(SEO This Week) - A couple of days ago I wrote a story about Google and how it was using Soft 404's to deindex pages from the search results because they had text on them like "not found" or "no results" in the HTML code.
Google commented that it was an issue they knew about, but was underreported because it wasn't a systemic issue that was happening a lot.
I guess the topic sparked a lot of questions on Twitter, including this one:
@JohnMu does stock level affect the ranking of a e commerce product page. We ranked #1 for 8 months on this products key word, it's been out if stock about 3 weeks and now rank #9?— Mckeinze97 (@mckeinze1997) January 4, 2022
In the replies, John Mueller made a great point that it wouldn't make that much sense for Google to be ranking based on stock counts.
What difference does it make if you have 1 or 100 on stock? Or if you have green widgets out-of-stock, while someone is searching for blue widgets? I can't imagine how search engines (or even humans :)) would want to use that for ranking.— 🐄 John 🐄 (@JohnMu) January 5, 2022
However, there are a lot of people claiming that they had indeed seen ranking drops as their product in-stock numbers went down. And Barry Schwartz asked the obvious question if the page was reported as a Soft 404 in Search Console.
I haven't checked it, I just had an alert set up and it rang. Was the first thing that popped into my head because key word #2 dropped 6 places yesterday and keyword #1 dropped today so was the first thing that I guessed at.— Mckeinze97 (@mckeinze1997) January 4, 2022
From his answer, I didn't get a sense that there was a reported Soft 404, and if there was, a drop didn't indicate a deindex.
I haven't ran tests, but I have some data and have dealt with websites whose rankings have dropped when stock has dropped widely.— AlexHarford-TechSEO (@AlexHarfordSEO) January 5, 2022
My theory is when at a high %, it makes a website look low value. If a searcher clicks expecting to buy a product, their intent is not satisfied.
This tweet seemed to indicate that if a website has a significant amount of out-of-stock pages, the site as a whole will see rankings drop across the board even if the other 10% of the products are in stock.
I'm with John when I say that it doesn't pass the common sense test to create an algo that identifies in-stock product numbers and then ranks them from highest to lowest. I'm sure it would be easy to do, but why do it.
However, because signal variable testing is about figuring out if an algo is looking at a specific thing, it would be easy to set this test up and see the results.
First, ten domains.
Second, a fake product.
Third, one page on each domain is set up like a product page, nine pages will have product in-stock numbers, lets go with 5, 10, 20, 40, 80, 160, 320, 640, 1280. If Google is using the in-stock count to sort the pages, we'll know.
Fourth, we want one page to have an "Out of Stock" message on the page. For this one, we'll have to let the page index with a product count of 2. Once it's indexed, we'll change the product count to zero and add the "Out of Stock" message.
If this page drops out of the index, we'll see if there is a Soft 404 error in Search Console, or if Search Console is reporting the page as deindexed as well.
Finally, we'll repeat the "Out of Stock" test with one of the other pages from the first part of the test to see if adding the message drops the ranking of the page or results in the page getting deindexed.