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Our scenario is we've got multiple pages set up for category-based browsing, such as example.com/products/boardgames A list of the canonical URLs for the categories is in the sitemap, with a frequency of weekly. From time to time, it's likely that these URLs will produce 0 items in the category, potentially for weeks/months at a time. In this case, I'd like those results to be removed from crawlers until there's some results.

I had thought to leave them in the sitemap, but dynamically add a meta-robots noindex tag to the head. Would this have the desired effect of removing the webpage from search results when there's no items, and then re-added when there are results available?

  • Your thinking is correct, however, it may take a bit of time to have a search engine re-add the page when the noindex is removed. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do about that. It is a Catch 22 scenario. Even if you removed the pages including from the sitemap, it would still take time to have the pages added to search. It sounds to me like you have one of the simplest scenarios considering the situation. Perhaps someone can give you a better scenario based upon their experience. Cheers!! – closetnoc Dec 3 '15 at 1:58
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I tested this approach - doesn't worked for me. But its only my experience. John Mueller means, it should work.

I wouldn't noindex categories, where all products are sold out. I would 410 them only if there will be never new products in the category. But even if a category is temporarily empty - let it be indexed, publish a notice for users and offer some related links. BTW, it is a most optimal approach - to optimize and index categories, but not products.

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