Handle discontinued products in Shopify and still make a profit
I'm often asked what to do with discontinued products with no plans to return. A question I get often with one-off products or products that are no longer available due to supplier changes.
A customer, who sells one-off antiques, would delete the product from Shopify rather than mark it out-of-stock.
This might sound strange to some, but for her, it made sense. If you're never going to sell that product again, why not remove it to keep your Shopify admin clean and keep your website easy to navigate. Deleting discontinued products she didn't plan to sell again sounded like the right thing to do.
Unfortunately, Google doesn't like this practice.
It can take weeks or months for Google to index a page and award you search enhancements such as Product Rich Results. Product search enhancements, for those who don't know, allow you to show product reviews, price and availability in search results.
Once Google sees your URL, they store the link from your Shopify store and save it. Periodically Google will come back to each URL and check to see if anything has changed on it. If the page has changed, Google will update its database.
In Shopify when you delete a product, you're also deleting the url for it.
So what was once a page for an early 1900s necklace is now nothing. More specifically, its a 404 Not Found page.
Customers who land on the 404 page, often leave without exploring the site further for a similar product. Effectively hurting conversions and customer experience.
This 404 page also tells Google to "remove this page from your database" which happens on every page you delete from Shopify.
Google likes to see a page around for awhile before they add Rich Results to it.
As you might imagine, this would hurt rankings in Google and makes it difficult to get Rich Results. This could also cause Google to loose trust in your domain as a whole.
Essentially, this customer was selling and deleting the product before Google trusted the page enough to add Rich Results.
There is a better option.
What she didn't know is that Rich Results can show the product is out-of-stock.
Instead of deleting products that are discontinued mark them as out-of-stock in Shopify.
Marking products as out-of-stock will allow you to still rank in Google, win Rich Results and in turn bring in more traffic to your site.
Taking it a step further, you can also create a Discontinued collection, where all these products live. This can serve as a way to show the types of products you sell in an archived format.
If marking discontinued products as out-of-stock truly isn't an option for you, at least fix broken URLs in Shopify so customers aren't taken to a 404 page.
If you're struggling to get Rich Results for your Shopify store, I recommend installing JSON-LD for SEO as your first step. It'll automatically add the data Google needs for Rich Results.