Products come and go while search engine caches remain. It’s a popular practice to switch a product’s status to draft (un-publish it) or delete a product when it has an undetermined status or has become permanently discontinued.
Search engine caches, bookmarks, and overall “juice” for the product page can be be damaged when URLs get suddenly removed. Instead, I recommend putting the URL to some use and offer two better options:
- Delete the old product and 301 (permanent) redirect to its exact replacement passing along traffic and SEO value.
- Keep the URL and use it to recommend alternatives:
- Remove the price(s) to remove add-to-cart functions.
- Set catalog visibility to hidden so it won’t display in catalog or site search but retains its URL.
- Use the short description to call out that the product is no longer available.
- Recommend alternatives high on the page (short description).
I offer sample code to automatically display up-sell products in place of the add-to-cart forms on out-of-stock single product pages. See my free plugin Up-Sell Trio for WooCommerce for this and other must have up-sell features.
Another situation I find store owners in here is when they need to clean-up their product catalogs after finding too many simple product URLs when a variable product containing variations would be more appropriate. Consolidating products into attributes can be best for search engines as well as user navigation.
It’s important to 301 redirect all of the product URLs to the new URL and I recommend including the variation attributes so it auto selects them. For example, if you are consolidating two products into one variable product, 301 redirect to the new variable product with the variation attributes within the URL. You can get these attributes from your Cart page after adding the variation to your cart. It will look like this /product/chroma-led-lamp-0771900-series/?attribute_part-number=01-0771900G14 where this example has a single variation attribute called Part Number.
Variation products include a meta canonical tag telling search engines to concentrate the SEO value to the main product page and prevent content duplication. Internal linking is good for SEO so definitely cross-link related products while avoiding duplicating phrases or search words that aren’t directly cross-linked.
Final note; it’s best to ask an expert before making serious changes in your store that risk SEO impact. Contact me for assistance.