SEO Revenue Growth with Your Discontinued Ecommerce Products – Luke Carthy

Luke Carthy knows so much about selling stuff online what he doesn’t know probably isn’t worth knowing.

As well as being a top notch SEO consultant, Luke also runs his own businesses which sell products online, so he walks the walk as well as talks the talk.

And if you’re thinking “My website doesn’t sell stuff directly, this won’t be relevant to me.” and skip over it, don’t.

We all sell stuff. Whether that’s products, appointments, subscriptions, bookings, leads, downloads… whatever it is, you ‘sell’ it. You’ll learn a lot listening to Luke. I know I did.

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The video of Luke’s talk, slides and a full transcript are all below – with the usual caveat: any errors are almost certainly mine or my typos, not Luke’s.

Video & Slides


Discontinued products and SEO – in the world of e-commerce we all have them, we all have products that we need to get rid of, products that are no longer sold or supported. I’m going to talk about how you can get crazy SEO benefits from doing discontinued products SEO properly!

So, let’s get started. A very quick slide about what I do and who I work for.

A slide from Luke Carthy introducing himself

As you know, my name is Luke and I work for a company called Mayflex. Mayflex is a company that installs internet stuff and security bits and pieces into commercial buildings. So things like copper, fibre, security cameras and all that sort of good stuff. As of 2017 we were 100 years old! I have no idea what we did before the internet, so don’t ask me ask, ask somebody else.

Right let’s get stuck straight into it and ask, does anyone here work for Argos? Great – I’m going in.

How to mess up Black Friday in Ecommerce

So, Argos have made a mistake. They’ve actually made a massive cock-up and to be franker. They have 135,851 backlinks to dead discontinued product and 2800+ ref. domains to dead discontinued product URLs. That is the equivalent of having Interserve, which is a FTSE listed construction management company disappear from the internet three times over.

To give you an idea of how big that is, Interserve is not a small company. Imagine losing the potential of three times their website and that’s exactly what Argos are doing by not optimising their discontinued products.

Black Friday – or, as I like to call it Friday… yeah, a bit of an awkward laugh there! I will take that one out next time. It’s okay you can laugh for that one.

Black Friday is becoming more and more popular every year. People go crazy for this stuff. People take out their weaves and fight and stuff.

Black Friday advice – a slide from Luke Carthy's presentation on ecommerce SEO

Here is an article from TechRadar that is going in on Argos still, I’ll be doing it for a while and we already know in the purchase form, think about it, you’re looking at the best possible deals to buy. This is 2017, around 18 months ago and we can see here from TechRadar there’s a piece of content.

They’ve got three massive follow backlinks from one of the largest press companies, call to actions, people who are looking at buying these deals and they’re all dead!

Black Friday deals and links – a slide from Luke Carthy's presentation on ecommerce SEO
So, every single link that they have to these specific products, people that are wanting to buy these TVs, these deals, these bargains, these cheap TV’s…the links don’t work! 566 referring domains and 10 Dofollow links is what they’ve got from that specific TechRadar piece.

Curry’s PC World – another company I’m gonna go in on! Similar situation, different scale.

Eurogamer, again massive resource for those of you who do play games, you buy games, you are on a gaming forum. Eurogamer is a pretty big site and there’s a popular article here about the Xbox One X and that coming out, new games, so on and so forth. Same thing again – call to actions, ready to buy, people who have money to spend and want to go away and spend, so they click a link and then it’s broken. The products are gone. They no longer exist and so what do you do as a customer?

The chances are you’ll give up and you’ll go somewhere else. You’ll go to Amazon or maybe if you persist it enough, you’ll search on the website. But let’s be honest, if you clicked a link, then you’ve done your research. You’ve got to that piece of content and you end up here, you’re probably not going to be interested.

To give you an idea of the potential of that – for almost four and a half visits, according to Ahrefs that are sent to this particular Eurogamer piece on a frequent basis – I think it’s on a monthly basis, so it’s not a small amount of traffic, there’s a lot of traffic here, a lot of people who are looking to buy but they’re not the only ones.

Again, sticking with Curry’s, they’ve got links on the Guardian from What HI-FI?, from Dell, from Engadget. These aren’t small names; these are the sort of links that many of us as SEO’s dream to have. It’s what we want, it’s what we need!

LOsing precious backlinks

BMW – a little bit different here because of course they don’t sell products online, but the same problem. 2013 model BMW i3; a while ago now, but still the car is still on the roads, it’s electric, it’s cool, whatever.

They have a website – well they did have a website for the 2013 model and here is a slide from Sistrix. Which shows you exactly how their keyword relevance was working since this website.

Keyword visibility for the phrase 'electric car' from Sistrix – a slide from Luke Carthy's presentation on ecommerce SEOThe red arrow denotes when they decided to kill that website. They deleted it, they just got rid of it, they discontinued that car.

The black arrow is when they decided to replace it, but they didn’t set up enough redirects properly from the old site to the new site and as you can see, yes, it’s come back, but this is the keyword for electric car. You want to be at the top for this, so someone like BMW who was at position four when you’re not kind of hanging off the first page it’s not a great look.

The old microsite, the one that they deleted, the 2013 website for this particular car had 1,400 organic keywords, 5,500 organic visits a month, 142 referring domains just scraps, disappeared, gone. You can’t afford to do that in the world of SEO.

REvenue growth from discontinued products

ChemistDirect – a brand I used to work for so I couldn’t slag them off now because I don’t work there anymore. Something we did for discontinued products was we optimised it and I’ll talk you through exactly how we did that. It yielded an 11% increase in sales in 60 days and on top of that, there was also a £200k increase in revenue growth. These are numbers that you can’t afford to ignore.

ChemistDirect isn’t the size of Boots, it’s not a massive brand, so £200k is a pretty big deal. 72% of the additional £200k may I add, came from discontinued products. These are products that don’t exist anymore. So how can you make money from something that’s not online? I’ll get to that in a little while, but first, here are three more benefits to doing discontinued products:

Reclaiming links and keywords – by turning them back on you get your links from referring domains. Even your internal links can be reclaimed and your keywords; just because the product is dead (and I’ll come to this in a little while), doesn’t mean people stop searching for it.

ChemistDirect traffic data – a slide from Luke Carthy's presentation on ecommerce SEO

Again, when we turned on discontinued products at ChemistDirect, it’s quite plain to see, there’s a graph in the right direction, up and to the right. We’ve got increase in traffic, increase in keywords, organic keywords – good stuff.

You also have better, cleaner UX, so rather than showing you a 404 page, or a broken link, or people are getting frustrated and swearing at their laptops, you can show the products.

Display it but the important thing is you display that that product is out of stock and it no longer exists, here’s some alternatives, here’s some better ideas.

Rather than showing ugly 404 or a controversial 301; you’re looking for a red t-shirt and someone thinks it’s clever to send you to a purple t-shirt in the same size – no no, you wanted a red t-shirt. You didn’t want an alternative, so instead of seeing a page like this…

An error page – a slide from Luke Carthy's presentation on ecommerce SEO

You can see something like this.

A good 'out of stock' page – a slide from Luke Carthy's talk on ecommerce

So, tyres…I’m a massive petrol head. I buy a lot of tires and there’s always this specific tyre that I want to buy, but every now and again tyres move on, tyres change, technology gets better, rather than me seeing a 301 pointing me to a product I don’t want to buy, or a 404 telling me ‘nah mate, sorry I can’t help you’, I want to see this.

I want to see that the product is no longer available, and I want to see a potentially direct replacement or a better alternative. I can then make the decision as a consumer whether I want to continue with that purchase or not and, as I’ve said, demand often continues long after the products has died.

Finding purchase intent keywords

Think about it for a moment, Samsung Galaxy S7 – to many of us in this room, it’s a relatively old phone it’s probably three or four generations old now I think, with the S10 coming out, but as you can see here, just because the phone is discontinued and it’s no longer manufactured, doesn’t mean people don’t care about that product.

It doesn’t mean that I’m not looking for spares or cases, even for the phone itself. They might have one, they like it and they want to buy another one used so be it.
Google Trends data for the phrase "Samsung Galaxy S7" – a slide from Luke Carthy's talk on ecommerce

So, cool graph, Samsung Galaxy S7 – all right it’s a phone, people search for it, but that’s not really purchase intent, that’s not really e-commerce, that’s not really talking about money, but this one is…

Google Trends data for the phrase "Buy Samsung Galaxy S7" – a slide from Luke Carthy's talk on ecommerce
‘Buy Samsung Galaxy S7’ – You don’t get much more for purchase in ten keyword than something like that, still lots of demand. Yes, it’s getting thin but if you multiply that across I don’t know, how many discontinued products do you have on your site… 100? 1,000? You can talk and see the gains and the potential you’ve got in this.

Sites that do this well

So, time for me to stop moaning and talk about some of the people who have gotten this right.

John Lewis. Let’s ignore the fact that they’ve had a bit of a shit time financially, but their website is alright! Discontinued products, this is how they do it. I’m looking for a Lenovo Yoga 919 and so on, and as laptops do right, they change every six to nine months, but sometimes they change every year it says ‘here’s some alternatives’!

Again, rather than me seeing a 404 or sending me to the Lenovo Yoga 920 for example, its saying nice and clear that this product doesn’t exist anymore but here are some alternatives.

A screenshot of a John Lewis product page – a slide from Luke Carthy's talk on ecommerceAs you scroll down you can see again no longer available, but the image is there, the product description is still there, I can still download it, I can still get a look at what that product was and again see more from this brand, more products from Lenovo that I may wish to buy.

Chain Reaction Cycles – I’m a big fan of mountain biking, but I also like burgers, which is why I’m not very slim. However, what I can say is that their website is fantastic… sort of.

Chain Reaction cycles product pages – a slide from Luke Carthy's talk on ecommerce

So, the great thing is that this is a particular product that is no longer available, you can’t buy it anymore and I wanted one of these so freaking bad, but you can’t buy one… however, what they have done is for every new customer that pops on to the site, they get an incentive to stick around! £10 off of a £50 spend.

You also get a nice clear message telling you that products are unavailable and on top of that you’ve got a picture of the fork, you’ve got some reviews, you’ve got the name, but what they’ve missed out on is that red real estate there which is ‘what alternatives can buy? Can I buy that exact same product but the 2019 model?’ for example.

Useful product page details  – a slide from Luke Carthy's talk on ecommerce
As you scroll down the page you’ve got your description which again is good for SEO, you’ve got content and so on and so forth. People could find it, you’ve got ways you can pay, views and so on. Actually, going back a second; yes, the products not available, but you can still buy into the brand, you still have a reason to stick around and that is better than what the competition are doing which is 301’s that will take you to alternative products or 404’s or 410’s.

How to SEO your discontinued products

So how the heck can you SEO your own discontinued products?

SEO for discontinued products – a slide from Luke Carthy's talk on ecommerce

First of all, turn the bad boys on alright? You can’t discontinue those things unless you turn them on, however, be bloody careful.

Exclude your discontinued products from your internal search. It’s so important because the last thing you want is someone having that moment of glory… everyone else has sold out of the Xbox One X, they go to your website, they search for it, they see in your search results HALLELUJAH, they found it… and then they click it and find out you haven’t got it. Exclude it from your internal search but keep it on your website.

What that means is, if someone comes via a direct link or a referring domain or referring URL – great, they can still find it, but you don’t want people to be stumbling across this stuff. Navigate in the new products the things that replace this.

Set your rules, set your boundaries. This is really important because for big brands or for brands or websites that have a massive product churn, for example it could be clothing where you’ve got spring/ summer/ autumn/ winter. Every couple of months you’ll change in trends, so you can’t have 5-, 10- or 15-years’ worth of discontinued products on your website. It’s expensive and it’s a lot of maintenance.

However, you can come to a compromise. You might want to keep them online for say, 12 months and then after 12 months they fall to a 410, or you can then manually redirect them. Or it could be the case, if you’ve got the time and the capacity to manually review these things. Have a look at how much traffic these discontinued products have got and if they don’t have many page views say six months on, then manage them that way.

Engage visitors on entry. Going back to that Chain Reaction Cycles example. Give them a reason to stick around…£10 off a £50 spend, give them your trust signals, your reason to stick around. 4.7 out of 5, free delivery etc. Yes, they can’t buy the product from you, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t buy something else from you. Give them a good reason to buy an alternative.

Flash your best bits, which is kind of what I’ve spoken about. I’m not going to do that for you because this is a family show or at least I think it is, but yeah, as I was saying, your reviews, how many people have purchased from you, how big a company you are, or if you’re not necessarily a big company, what it is you do better than the competition. Who, let’s be honest, probably haven’t got their discontinued products online in the first place?

And oh my gosh this one is super important – unless you want a backhander from the PPC Manager, I highly suggest you exclude discontinued products from pay-per-click.

As it happens, I have done it. I have worked in positions where we’ve turned on discontinued products, sent an email, someone didn’t read it and then said, “hold on a minute mate, why have we spent £10,000 more this week?”

Not my problem but the point is, exclude them, turn them off, don’t spend money on stuff that you can’t buy anymore okay? Or maybe give it a try and see what happens, but just be cautious and avoid redirects where possible.

Again, there’s reality and then there’s best practice. Now the reality is that you’re not going to be able to have as I’ve said before thousands and thousands, if not in some cases millions and millions of products on your website, but there are occasions where you will need to and you will need to redirect.

It could be a case of it redirecting it to an alternative product or to a brand, but there’s so much other stuff you can do to get the best out of you discontinued products before you press the redirect button.

'Data Layer is your friend' – a slide from Luke Carthy's talk on ecommerce

DataLayer is your friend

DataLayer is your friend!

For those of you who don’t know what DataLayer is, it is the kind of meat in the sandwich between Google Analytics and your website, and it publishes all sorts of cool stuff with data and click information.

But the box it doesn’t tick is that you have to configure it but the reason why it’s so important is because you can then start to understand what the typical behaviours are that people commonly do when they go onto your discontinued products.

Do they try and download something? Do they try and look at your alternative items? What specific items are they looking at for alternatives etc?

And from that you can start to then make your alternatives better, more efficient, cleaner, smarter and so on.

Keep an eye open… all of this is great advice, but in the wild when you try this, turning on a load of discontinued products may have a positive impact, it may not.

If you follow it properly and you do it properly, if you consider your customers, your product churn, it should be okay, but that’s never a reason to turn these things on and just assume ‘It’s okay, I can go home’.

Keep an eye on this! Keep an eye on traffic, performance, conversion and click-through rate, customer feedback, internal search – all this stuff, your core KPIs and make sure people ultimately your customers are happy and are still spending money.

And that’s me – thank you very much!