You’ve gotta stock your shelves, there’s no way around it. If your online store looks like a supermarket after apocalyptic looting, barren collections and random folks arguing over who gets the last can of refried beans, your business will suffer.
The digital equivalent of empty supermarket shelves are thin pages. Thin pages are those that have little or no content that is likely to satisfy the user’s search query. When it comes to collection pages on Shopify (or any other ecommerce platform for that matter) their main value are product listings. A collection without any product listings will never satisfy user search query, just like a cereal aisle with no cereal. In order to keep site visitors happy, you must keep track of collections, identify in a timely manner those that run out of products (which is common with small ecommerce stores or stores where product listings often go out of stock due to initially low inventory), and deal with them immediately.
Identifying Empty Collections
What you’ll need:
- A computer
- The open-source, and very useful Screaming Frog software (https://www.screamingfrog.co.uk/seo-spider/)
Here’s the 101 on how to identify thin pages and stock your digital shelves...
- Visit the store’s collections XML sitemap: https://www.store.com/sitemap_collections_1.xml (replacing “store.com” with your Shopify store root domain).
- Open Screaming Frog, and go to Configuration > Custom > Extraction. Next, you will want to write an Xpath expression that counts the number of product listings. The XPath query is likely to be different for every store, but here is what worked for our client’s Shopify store:
*** If you want to learn Xpath, check out this online tutorial (pretty easy to use, and has great examples).***
- With Custom Extraction correctly configured, set Screaming Frog to run in List Mode, and click on the Upload button to paste URL of your collections XML sitemap.
- Once the Screaming Frog is done pulling the number of product listings for each collection, you will want to export the result of the crawl, and remove all but collections with 0 product listings.
Checking If These Collections Are Being Visited
This is the point where you might be wondering, well what if nobody is actually visiting my empty shelves, so I don’t have to worry about them!
First of all, ignoring a problem is never a good way to fix it… might be what led to apocalyptic looting in the first place. The second point is, you can check how many pageviews your thin collections are getting. Here’s how...
- Once you have the URLs of the empty collections (have no product listings), Collection.liquid theme template generally includes an IF-ELSE statement that will show product listings if they exist, or a string of text such as “Sorry, there are no products in this collection.”
- You can edit the ELSE portion of the statement, right under the string of text add an Event Tracking code that will fire a non-interaction event every time the “... no products ...” string of text is shown to the site visitor (Universal Analytics code for event tracking is highlighted in below screenshot):
- Then you wait, just a couple of days, for Google Analytics to collect some data.
- Then go to Behaviour > Events > Top Events. The report shows you how many times collections with missing product listings were seen by site visitors:
In our sample Shopify store, empty collection pages appear to be a major issue since they are seen more often than the “Bottoms” collection which in this case is linked in the main menu of the site... WITH PRODUCTS.
This is pretty strong evidence that points to shoppers being led astray in their purchasing journey. However, all is not lost, empty pages can be hidden from Online Store Channel:
A hidden collection will return server response “404 Not Found”, which will be a strong signal to Google not to send any visitors to it. As a supplemental test, it might be helpful to run a backlink report to see if any of those empty collections have inbound links from other sites. If you see that a collection gets inbound links, consider setting it to “301-redirect” to your homepage in order to regain link value passed by those external pages.
The best course of action is to always keep your shelves stocked and all of your product pages active, but of course that might not always be possible, especially when your product is so hot it’s flying off the shelves! When all else fails, this thin content test will at least keep you in the know as far as what your customers are seeing, and help you regain control after the hefty proverbial looting.