eCommerce SEO: How to Deal with Products that are Out of Stock

published by on 27th February 2019 under General, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

One of the biggest issues we’ve come across in ecommerce sites is the massive amount of 404 errors. This is usually rooted to deleted products that are out of stock. It comes as a surprise to us at FIRST Digital that many big companies in New Zealand – and around the globe, even – don’t have a solid plan in place for handling out of stock products or deals that have expiry dates. In most cases, we’ve seen these companies delete the pages which end up as 404 (page not found) errors.

Even worse, these pages lead to a template 404 page that does not take advantage of the traffic that still goes there. Other companies, on the other hand, leave hundreds or even thousands of out-of-stock pages online without optimizing them. Both cases are painful for an ecommerce SEO professional to see.

So, what should you really be doing about your out of stock product pages?

First things first, find out more about your out of stock product page before you make a decision. Check if:

  • The product is out of stock permanently or temporarily
  • The page has links – You can use a tool like Ahrefs, Majestic or Moz Open Site Explorer to find out more
  • The page has traffic – You can use Google Analytics to check on landing page sessions for the out of stock product.
  • The product had conversions (before going out of stock) – you can use Google Analytics to check on product performance prior to it being out of stock.

If the product is only temporarily out of stock, FIRST suggests taking the following actions:

  • Label the product as “Temporarily Out of Stock”
  • Add options for pre-order, back order or stock notification
  • Suggest products that are closely related

If the products are permanently out of stock, you have two options:

First, you can consider not deleting the pages (keep them live), and instead using them as an opportunity for different thing such as:

  • Upselling products that are in stock – Keep the page live and dynamically serve up a list of products that are either similar, another model or a variation of that product (ie different specs, different colour) or if this is not possible, you can present products from the same category or even competitor brands that you also sell. You can also think of related products that the customer might be interested in and suggest these.
  • Building your email list – Add a call to action on the page asking the visitor to sign up for email alerts so they can be notified when the product is in stock again.

Second, if you’ve already decided on deleting your out of stock products, then plan how you will be redirecting the 404 pages. Use permanent redirect (301) to point them to a similar product.

If you find yourself in the middle of fixing a massive amount of 404 issues (say more than 10,000 pages), please don’t be tempted to automatically redirect them to your home page. What we recommend is prioritising your 404 pages to redirect based on the traffic they receive. To do this, you can go to your Google Analytics page and do the following:


  1. Click on Behaviour
  2. Select Site Content
  3. Click All Pages
  4. Under Primary Dimension, select Page Title
  5. In the Advance Search Field, type in Error or 404

This should give you a list of your 404 error pages (it might be a clickable link that says Page Title of your 404 Error page – click this to expand the list). Export the list to find out the page views for your pages that show 404 errors.

From the SEO point of view, the worst thing you can do to your out of stock product pages is to simply delete them. You will lose all SEO benefits from that URL. If you’ve worked hard on building links and doing your on-page optimisation correctly, using 404 negates all that work. Think about the time you’ve invested in getting rankings for that specific product. If your ranking page goes to a 404 page, you lose out on that ranking.

Redirecting your out of stock pages preserve ranking signals accrued by those old products. However, you need to take extra care when you map out your redirections. Redirecting your out of stock product pages to the home page or to category pages can potentially lead to soft 404 errors. Redirecting them to products that are not related may result in losing ranking signals. Your best option would be to redirect them to related or similar products. Now, this may not always be the easiest thing in the world to do, so be patient and prioritise based on page traffic.

Last but not the least, we’ve created a flow chart which might help you decide on what to do with your out of stock product pages or expired pages:

Out of stock products SEO diagram

If you have further questions or concerns about how to deal with your out of stock product pages or expired deals, please don’t hesitate to contact your FIRST Digital team.

Related posts

How to Create Calculated Metrics in Google Data Studio with Blended Data Source

published by on 5th November 2018 under Google Analytics, Industry News

Or How to Create Bespoke Conversion Rates

Last week, GDS released a new feature called chart-specific calculated fields.
I decided to write a quick post to describe this as the documentation is pretty scarce…

The main interest of this feature is that it works with blended data sources. Even if you can’t create a calculated field at the data source level, this is pretty useful to for instance create conversion rates metrics of user or session-based segment XYZ versus all users or sessions.
Thus you can get conversion rates for anything, without having to create a goal in Google Analytics. For instance, you can see
- what’s the % of total sessions with event XYZ
- what’s the % of total sessions with view of page XYZ
- etc.

So here is how to create this from a Google Analytics data source:

1. Create your segment in GA

For instance, Sessions that include a specific event (below a click to Flight Information – that’s from an airline site)

GA segment

2. Create the blended data source

Below, I’ve blended a GA view with the same view but applying the newly created segment.

I’ve added the Sessions metric for both of them but renamed the sessions looking at the specific segment to avoid any confusion later on.

I’ve also added the Country dimension as a joint key, but this is optional.

So you should end up with at least 2 metrics in your blended data source; All Sessions and Sessions from Sessions including event XYZ:

Note that the data source without segment must be the first one (in the left) as it will take precedence over the data source using segment in the right. This is critical when/if using join key(s).

blended data source

3. Create a new component (chart)

create chart

4. Create the calculated metric

Click to select a metric, then CREATE FIELD:

click create field

Type the name of your new calculated metric and enter your function, then select the Type (Percent below as we are looking at a conversion rate):

create calculated metric

And voila!

chart 1

5. Copy to re-use

The calculated field is specific to the chart but you can just copy-paste the initial chart to avoid having to create the calculated metric again.

chart 2

Note: When using a table, don’t enable the “summary row” as it will sum up the conversion rates… (I believe this is one of the limitation of having the calculated metric defined at the component level and not at the blended data source one).

Hope this is helpful and let us know how you use this new chart-specific calculated fields :-)

Related posts

Finding Method in Research Madness

published by on 2nd October 2018 under Conversion (CRO), Digital Strategy


It’s never a bad time to conduct user research. Whether you work on an ecommerce, SaaS or lead generation site – user research is key to understand your users, increase conversions and create an optimal User Experience.


As a UX and Conversion Specialist at FIRST Digital, I frequently run user research programs for my clients and I’ve compiled my top tips to create a structured research program.


1. Start with questions

One of the greatest pitfalls when running user research is diving in head first without asking key questions. If you lead with questions, then there is always a purpose for your research.


Start with a site run through and list out the key business, industry and customer questions at each stage of the user journey. Breaking it down into these areas gives a clear structure to your research program.


In the following example, some key questions for a product pricing page could include:


  • Business question: Is there ability to change our price offering?

  • Industry question: How are our competitors displaying their prices?

  • User question: Do users find our price offering appealing?


Some of your questions might easily be answered with an analytics review or previous research insights. Others will need more in depth analysis such as surveys, competitor analysis or user testing. The end result of this exercise will be a list of questions grouped under these 3 main areas and prioritized based on business needs.


2. Choose your research method

There are a range of user research methods and tools available at your fingertips – again it will all depend on your budget, resource available and business needs. If you don’t have the budget to invest in the latest shiny new tool – there are plenty of other options.


Back to the product pricing page example:


  • Business question: Is there scope to change our price offering? This could be answered by conducting a key stakeholder focus group

  • Industry question: How are our competitors displaying their prices? This could be answered with a competitor analysis and price comparison

  • User question: Do users find our price offering appealing? This could be answered by a range of research methods such as on site surveys, first click tests or user testing and most tool providers have a range of budget friendly options


3. Plan your research

“Fail to plan. Plan to fail” – let’s face it, we’ve all been there. This is equally as important when it comes to user research.


Having a simple research plan which outlines the goal of the research piece and key details, will not only act a guide but also as a point of reference which can easily be shared between stakeholders.


Remember it doesn’t have to be fancy – just a document which outlines the following:


  • The research question(s)

  • Goal of the research piece

  • Research method and/or tool

  • Timescales i.e. how long the research piece will take or how long to run it for

  • Key details, tasks or demographics that are relevant for the research piece


4. Run it and iterate

So you’ve narrowed down your questions, chosen your first research piece and made a plan. Now time to run it and build momentum.

‘But how long should I run it for?’ I hear you say. The honest answer is – it depends, especially when it comes to qualitative research. For example, as a rule of thumb the magic number of user testers is 5 and for surveys a minimum sample of 200 is advised. Timescales will differ for each site according to levels of traffic – but using these as a reference point will help.


Remember the importance of iteration – if a survey is getting a low response rate, switch it to another site area or change the question. If your heatmap or analytics tool isn’t giving you the insight you had hoped for – trial a different tool or method to answer your research question. As long as you’re learning and iterating – then any insight is better than no insight!


In part two of this blog piece we will explain what to do with your new insights and how to create stories that every stakeholder will love.


Measuring page load speed for single page apps

published by on 24th September 2018 under Google Analytics

Single page apps are always a battle for a robust Google Analytics implementation. From correct page titles, rogue referral problems, to when to fire page views, nothing is inherently simple. To add onto the list of complications with single page apps is the fact that Google Analytics will not provide page timings (once loaded between internal pages) for SPA’s. This includes if you increase the site speed sample rate to 100. This is because Google Analytics calculates the page timings using the Navigation Timing API.

For example, DOM loaded would be:

$(document).ready(console.log(( - 

To over come this problem, you will need to use custom metrics. The solution has three steps.

1) Set up a custom metric in GA.

Go to Admin > Property > Custom Definitions > Custom Metric.

Create a new Custom Metric, with the scope of Hit and the formatting type of time. Note: Specify time in seconds, but it appears as hh:mm:ss in your reports.

2) Set up a timer.

You will need to capture the time when you want to start the measurement of page load time.

An example solution to this might be by decorating all of your internal links. For example in Google Tag Manager we could set up a Custom HTML tag:

  time1 =

3) Send the time eclipsed (in sec) to Google Analytics on the virtual pageview event.

When the virtual pageview event occurs (which triggers your virtual pageviews), retrieve the difference between the current time ( and the time which the timer was started (time1).

Using Google Tag Manager, a Custom JavaScript variable (e.g. SPA load time) can be created as below:

  return ( - time1)/1000

This value then needs to be sent with the pageview, against the custom metric index set up in step1.

SPA pageview example

Using the custom metric along with calculated metrics (e.g. {{virtualPageTimings}}/{{pageViews}}, you will be able to calculate your average virtual page timings.


To make the measurement more accurate, set up a secondary custom metric to count the number of virtual pageviews. This will make sure that landing pageviews are not taken into consideration.

To do this, create a custom metric with the scope hit and the formatting integer.

Then with every virtual pageview, send the value 1 against the custom metric index. E.g:

SPA page load speed 2

This allows for the calculated metric:



Using this calculated metric will then give you a good idea of how long a SPA page took to load, from the time which a user clicked on a link through to that page.

This is just one aspect of what is needed to be taken into consideration when working with single page apps. Feel free to reach out if you require any assistance tracking your SPA.

Ramp Up Results with Research Based Conversion Optimisation

published by on 19th June 2018 under Conversion (CRO), General

The true benefit of Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) is all about gaining knowledge and optimising every single aspect of your product and customer journey. Having an ongoing structured CRO process that is part of the DNA of your organisation can greatly magnify the benefits of all other marketing activities.

The best way to truly optimize your funnel and see real growth via CRO is by ensuring it has sufficient scope in your marketing strategy and treating it as a means to optimize every part of your business.



A successful CRO program allows you to develop a deep understanding of what challenges your customers face, how to talk to them and what drives their decision-making process. This means not only more subscriptions, leads or sales but it can optimize your ad campaigns, your acquisition funnels, retention emails, billing processes and even how your products are shipped.


Three Things You Are Doing Wrong in CRO


There are many common fallacies that we encounter all the time when clients engage with FIRST Digital, often times clients have previously run CRO and their results have been mixed, and they are at a loss to explain why. Usually, they are making one or more of the following errors;


No. 1: You are missing the point of a structured CRO program.

You simply treat conversion optimization as a bunch of random tactics to get more signups, downloads or sales.


No. 2: You don’t have a CRO strategy.

You follow what is referred to as ‘best practices’ from blog posts, listen to random advice and make guesses as to what should be tested. Best practice is what people do until they discover something better – then that becomes best practice. Be the one to discover a better way.


No. 3: You are running meaningless tests.

Using guesswork and running variations on single elements on a page and expecting them to yield the desired results. Big results require more than single element changes.

If you are thinking “Guilty as charged your honour…” we’ve all been there, but you can make positive change, and the sooner the better – potential revenue is leaking out of your funnel right now.


CRO conversion optimization


Solution – Create a structured CRO program


There are a number of steps that should be performed well before launching tests, and that should be executed by all organisations no matter what size they are, or how much traffic their site generates.


Step 1: In-depth Qualitative & Quantitative Research

Focus on discovering why leaks exist – what’s preventing your potential customers from taking the next step, analyzing competitors, building customer profiles, segmenting your audience, doing customer surveys and much more. This is the only way to consistently deliver better results. The insights you gain from this research is priceless and will start shifting things within the company way before you launch any experiments.

Data analysis around current behavior, pinpointing problem areas. It’s important to look at heat maps and recordings to see where customers are frustrated, where your current funnel needs optimizing. This step is crucial for any CRO process and requires a great deal of curiosity and in-depth analysis.


Step 2: Hypothesize

Based on the previous steps, at this point, you come up with possible solutions and hypotheses on how they can be solved. In this stage, you define how you will optimize and fix these issues. Much like a legal trial you use statistics to prove that the variations you are proposing are ‘guilty as charged’ of causing the relative uplift you observe.


Step 3: Prioritize

Once you’ve found areas of opportunity you need to then determine how much of an impact changing them would have on your bottom line and how many resources you will require to build the test. This will help you decide if it’s worth your time and effort.


Step 4: Launch Test Program

Only once you’ve completed all the previous steps do you then launch tests to validate your hypotheses, and ongoing research forms a virtuous cycle of test ideas and more potential big wins.

Your goal is to gain as much insight, knowledge and data about your customers so you can truly optimize your site around their journey.


 That Sounds Great – How do I get Started?


To learn more about getting a CRO program underway, research, CRO training & the best tools to use, or anything else discussed in this article – get in touch




Related posts