Do you know how large your site is? Just how many URLs do you have out there? If your site is still little more than an online brochure, then you can probably answer the question with some surety. Large commerce sites, however, grow over time and can become the proverbial iceberg with only a small portion of the site active and visible at any time.
Iceberg pages are out of view, but still have active links that point to them. They are often older pages in the search engine index that point to sold out or seasonal merchandise that is not available. Unless the merchant implements a process for removing or redirecting traffic coming to these pages, the iceberg will continue to grow.
When users strike these older pages, their frustration with the poor user experience they offer will grow too. User experience/frustration is measured by Google, and continued poor user experience marks the road to SEO perdition.
The first task is to decide what must go and what needs to stay. The second task is to determine how to remove the iceberg pages without creating havoc for the active SEO program.
Deciding What Has Got to Go
There are two types of pages that need to be slated for removal on a commerce site. The first is obvious: Pages that offer merchandise that is no longer available. The second are URLs that are remnants from technical changes previously made to the site.
These historical remnants are relatively easy to deal with. The pages can be either removed or redirected. Optimally they should be redirected to a valid page on the site.
How to handle out-of-date or sold-out merchandise presents a different challenge. If the situation is temporary, a seasonal sold-out such as live plants and garden materials, then there needs to be some indication for the user that tells them when the merchandise will be available. This offers useful information and improves the user experience. Then, these pages can be logically retained.
It is different if the product is sold out and no restocking is expected to occur. Then, the pages may be deleted or redirected.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It is not so easy in practice. All too often there is the chance that the product will be restocked, so the page lingers. The problem becomes deciding how long these pages should be allowed to linger and when in the business year it is best to remove or redirect them.
Timing Is Important
Timing is very important when there are many URLs that are going to be deleted or redirected. Any wholesale change in your site will be detected by Google and will create turbulence in your search rankings. It is, therefore, important to save large scale deletion and redirection projects to reduce the number of iceberg pages for off-peak sales cycles. Then, the site can be recrawled and ranking adjustments made by Google without having any negative changes impact sales.
Ridding the site of pages that provide a poor user experience should be the short term goal, but the long run result will be improved search performance.