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We have a medium traffic site which sells used boats, the site does fairly well for popular search phrases, often ranking on first page.

A common way for people to search is by boat manufacturer, for example "sunseeker for sale" or "sunseeker 33 for sale".

To service those searches, we have search results page with URL's like: "/used-boats-for-sale/sunseeker" and "/used-boats-for-sale/sunseeker/33" (i.e. make and model).

This is fine for common makes but we have a lot of makes where we might have just one which, when sold, then leaves the page with no boats to show. It could then be just weeks till we get another one or sometimes years.

Once a manufacturer has no boats for sale, we automatically remove the link to that page from the site and from the sitemap. These pages are now being flagged as soft 404s in Webmaster tools.

Currently these pages still work and just show a "No results found" message.

I am unsure of how to deal with these pages.

Options as I see them:

  1. Add a "no-index, follow" tag to the pages and continue to remove them from the sitemap. My concern is that when we do get a new boat for sale, the page will not rank again or take a long time to be re-indexed.

  2. Add value to the 'no results found' page - for example, show listings for similar boats. If I do this (which makes sense from a usability perspective), would it be acceptable to leave these pages with an "index" tag?

  • Google actually prefers a proper 404 if a page does not exist. For a while, they did not want people using redirects and preferred that a new page be discovered and the old page 404. I mention this because it gives you an idea of how Google thinks. In this case, I think I would give them what they want. I updated my site with 600,000 +/- (currently) pages to do proper 404 errors as pages are dropped and I am going through the process of dropping about 450,000 (was over 1 million pages total) in a clean-up process. – closetnoc Oct 28 '14 at 14:52
  • Hi, the problem as I see it is a 404 says this URL is removed forever - but that won't be the case as the URL will return when we have more of that type of boat for sale again (the individual boat listings have unique URLs but I am referring to the search results pages for a particular manufacturer). – Ben Simpson Oct 29 '14 at 9:40
  • A 410 Gone error is forever. Technically, a 404 error is not, but is in effect a 410 after enough retries. It is your choice how you do things. I just know what Google prefers. I do not always agree with what Google wants. I do not have any ideas for you. If the page content is gone for a year, you may be better off removing it. Otherwise it is thin content and I assume counts negatively toward the quality of your site. – closetnoc Oct 29 '14 at 14:35
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Google offers a few different guidelines in this situation.

If you are quite a small site, that may not have too many of these types of pages, it's perfectly acceptable to go with your 2 option. Not making the page a 404, but using the page to indicate other related products the customer might be interested in.

However if you have more products that are likely to go out of stock more often then you should be removing the pages they should return a 404 page not found status.

View the video below from Google, then ask yourself which one of the options your site falls under:

What should sites do with pages for products that are no longer available?

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  • Thank you, that's a good video but I don't feel we fit very well into any of the categories. We have about 2000 manufacturer pages and 8000 manufacturer and model pages so theoretically that would put is in their second category. However, we don't meet the criteria of "we're never going to sell this again" - we will sell many more, we just don't know when! I'd say we're more like the specialist furniture maker but with more stock! – Ben Simpson Oct 29 '14 at 9:50
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You can simply 302 redirect to some other (similar) category. Once you have something to sell again, you can remove the redirection. In the meantime, your SEO will be preserved, since 302 redirects don't pass link juice.

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