How to Deal with Expired Product or Auction Pages

Today’s post is question from Hicham Damahi of who asks “How to handle expired product pages on a classified / auction site.” I’m going to expand the topic to cover expired product pages as well, since the concept it basically the same.

I touched on this briefly in my Shopping Cart SEO Tips post, but there are a couple of different conditions that require some finesse so let’s run through the most common cases:

Product Goes Temporarily Out of Stock: If a product goes out of stock temporarily, but you do expect to get it back in stock,  you’ll want to leave the page up from a search engine perspective. You want to make sure that you let the customer know the product is out of stock. If they can order it or be notified when it comes back in, that’s great. But taking the page up and down–that’s bad mojo right there. Don’t do it.

Product Goes Out Of Stock Forever: If the product goes out of stock forever, you have a couple choices. You can leave the page up with a discontinued notice on the page. IMHO that’s not the best way to go for search engines. Ideally I’d like to not lose any link equity and 301 the product page to a similar product, category/department page, or home page.

Product is Replaced or Updated: If a product is replaced or updated, handle it the same way you would handle a product that goes out of stock forever. Unless there is some value in maintaining an un-purchasable archive page, 301 it to the new product, up one category/department, or back to the home page.

Expired or Completed Auction Page: Handle this the same way as a product going out of stock or being replaced.

Why would you want to 301 the product/auction page instead of letting it expire and issuing a 404? Two key reasons: link reclamation and conservation of  existing link equity. Are all of your products/auctions going to get links? No, but some will. Links are like money: once you have them, you don’t wan to waste them or throw them away. You want to keep them. I wouldn’t advise trying any tricks with rel=canonical either. Search engines have said they will make their own decisions when it comes to  rel=canonical and IMHO the last thing you want to do is leave things to chance. Take the easy method that works and 301 the expired page.

If you are going to have a high volume of items that do this, you’ll want to work out an automated system to take care of as much of this as possible. Use product names, SKU’s ISBN, tags, or even product categories if you have to. Just don’t let them expire.

The danger of leaving up expired products/auctions is that you create a lot of useless pages. Your site only has a certain amount of inbound link equity, so don’t squander it on product pages with no value. Now if you sell unique collectibles and you want to keep the archives up, that makes sense, but if you’re selling consumer goods like an iPod or Samsung LCD TV, there’s just no point to it.

Lastly I’d like to bring up something called predictive SEO, which I wrote about in 2005. If you know that a product is coming, why not put up a page about it in advance? Don’t be a spammer and put up an empty page. Try to put something up that has some useful information: when is it supposed to be out, what are the specs, the price, etc. I also think it’s pretty smart to try and capture leads if you can as a way to lock in some future sales.

So, to wrap things up, here are the take aways:

  • Put up and leave product pages up where you will be selling or restocking an item in the future.
  • Capture leads for future sales on out of stock products wherever possible
  • Redirect out of stock or discontinued products via 301 to replacement product pages or appropriate department pages
  • Automate redirection as much as possible to cut down on maintenance runs on the Genesis Framework

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