12 August 2010 : Bob Sakayama
Every time the product line changes, in many cases every year, most businesses simply discard the old product pages and replace it with the new one. By "cleaning house" in this way, we keep the site neat and orderly - but should we rethink this process? Could there be some value in preserving the record of the product evolution as it changes over time? The answer to both questions is: absolutely!
Since you already know what this article is advocating from the titles, you probably wonder what good are those old product pages. You probably never thought it might actually be a candidate for link bait. But it is.
Who would want to link to your old product pages? Have you ever searched for an obsolete product and found it in an archive? If you're a fashion maven and like to compare old styles with new, you probably already link to the stores or manufacturers that keep active archives. The point is that archives of discontinued products are valuable - the bigger they are the more valuable. And valuable archives get links.
The primary caveat is that you organize your archive of discontinued products so that there is absolutely no chance any could be confused with available products. But that's easy. Just create a "discontinued" link and automate the display to move from the store to the archive when a product is discontinued. Make that area easily searchable, and keep it organized as you do the rest of the store - probably brand centric, or by product type. The goal is to have an archive where it's easy to find things.
Another caveat: make sure that the archive product descriptions are not exactly like the new product descriptions. But even if they are very close, you can add uniqueness by coding a "archive" or "discontinued" tag (or any other marker that is appropriate) whenever the discontinued product appears in text. Creating a special automated discontinued product script using a variable for the product may also contribute to uniqueness if your old/new descriptions appear too similar.
The beauty of this technique is that it can be automated, requires no ongoing work to manage, and can actually help the sale of new products. People very often search for the product they have, even if it's obsolete. If they find it on your site, even if it's in the archive, they are much more likely to at least look at your new offerings.
Since this area tends to grow very large, you should spend some time making sure it is manageable and displays well once the numbers get large. But a very simple data set up is all that's really needed to keep a monster archive functional and accessible.
If you're discarding old product pages every time the manufacturer discontinues a product, you're ignoring an opportunity to build the content critical mass of your site. You might be throwing away valuable stuff.
Keep in mind that value only comes with time, so start it NOW. Your archive's attractiveness increases if it's been around a while. Think about archive.org - they create an archive of the web that is only valuable because it has been archiving for so long. The early adopters will have the most valuable archives.
If you have a comment on this strategy, please post it here.