Ecommerce Tips: How to Handle Products That are Usually a Pain in the Neck


In an ideal world, an online store has many products with unique and detailed description, high-quality unique images and SEO-friendly URLs. But in reality, every eCommerce site grows, many pages appear and disappear, and at some point it becomes a mix of up-to-date and outdated content.

But have you ever thought that cleaning an online store is as important as cleaning a house? Yes, regular site pages revision helps to keep the store 'healthy'. And it equally makes sure that all the important URLs are crawled and indexed regularly by search engines bots.

The hardest pages to handle are product pages, as they are most changeable. Moreover, items and their specifications can come from suppliers, and this contributes to spreading duplicate content. But let's start from the very beginning.

In this article I will cover different product types which usually cause problems for online store owners.

1. Almost identical and similar products

These items can be divided into 2 groups:

- Variations of the product

One product can have different colors and sizes. But if each of them has a separate URL, it can result in tons of partial duplicates in index, self-cannibalization and slow crawl rate.

An ideal scenario for such products is to have everything under one roof: a single product accessible on a single URL with many product variations to choose from. You can use a color picker to let customers preview changes while choosing the options. So if your CMS supports such functionality (I'm sure it does), you'd better choose this option.

There are some other ways to handle product variations; you can read this article for better insight.

- Info from suppliers

Sometimes all the data you have about a product are provided by its manufacturer.

But think about it: your supplier may have lots of dealers just like you. And if each of them uses a copy-paste method to deliver the product information to its customers, Google index will be flooded with many duplicate pages.

Moreover, only one or a few of the pages will be visible in the main index. Others will be filtered out and showed in supplemental results only.

So the best way to stand out from your competitors (aka other dealers) is to make product pages and content on them unique. For example, in addition to adding some technical characteristics you can't ignore, you can describe what these characteristics mean. Moreover, you can add a less tech text to suggest how an item can be used. If all the images you have come from the supplier too, make your own ones and add them to products.

2. Seasonal products

These are items that are available for particular time; for example, a promotional Christmas product which is launched annually. There are a few ways you can treat such things: leave a page which can be accessed by a direct URL only (i.e. not visible in a catalog or search results) and/or enable pre-order for it.

If your seasonal product is different each year, you can add a year indicator to its URL and use a 301 redirect to point to the new address from the old one.

There also may be unique products which are available one time only, like a limited edition of some game or toy. Once the item is discontinued, you can redirect its URL to the category page.

3. Out of stock products

If the products will be re-stocked, you can do all these things at a time:
- Apologize for the inconvenience
- Offer to subscribe for notification delivered when the product gets in stock
- Enable backorders
- Show other relevant alternatives which are currently in stock.

If you are not going to return a particular product to the inventory, treat it as an expired item (see below).

4. Expired products

If you know that some item will not be available on your site again, you have a few options:
- Redirect its URL to a closely related product which is in stock;
- Redirect its URL to a related category page;
- Use the URL for another product if it's not too specific.

You can also delete the page and use a 410 (gone) code for it. But I prefer redirects as this page may have valuable link juice which shouldn't be lost. Moreover, if a visitor comes to this URL by following the link they have previously saved and see a 410, they will most likely leave your site and come to your competitor.

Some more ideas:

Even if you think you have already done everything to make your product pages unique, consider these two more options:

- Use your own images
Don't just copy them from the manufacture, competitors or anywhere else. Add unique product photos made by you. You can demonstrate not only the product itself but also the ways it can be applied by your potential customers.

- Encourage customer reviews
Clients feedback belongs to user generated content, and thus it can be very valuable. On the one hand, it minimizes the chances of duplicate content on a product page; on the other hand, it serves as a social proof which is known to generate more leads.

It's hard to cover all the peculiarities of product types and pages in an online store, but I've done my best to address the most common ones.

If you have any questions or other ideas, share them in comments!