Everyone has said something at the wrong time. Foot-in-mouth syndrome always results in the person doing the saying regretting what they’ve done.
Just like saying the wrong thing and wishing you had those words back, disabling or deleting a product from an ecommerce website without notifying the search engines will result in some problems that you’ll have to fix later on if not done correctly. I think this is one area of any ecommerce website that is grossly overlooked, and the results can end up hurting you.
First, The Scenario
You’ve got a great set of widgets – blue ones, orange ones, red ones. People love them. People blog about them. Fans share them on social platforms. The press even picks up a story about your unique widgets.
But just as with any product, the sales eventually fizzle. People now want purple and green widgets. So the red ones, once very popular, are put on clearance. Eventually you sell out of them and remove them from your website.
See, for a long time, people loved your red widgets. The Red Widget product page on your website (yourdomain.com/widgets/red/) had value. It had links to it from good, authoritative sites. And by deleting the page you’ve basically told the search engines you no longer want all those links.
But you do. Of course.
So you’ve got to come up with a plan that, prior to disabling/deleting a product, you can implement to make sure those links, mentions and social +1’s still get counted. There are a few ways to do this, all with their own pros and cons. Here are the most popular:
Redirect to Another, Similar Product
This makes sense in the short term. If you’re going to be out of red widgets but are now offering fuchsia ones, redirecting the red page to the fuchsia page will probably work. The problem, though, is that when the fuchsia ones are discontinued, you’ve got to redirect them to the maroon ones. A chain of redirects is born – not the best scenario.
Redirect to the Home Page
This one’s easy. Don’t. Ever. Do. This.
Keep the Page and Change it to Say ‘Item Discontinued’
I’m not a fan of this because it kind of lets down the user once they get there. They were ready to see the red ones only to see that they’re no longer available. What happens when you have twenty product pages that have similar messages? It becomes a bad user experience.
Redirect to a Competitors Page
Ha! Yeah, right!
Redirect to a Category Page
In my opinion, this is the best solution. Redirect the yourdomain.com/widgets/red/ to the category page /yourdomain.com/widgets/. Any links that are followed to the red widgets page will result in a listing of widgets – the user experience is not really negative in any way. All the links to the red widget page will still go to a widget-relevant page, and the chances of you ever deleting your category page are nil.
Have a Plan
Don’t get stuck in a link reclamation situation – it’s long, arduous and not fun. Having a ‘Product Discontinuation Plan’ in place will help your website keep itself healthy, and you won’t lose traction when those links go to 404 pages.