eCommerce SEO Checklist for Out-of-Stock Inventory
In order to launch a successful website redesign, implementing a proper measurement infrastructure is crucial. Doing so will allow your brand to accurately see the results of your redesign.
Changes in production and purchasing behaviors during COVID-19 have left many eCommerce brands with unprecedented inventory issues. If your brand is dealing with inventory-related issues, read how proper SEO processes can mitigate errors in the consumer journey and reduce friction to conversion.
The State of Out-of-Stock Inventory Management
Managing out-of-stock inventory on an eCommerce site has always been important from both SEO and UX perspectives. However, the pandemic has led to unusual circumstances impacting traditional best practices:
- Several items and similar items are out-of-stock simultaneously
- Sites often do not know when inventory is expected to return
- Once products are back in stock, they may quickly sell out again due to abnormally high demand for certain products
Out-of-Stock Inventory Best Practices
Given the current state of the eCommerce environment, not all traditional SEO best practices for out-of-stock management apply. Use the checklist below with your UX and SEO teams to accurately and effectively communicate inventory levels with consumers and search engines alike.
- Do not delete out-of-stock pages entirely or create any 404 errors.
- Do not 301-redirect (permanently) product pages, unless the product is being discontinued. If it is being discontinued, a 301-redirect, ideally, should point to an upgraded, replacement, or similar product.
- Do not 302-redirect (temporarily) product pages. This option could be feasible under normal circumstances, but is less feasible given the volume and time-sensitivity of fluctuating inventory during COVID-19.
- Keep Availability schema markup updated to indicate “InStock” and “OutOfStock” items. While this is a best practice to always follow, it may be an obsolete strategy if your inventory is fluctuating heavily and quickly during COVID-19. Google needs time to re-crawl pages to accurately display availability in search results, so this is not a viable option when timing is sensitive.
- Do not default users to a Buy Online, Pick Up in Store (BOPIS) purchasing option if it will ultimately take users to a Cart or Checkout page that will indicate that the product is actually unavailable in-store, too. Regularly test this process to ensure a positive customer experience.
- On product detail pages, list availability at the user’s preferred store location and nearby stores. eCommerce stores can feature this information, even without the BOPIS option, while still adding language to indicate that in-store availability may change.
- Give users an option to be notified via email or text when an item is back in stock to be purchased online.
- Allow users to pre-order products, if applicable.
- Feature similar products only if those products are likely to be in-stock online.
- Add “in-stock” and “out-of-stock” labels that are visible both on product detail pages and category listing pages.
- List “in-stock” products first in the category listing view. “Out-of-stock” products should not be removed from these views. Typically, PDPs should be removed from filter views when they do not meet a filter’s requirement (e.g. size, color, brand, etc.). Given the current state of online inventory, it is better to still display these products with “out-of-stock” labels, as mentioned above, to represent the normal selection.
- Allow users to filter for in-stock products. This filter view should be unavailable to crawlers so they will continue to pass link equity to all pages.
- Include language on product detail and product category pages to indicate when an item is expected to be back in stock, even if that information is unknown (e.g. “We do not know when this product will be available.”).
You can download and share this checklist with your team here.
Internal search result pages essentially trigger product category listing templates, so best practices and next steps mentioned above for product category pages should also be applied to internal search result pages.
Although not rooted in SEO or UX research, there could be additional opportunity to add messaging to the Home Page, Checkout Pages, and Banners to highly-impacted category pages that acknowledges the limited inventory, apologizes for any inconvenience, and states your brand’s efforts to quickly return inventory to normal to meet demands.