SEO advice for out of stock merchandise from Google's Matt Cutts

What should an Ecommerce merchant do if a certain product is no longer available?  Google’s head of Webspam Matt Cutts

What should an Ecommerce merchant do if a certain product is no longer available?  Google’s head of Webspam Matt Cutts took to the “Google Webmasters” YouTube channel to offer his SEO advice for such a situation.

Merchant who find themselves in such situations usually ask themselves 3 questions.

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  • Keep the page active as if the product is still available?
  • Redirect to a 404 page?
  • Redirect users to similar products and items?

The question on how to proceed becomes more difficult if the certain item which is no longer available has a high SEO ranking.

The answers to the main question “How would Google recommend handling eCommerce products that are no longer available? (Does this change as the number of discontinued products outnumbers the active products?)” was answered by Matt Cutts. Cutts advises taking certain actions depending on the size of the merchant site and the number of listings made available altogether.


Small Ecommerce sites:

Small sites with a limited number of product listings are recommended to not leave a 404 page. Recommended products similar to original one are the recommended route. Cutts uses the following example: ‘if you are interested in this cherry wood shelf, well maybe you’ll be interested in this mahogany wood shelf that we have instead.’

“That’s a perfectly viable strategy. It’s a great idea whenever something is sort of a lot of work, whenever you’re putting a lot of effort into those individual product pages,” said Cutts.

Medium to average sized Ecommerce site:

If the site hosts hundreds of product listings, Cutts recommends doing away with the page and replacing it with a 404 message.

“Because those products have gone away. That product is not available anymore,  and you don’t want to be known as the product site that whenever you visit, it’s like ‘oh yeah, you can’t buy this anymore,’ because users get just as angry getting an out of stock [message] as they do no results found when they think they are going to find reviews,” Cutts states.

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It is important to mention, if the product is only temporarily out of stock a 404 page is not recommended. If the product page is ranked highly on Google’s search, giving away with the ranking temporarily will only result in more work in the future.

Large Ecommerce site:

Large sites boasting hundreds and even thousands of listings and are adding more all the time are recommended by Cutts to add an expiration meta-tag. A site of that size should know if and when a certain product is expected should no longer be made available.

Here is an example of such a meta-tag: <META NAME=”GOOGLEBOT” CONTENT=”unavailable_after: 25-Aug-2007 15:00:00 EST”>

“We do have a meta-tag that you can use called ‘unavailable_after’, which basically says after such and such a date, this page is no longer relevant, so I’d like Google to not show it in the search results,” Cutts said. “So that’s something where you can put a deadline on it, and you can say after this date, it’s not useful to show therefore just let it sort of automatically expire on its own”


Knowing how to act when a product is no longer available is as key as knowing how to promote it in the first place. If a product on you site becomes unavailable, check to see where your business falls under the spectrum and act accordingly.

You can watch Matt Cutts video here.



Image courtesy of Wikimedia


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