Google Can Soft 404 Out of Stock Products

by Clint ButlerDigitaleer

(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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

How Do We Test "Out Of Stock" As A Ranking Factor?

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.

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