In the recent Webmaster Help video, Matt Cutts, Google's Head of Search Spam, explains business owners how they are supposed to handle pages for out-of-stock products in their website.
The question posed was:
How would Google recommend handling e-commerce products that are no longer available?
(Does this change as the number of discontinued products outnumbers the active products?)
According to Cutts, how you handle the page actually depends on the size of the e-commerce site, how many products you feature and how long the products tend to stay available for customers to buy:
- Small e-commerce sites: In case of small sites, the pages featuring out-of-stock items should link to related products. This will help the customers to find out that the marketer can specialize in this particular product and simultaneously showcase other products which are in stock and which the customers can buy currently. Matt also advices adding a manufacturing time in conjunction to the out of stock products.
- Medium e-commerce sites: For medium e-commerce sites having thousands of pages, Matt suggests to 404- page not found to the out of stock products, because it can be annoying for the buyers to land on a product page which they cannot buy. Cutts recommends that in case you are not sure about the date when the products will be available to the customers the best option is to 404 it but, if you know when the products will be re-introduced in the inventory, then you can add the information below the product and allow the customers to choose whether or not they want to order the product later.
- Large e-commerce sites: For large e-commerce sites like Craigslist, businesses should set the date when the page will expire. This can be done using the meta tag or the unavailable_after tag. This way Google will stop indexing the page after a particular date. Google takes about a day, after the expiry of the page, to remove the page from the search results. Currently, Google only supports unavailable_after for web search results.