Most websites at one time or another will face the problem of what to do with out-of-date product pages. These pages may relate to a product that has been discontinued, is out of stock temporarily or has been replaced by a new product. There are a few search engine optimization friendly options available in each of these scenarios, which is fortunate as the route taken can have a massive impact on search engine position and the user impression.
Website content can damage a reputation and image just as easily as it can make it. Visitors seeing out-of-date deals or clicking through to purchase a product only to find that it has been discontinued several months ago (or is permanently out of stock) will usually voice their frustration in the short term by leaving the site and purchasing elsewhere. In the long term, they may not return or worse yet, discuss their negative impression with others, costing further sales.
The Search Engine
If your site is fairly small, having expired product pages hanging around can dilute the overall quality of the domain. With a limited amount of link juice to go round, wasting good quality link equity on product pages that can never amount to sales (as the product is no longer being offered) just doesn’t make sense. It’s far better to have a relevant, fresh page using the ‘goodwill’ generated from inbound links in order to improve search engine rankings.
As with any type of out-of-date page, the worst thing you can do is simply delete it. Not all pages on your website will be ranked, have a PageRank or have inbound links back to them. Some will, though, and if you delete one of those pages because the product is out of stock or discontinued, you may as well throw a few dollars away – links and search engine indexing is like cash. Delete pages that have them and you are depleting your own wallet. Of course, you don’t want to keep old pages on the site either as that gives the user the impression that you’re shoddy with your site upkeep so the answer is to implement a 301 redirect.
Expired product pages are quite often a lot easier to deal with than an out-of-date general page as you’ll have an easy call to make as to where the 301 is pointed too. For products that are simply outdated and have been replaced with a newer model, you’d simply redirect to the new product page. For products that aren’t being replaced, you can point the user (and search engine) to the landing page for the brand or similar products within the same category.
A second option is just to leave the page as it but move all of the existing content below the fold. Then, right at the top of the page place a note advising that the product is no longer available but suggesting alternatives. This is not as efficient a solution as the 301 redirect but, if you think the product may be available in future it can work well as a temporary measure.
The key is to not just ignore the problem of out-of-date product pages. Ignorance may be bliss with some things, but rarely is the case in online marketing!