as some kind of manipulation attempt.
9:19 pm on Jan 30, 2015 (gmt 0)

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using such data in calculating AdWords Quality Scores


Quality Score is a different universe from organic search rankings, but yes, if a product is out of stock it would seem sensible to adjust the quality score for that landing page.

Smart advertisers will stay ahead of such things, though, and pause or adjust ads for out-of-stock products.

The thought that the user could be guided to purchase a different product is fine for clicks from organic traffic, but I'd question whether that's a cost-effective strategy for traffic that you've had to pay for.
4:31 pm on Jan 31, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I think some view this as being informational so they leave the products up. I however find it deceptive. The sites I see have a waiting list for items. The issue becomes though that customers question why my price on the product is so much higher. Basically because we actually do have the items available and the competitors prices are 2 years old. I have also had customers tell me they waited over a year on a waiting list and still never were contacted. I see some very strange reactions too. I think Google tends to feed traffic to the lower priced sites. Then if people search through the 3 pages and find you because they are tired of waiting they buy immediately. I get spurts where its likes a mad rush on a specific item. Very odd. Another thing is we get calls that people ask several times - so you actually have this item? In Stock? etc. I know prior to whole Google animal zoo we never had this degree of questioning. People just ordered.
2:48 pm on Feb 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Amazon has many products that are "currently unavailable" and they "don't know if or when the product will be available again." This does not hurt Amazon at all, with many of the "unavailable" products ranking at position one, but I'm thinking it helps that 1/4 of Google's Board of Directors came from Amazon - so don't apply this same rule to yourself Awarn unless you have a seat on Google's Board of Directors.
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