If you rely on the noindex tag to prevent your e-commerce products from appearing in search results, then you’d better read on.
There’s a better way.
In this article, I’ll go over what Google’s John Mueller recently said during an SEO Office Hours hangout.
The Robots Meta Tag
The noindex tag really isn’t a noindex tag. It’s part of the robots meta tag.
But SEOs often call it a noindex tag for short.
A robots meta tag, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, is a tag within the HTML <head> section that gives search bots info about indexing the page.
A robots noindex meta tag does exactly what you think it does: it tells search engines not to index the page. That means it won’t show up in search results.
Why Would You Do That?
If you’re into search engine optimization, you might ask yourself “Why would anybody want to prevent Google or other search engines from indexing the page? After all, the whole point of SEO is to get pages indexed and ranked well.”
Normally, that’s the case.
But go back to the title of this article. I’m covering ecommerce here.
What happens when you’re running an ecommerce site and one of the products is out of stock? Wouldn’t it be great if you could just magically prevent that product from showing up in the search results.
Some people think that one way to do that is with the noindex tag.
But That’s Not the Best Way to Handle That
During the hangout, somebody pointed out to Mueller that when his SEO team switches from noindex to index (indicating a product is back in stock), Google just ignores the directive. The in-stock product still doesn’t show up in search.
Mueller responded by saying that if Google sees that an e-commerce page has been in a noindex state for a while, then the search engine treats it as a 404 (not found) error.
That way, the search bot doesn’t have to crawl the page as frequently. It’s all about saving resources.
“So that’s something where… fluctuating with the noindex meta is counterproductive here, if you really want those pages to be indexed every now and then,” he said.
Bottom line: only use the noindex meta tag on pages you never want indexed. Avoid trying to flip back and forth between index and noindex on your e-commerce site.
What You Can Do Instead
So how should you handle out-of-stock products if you’re running an e-commerce site?
One way is to use category pages. Have one category for in-stock products and another for out-of-stock products.
Then, show out-of-stock products at the bottom of search pages. Also, clearly mark them as out of stock so people aren’t tempted to click.
You could also throw a “Customers Also Considered” section at the top of out-of-stock product pages. In that section, include images and links to similar products.
Who knows? Some customers might like the alternatives better than what they thought they wanted.
Another suggestion: add an “In-Stock Alert” button to the product detail page of out-of-stock items. Visitors who click that button will see a pop-up that asks for an email address.
Then, you can email them when the product becomes available.
As a bonus, you can add their email addresses to your distribution list.
Wrapping It Up
There are plenty of great ways to handle out-of-stock items in e-commerce digital marketing. But using the noindex meta tag is not one of them.
Instead, look for ways to keep your products in the search engine results pages while still delivering value to people in your target market.