How to handle zero quantity products in your Shopify or Shopify Plus store—without making your customers (or Google) angry
If you own an eCommerce business in 2022, chances are you’ve had some supply chain issues wreaking havoc on your inventory. Many Shopify owners have reported massive shortages and price hikes that are making it hard to keep popular products in stock. So what are Shopify store owners supposed to do with all those pages and URLs for products that are indefinitely out of stock?
Many shop owners think the answer is to archive or delete the old pages, but the sudden disappearance of a page or URL can have a massive negative impact on search engine rankings.
Your product page may have been bookmarked, Pinned, shared on social media, cited, or linked by another website. We don't want to waste a drop of that link juice by hastily deleting a page when we've got plenty of other options.
Deleting pages causes 404 errors, penalties from Google, and frustration for your customers
This guide will show you a few different ways to use your eCommerce site's tools, settings, and add-ons to handle out-of-stock SKUs and protect your website from the dreaded 404 error.
Step 1. Change the item quantity to zero [easy]
When a product goes out of stock, the first and most important thing to do is mark the available quantity to zero. When an item’s quantity is set to zero, most Shopify themes will automatically add a “Sold Out” badge to the front end of your page.
Note: If your Shopify theme doesn’t display the Sold Out badge, a Shopify Plus developer can help you customize your site’s badges and zero quantity behaviors
Step 2. Unlink the page from site navigation [easy]
Shopify’s Product Organization features—collections, categories, and tags—make it easier for users to find the right items on your site. Deleting the page’s Product Organization settings removes the page from your site’s navigation menus.
If your store has a constantly shifting inventory and lots of zero-quantity items, you might want to consider creating an archives collection that's used for outdated and out-of-stock listings.
Unlike your other collections, the archives collection should not be included in the primary site navigation. Instead, your archives collection should be hidden from site navigation and only used for zero quantity items that you don't want your customers to see.
When a product sells out, simply remove it from any active collections, and then add the item to your archives.
Step 3. Add a “flag” to the page title [easy]
One surefire way to let users know that a product is out of stock is to add a “flag” to the page title that lets users know the status of a particular item. The preferred way to flag a listing is with the addition of a separator like a bullet •, a pipe |, or an em-dash —, followed by OUT OF STOCK, SOLD OUT, or whatever works best for your brand.
The resulting page title will look something like this:
Baby Face Doll - Pink | OUT OF STOCK
By following the first 3 steps, we’ve protected our discontinued item page from appearing in on-site navigation menus and site search features. But removing our pages from the site navigation is only half the battle. Next we’ll outline ways to keep our discontinued pages out of search results, without harming search rankings.
Step 4. Hide out-of-stock products from your collections [intermediate]
If your Shopify or Shopify Plus store uses Collections to showcase products, there’s a simple setting that will hide zero-quantity products from active Collections. However, remember that hiding a product from Collections only works for shoppers on your site.
Note: Products hidden from Collections can still come up in Google searches, which we cover in Step 5 of this guide
*In order to hide out-of-stock products from your Shopify Collections, you must first enable inventory tracking in Shopify admin.Enable inventory tracking
Next, navigate to your conditions menu, and add the following automated conditions
For Products must match, select all conditions
For Inventory stock, select is greater than and enter 0
Now, when you change a product’s quantity to zero, it will automatically be hidden from Collections.
Step 5. Use the robots.txt file to disallow Google from crawling outdated pages [intermediate]
The robots.txt file is a simple text file found in the public_html folder of most websites. Search engine crawlers look to the robots.txt file for basic rules about which pages and sections of a website should (and shouldn’t) be crawled. Pages that can’t be crawled will not be shown in search results. By adding disallow command lines, we can control which pages will and won’t appear in search results.
The following is an example of a customized robots.txt file. Note the Allow and Disallow command lines. For any page that you want to exclude from search results, simply create a disallow command for that page using the syntax below:
Pro Tip: SEO plugins and add-ons like Yoast SEO have a file editor tool that makes it easy to customize your site’s robots.txt file. Once you’ve located the robots.txt file editor tool, all you have to do is add a “disallow” line for every live page you want to exclude from search results.
Step 6: Use JSON Schema markup to help Google and other search engines “understand” your webpages [advanced]
Schema markup (also known as Structured Data) is a form of computer code that helps search engines better “understand” the information on your website. Schema markup is a very powerful tool that gives us a remarkable level of control over the way a website appears in search results (or whether it appears in search results at all).
Schema markup can be generated by an SEO plugin like Yoast SEO or Smart SEO, or it can be manually created and tested using the tools available on Schema.org, or Google’s structured data toolkit.
There are a set of schema designations made specifically for eCommerce websites and product pages. eCommerce product schema offers tons of customization options, including product availability (available, back ordered, discontinued), status (in stock, out of stock), aggregated ratings (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) and more.
Step 7. Need a faster solution? Try an add-on. [easy]
If you’re looking for a quick solution to zero quantity items in your Shopify or Shopify Plus store, you might consider trying a paid add-on designed to hide your out-of-stock inventory from shoppers. The add-ons listed below are priced pretty competitively, so you can expect to pay anywhere from $5-$10 per month, depending on the type of subscription you purchase.
Zero Øut by Valence Labs
Nada by DigiSmoothie
Wipeout - Hide out of stock!
Push Down and Hide out of stock solution
Out of Stock Police - arrest your zero quantity products!
StockPhi - Hide Out of Stock
For more information about custom Shopify or Shopify Plus development, implementing JSON structured data, customizing your robots.txt file, or any other SEO services for your eCommerce website, contact us today and find out what BlueSwitch can do for your business.