Categories are a simple tool that are a pretty fundamental part of organizing a wiki. What you might be surprised to know is that they also create some issues for how high a community’s content shows up in search results.

We’re going to walk you through a simple category redesign we’re releasing tomorrow that keeps the same basic look and functionality, adds personalization, and addresses the SEO issues.

A Brief History of Categories

Categories are a foundational part of MediaWiki and have existed since the beginning of the software. A few years ago, we developed new display options that included Category Exhibition. Communities could enable this and display gallery items visually.

It’s a pretty solid idea. There’s value in readers being able to explore categories visually. It also added personalization so you could decide whether to use a category in list mode or full-gallery mode, and whether to order pages alphabetically or by the most-visited pages.

Where Categories Caused Some Problems

Google scans pages in order to decide how to rank them. Ranking criteria is often-evolving, and three aspects of categories didn’t play well with some of their more recent criteria.

  1. Pagination. In larger categories, only 200 page links or images are displayed before the rest of the content moves to a second, third, or even fourth page. You can move between them by clicking “Next 200” or “Previous 200,” but this confuses Google crawlers because the structure isn’t as simple and sequential as it could be.
  2. Exhibition filters. In Exhibition mode, small parameters are added to the category’s URL when you choose alphabetical or most visited. Google counts that as more than one page, and duplicate content creates challenges because a crawler is only going to spend so much time crawling content.
  3. Subcategory displays. Subcategories are traditionally displayed in their own section of a category page. However, the way that they were paginated made subcategories the worst SEO offender in categories.

Google unfortunately considers categories “low quality” because of this. That hurts the SEO of every community, which necessitated some changes to maintain how categories are used but fixes the SEO issues.

A Slight New Look For Categories

Now that we know the problem, we’ve been able to identify a solution. We’re keeping the option for you to use Classic Categories or Category Exhibition when you’re logged in, while tomorrow introducing a new Dynamic Categories that will be the default for logged out users.

Here’s a mock of what that update looks like:

Dynamic Galleries mock

Dynamic Categories maintain the same visual style we’ve had for years, keeps what works, and fixes what doesn’t. Key updates are:

  • Categories are shown in a list to maintain the page’s usefulness to admins and editors, while showing visual navigation at the top with trending pages to give you an insight into what people are browsing.
  • The Exhibition filters are removed from the logged out view so Google doesn’t scan them. While logged in, you have the option to toggle between the three different category styles on any category page.
  • Pagination now reads as “Next” and “Previous” to make things simpler for Google.
  • Subcategories are no longer separated into their own section. We explored options for how we could maintain that functionality but, in order to achieve the goal of better SEO performance, there was no technically feasible way of doing it.

If you’re logged in, the option to use any of the three category types can be found in your account preferences.

We’re going to continue looking at categories to see what else we may be able to improve, both as a utility and for SEO. We’ll keep you updated along the way.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about this new design or feedback about how categories can be even more useful, please let us know!


Brandon Rhea Fandom Staff

Brandon Rhea is VP of TV, Movies, and Anime at Fandom. He's a huge fan of Star Wars, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, and Marvel. He's a Gryffindor whose Patronus is a cat.
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