Google shares how noindex meta tags can cause problems

Google’s John Mueller answered a question about using the noindex meta tag on product pages that are temporarily out of stock. John answered the question and provided feedback on how this type of usage can put Google off a bit and cause further problems.

Robot meta tag

The robot meta tag is an instruction-level method used to tell search engines not to index a web page. When you “index” a web page, it means that you are added to the list of web pages that should appear on search results pages (also known as SERPs).

ONE “Directive“Is a code that search engines must obey.

A robot noindex meta tag tells search engines that a page should not be included in the index. A page that is excluded from the index means that the page will not appear in the SERPs.

Question about out of stock product pages

The question that John Mueller answered was asked by a publisher who added the noindex meta tag to product pages where products were out of stock.

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This allows Google to exclude the page with the out-of-stock product from Google’s search results.

The publisher then updated the noindex meta tag to the “index” command when the product was back in stock. By changing the noindex directive to an index directive, the publisher asked Google to display the page in search results.

This is the question asked:

“We update our meta robots regularly, index and noindex. And last month we made the final change to product pages that were back in stock in the last seven days and marked them as “index”, but we saw no impact on the submitted URLs that were marked as noindex. I manually checked some of the most recent change urls.

Google never seems to follow them. “

Switching the robot meta-index tag between noindex and index didn’t seem to work for the publisher.

John Mueller responded with an insight into how Google deals with the meta noindex tag.

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“In general, I think this fluctuation between indexed and non-indexed is something that can put us off a little.

Because when we see a page that has not been indexed for a long period of time, we assume that this is some kind of 404 page and we don’t have to crawl it that often.

This is something where probably happens that we consider these pages to be noindex and we decide to stop crawling them as often, regardless of what you submit in the site map file.

So this is something where … fluctuations with the noindex meta here are counterproductive if you really want these pages to be indexed from time to time. “

How Google deals with noindex tags

It’s interesting that the way Google deals with noindex meta tags from robots is similar to the way they deal with a 404 response code.

The robots noindex tag is a powerful tool and the best use case for it is with pages that a publisher never wants to index.

According to Google’s robot meta tag developer site:

“With the robot meta-tag, you can use a detailed, page-specific approach to control how a single page should be indexed and served to users in Google search results.”

The same google page says this about the noindex meta tag:

“… tells search engines not to display the page in search results.”

It doesn’t say anything about how Google handles it, much like a 404 page with no answer found. This causes Google to visit the page less, if at all.

Dealing with out of stock product pages

There are some best practices for dealing with out of stock websites.

Category Pages

Category pages listing both in-stock and out-of-stock products, as well as website search pages, recommend that you display in-stock items first by default.

Then, display out of stock products at the bottom of the search pages and category pages.

Screenshot of a retail store search page with recently out of stock items

Screenshot of a product search page showing recently out of stock products

Customers also considered

A best practice for dealing with out of stock product pages is to display a “Customers Also Considered” section at the top of the out-of-stock product page.

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This allows you to show the website visitor similar in-stock products that they may be interested in.

Screenshot of a customer also seen as a button

Warehouse warning

Another best practice is to have a prominent “Stock Alert” button so consumers can receive a notification when a product is back in stock.

Screenshot of an email notification button for in-stock email

Screenshot of a button to log in to be notified when a product is back in stock

Out of stock structured data

The product “offer” has a structured data property ItemAvailability Type that search engines can use to be notified when something is in stock or out of stock.

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The ItemAvailability type is listed as a recommended type by Google, but it is not required.

Screenshot of out of stock structured data

Screen shot of out of stock structured data

If the structured ItemAvailability data is marked as unavailable, search engines can determine that this webpage is not displayed in the search results but continues to be indexed. It’s unclear if search engines aren’t rating these pages, but that seems to be anecdotal of how search engines handle the data.

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See John Mueller discuss the Robots Noindex Meta Tag

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