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Our What topics can I ask about here? page in the Help Center lets new and existing users know what the community considers to be on-topic and off-topic for the site.

It's based on Meta discussions like this one, whereby the community can suggest or propose changes and vote on them. If a consensus is reached, then those changes will be made. It's really the only Help page that we're able to edit (without the help of the Stack Exchange Staff).

In an effort to be more welcoming, add clarity, and possibly increase activity on our site, please provide any feedback that you might have about our What topics can I ask about here? Help page. For example, does it seem about right, is it too specific, is it unclear in any way, or should it contain links to example questions, etc…

For sake of comparison, you can view the corresponding Help page on other Stack Exchange sites (e.g., Super User, Web Applications, and ServerFault -- three sites we regularly migrate to).

If you have suggestions as to other topics that should be considered on-topic or off-topic (i.e., a subject that's not already listed there), it might be best to ask that in a separate Meta question so that the community can directly vote on it.

Your feedback really matters and is appreciated - thank you!

Note: This is not a discussion about the Code of Conduct page. We have no control over that, so please use the Meta Stack Exchange site instead.

Update:

The changes to the what topics can I ask about here help page were made and detailed here. Thanks to everyone who added their feedback!

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A while back I had proposed some clarifications to the What topics can I ask about here? page here so that users would be clearer on things and less questions might end up on-hold.

Only the last bullet item there has since been implemented here to avoid further confusion on the site, while the others were not due to being unclear as to whether a consensus had been reached at the time. Given the voting patterns on most Meta posts, it appears that it reached that threshold, but I'd like to give the community another opportunity to provide current feedback since quite a bit of time has passed since.

With a consensus here, only the top part of those proposed changes would be implemented, which I've copied below. The other two parts would require separate Meta discussions.

I'd also like to tone down the page a bit in terms of bolding so that it doesn't give off the impression that we're possibly shouting a lengthy list of things that we consider off-topic. If you look at the same page on other Stack Exchange sites, they mostly avoid the use of bolding, likely for the same reasons.

Here is the remaining list of clarifications that I'm proposing:


Although the heading there reads: What topics can I ask about, it's more of a (lengthy) list for what you can't ask about.

  • I propose that we add a new heading above the list of off-topic subjects (i.e., above "There are some types of questions about running websites that don't belong on this site") to more clearly indicate: What is considered off-topic for this site.

The list there itself is also confusing. Some things that should be clarified are:

  • Web sites out of your control is off-topic, but so is: Specific to only your site, leaving the user to wonder if their question is about a site they "control", but not too "specific" to that site...

    The former should be clarified to: Websites you are not the webmaster, developer, or owner of and the latter to: Would not be applicable to other sites. The text description for these should also be clarified to further denote the difference between these two.

  • Recommendations for sites and resources is one of the most common reasons for putting questions on hold, so it should be raised to the top of the list there.

  • Usage of web browsers and other software is another confusing issue: websites are accessed through web browsers, and consequently testing, managing, and debugging sites are also done using web browsers. Therefore we should edit this to just: Usage of software that's not related to running a website

  • Content management systems (CMSs) indicates that there are other Stack Exchange sites for WordPress, Drupal, Magento, etc..., however there are many questions about these already here, and they're extensively used in a large percentage of websites.

    Therefore the text description for this should be changed to indicate that there are other more specialized Stack Exchange sites that might be able to better answer advanced questions about these, so if they're not related to common webmasters tasks (e.g., SEO, URL management, etc...), they might be migrated to those sites.

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    I think these are all very reasonable changes and would be improvements. – Stephen Ostermiller Oct 15 at 10:27
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    Since we wrote the section about CMS with a stack site, the scope of WordPress stack has been limited to development of WordPress. Questions about using WordPress are still probably better asked here. However in the case of Drupal, it appears that they allow questions about running or troubleshooting a site: drupal.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic I like your suggestion of not making the questions off-topic here, but suggesting that a question could be moved, or that you could get a better answer elsewhere. – Stephen Ostermiller Oct 15 at 10:29
  • As an aside, there is a separate page for what you should avoid asking: What types of questions should I avoid asking? - Help Center - Webmasters Stack Exchange However we don't have the ability to edit that page and we can't list things that are off-topic there. If we (as a community) want to list anything that is specifically off-topic, we have to do it on the on-topic page because we are limited by Stack Exchange (the company). – Stephen Ostermiller Oct 15 at 10:53
  • Good points here. I would prefer if our own site-specific, modifiable Help page was listed above that page under the Asking section of the Help Center, but it appears that's standardized among all the Stack Exchange sites. Alas, we are just cogs in the machine/network :-) – dan Oct 15 at 22:25
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    I think a key part of Would not be applicable to other sites is when the question requires us to leave Webmasters to view their site. Those questions have no value because once they fix the issue the question becomes useless to others. I'd like to find a way to express that so it is clearer to question-askers. – John Conde Oct 16 at 1:12
  • @JohnConde Yes, that's always been a key problem. Maybe we can replace the text there with: If users need to visit your site to answer the question, then it's likely not a good fit here since the same issue, content, or site may not be available in the future. Please try to describe the issue in enough details so that users can possibly answer it without leaving this site. That likely will cut down on links, and a lot of back-and-forth comments. We might also match the corresponding close reason to this as well (and the other close reasons to this page for further reference too). – dan Oct 16 at 4:47
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    I don't like the "can't look at a site to answer the question". Sometimes the best way to illustrate the problem is to show the site. I'd prefer wording that says the problem has to be explained in text or screenshots and has to be applicable to other sites as well. But we get a lot of questions that I don't fully understand until I visit the site in question, even when the Q/A will be useful to other webmasters in the future. – Stephen Ostermiller Oct 16 at 10:51
  • The key is that once a question has been answered for a user that it continues to offer value to future visitors. A link to the site is okay as long as everything necessary to adequately describe and troubleshoot the issue is in the question so once that link becomes useless there still is value in the question. – John Conde Oct 16 at 12:24
  • I also would like to see us codify how those links are provided in the question. I worry about spam and want to discourage it at every turn. I think if we allow links to site the text should "link to site" and at the bottom of the question. No keywords or site names. We're not giving away free quality links here. – John Conde Oct 16 at 12:24
  • I can see both sides of the coin here: sometimes viewing the site is helpful to be able to understand the question better. On the other hand, that's often abused and questions really should be "self-contained" enough so that they're helpful to others in the future. We've traditionally removed unnecessary links so as not to give the greenlight to the OP and other users that it's OK to try to drop links here. I think we can soften up the language in the above suggested text to discourage users from adding unnecessary links, while not prohibiting them outright... – dan Oct 16 at 22:29
  • For example, …so that users might be able to answer it without leaving this site if possible. The first part already suggests this is somewhat flexible depending on the context of the question: …then it's likely…. If a link is needed to answer the question, then users can always ask for it in comments too, which doesn't appear in the search engines (AFAIK). Are you guys good with that? – dan Oct 16 at 22:33
  • @JohnConde I agree - when links are added, it should be made clearer to other users. We'll often get posts that seem like they're legitimate only to learn that the problem doesn't exist on their site and/or they're bogus accounts, which results in users wasting their time trying to answer them. We saw a good example of that just recently. I'm not sure how to codify that in the Help page though, because if we do suggest how to add links, then that will surely encourage them to do so. What do you suggest? – dan Oct 16 at 22:40
  • StackExchange uses nofollow, so links here aren't providing SEO value. As far as anchor text goes, high value search keywords are not appropriate, but a linked domain name would be fine with me. – Stephen Ostermiller Oct 17 at 17:17
  • Well we could get into a whole discussion on which search engines fully observe nofollow and whether every variation of a URL here has that applied to it…but the point is that they still try, and sometimes it's just to build traffic views, possibly spread malware, etc… Are we good with the suggested wording above? – dan Oct 17 at 22:16
  • I've been trying to think of better wording. This is a little rough but I'd prefer Questions shouldn't usually contain a link to your site. Your question must fully describe your problem with text and screenshots rather than relying on a showing your site with a link. Sometimes it is still nessesary to illustrate a problem with the example of your site, however most of the time, links to sites will be removed. – Stephen Ostermiller Oct 18 at 10:30
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Orthaganal to Dan's changes, I suggest we change the following:

  • "Questions here are commonly about" to "Questions here are about various aspects of owning, running, or administering your own website, such as:" Then remove the sentence: "This site is for anything that relates to owning, running, or administering your own website."

    This should make it clearer that the items in the list are limited in scope to being about a website (for example not ALL internet marketing, but only internet marketing about your site) which seemed to cause some confusion here: Are social media marketing questions on-topic?

  • Add "email hosting" to the list of what you can ask about since we specifically made it on-topic here: Are questions about email hosting on-topic?

  • I think these are parallel to and congruent with the above proposed changes, so I agree :-) – dan Oct 15 at 22:26
  • glad that I help one! – Ooker Oct 17 at 16:58
  • These changes have now been edited into our help document. I changed "web hosting" to "web and email hosting" which is a bit different than what a proposed here, but I realized that I could make it more concise that way as I was putting it in. – Stephen Ostermiller Oct 28 at 11:06
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The recommendations made so far are excellent!

I would like to make a few recommendations that may help.

Under "What topics can I ask about here?", the sentence "Questions here are commonly about" could be expanded to "Questions here are commonly about but not limited to"

Under "What topics can I ask about here?", the list is short, fuzzy, and broad and may not guide users as well as we hope.

I created a fast and dirty list from the post popular tags page that could be presented as a nested unordered list or as a comma separated list. I will present it as an nested unordered list.

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
    • Site Organization Strategies
    • Navigation
    • Internal Linking Strategies
    • URL Management and Strategies
    • On-Page Optimization
    • Robots.txt
    • Duplicate Content Strategies
    • Schema Mark-up
    • Sitemap Creation and Usage
    • Page Redirection Strategies
    • Link Building Stategies
    • Engagement Strategies
    • General Ranking Strageties
  • Domain Names
    • Domain Name Registration
    • Domain Management
    • DNS Records
    • Domain Name Change Strategies
  • Web Hosting
    • Web Hosting Options
    • Control Panel Usage
    • Web Server Management
    • E-Mail Server Management
    • FTP Server Management
    • Server Configuration File Usage
    • Basic Server Security
    • Server Performance
  • Search Engine
    • Site Submission
    • Search Engine Consoles
    • Search Engine Analytics
    • Business Registration
    • SERP (search engine result page) Strategies
    • Search Engine Crawling and Indexing
    • Advertising Strategies
  • Internet Marketing
    • Business Registration Strategies
    • Site Branding Strageties
    • Social Media Usage and Marketing
    • Encourageing Organic Link Building
    • User Engagement and Recruitment Strategies

Please note that this is just a quick bang-up list and should be better tuned. I included it as an example for discussion. My hope is to inspire and encourage specific questions by giving more specific examples and better guidance.

The sentence "This site is for anything that relates to owning, running, or administering your own website." is a bit too fuzzy and broad.

Under the sentence "This site is for anything that relates to owning, running, or administering your own website." add

Questions should be focused to a specific problem that solicits specific answers.
Questions should refrain from asking more than one or two questions per post. It is okay to make numerous posts to ask your questions.
Questions should not solicit opinions or recommendations.
Questions should be applicable to other sites and not specific to just one site.

Following the sentence, "It's also OK to ask and answer your own question." add "In fact, we encourage and appreciate it."

This is what I see for now. I will attack this again and update if I see more. We seem to have nailed it so far.

Cheers!!

  • Why separate out "Search Engine Optimization" and "Search Engine" categories of questions? All of those items could go under "Search Engine Optimization" – Stephen Ostermiller Oct 21 at 10:03
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    Is there a lot of value in listing all the sub-bullet points? They make the document a lot longer without really expanding the list -- they just fill in details. I'm looking through your list for new top level categories. Maybe "Tools like analytics and search console", or "Running a web site as a business" – Stephen Ostermiller Oct 21 at 10:22
  • @StephenOstermiller It was just a quick bang-up. It could be shorter. It could be different. My experience is that short lists get ignored and long lists get ignored. However, a list is generally not ignored and can inspire thought. I use lists all the time. I am not suggesting a list like the one I created, just one that is better defined and not left too much to the imagination. It is possible to use an unordered list and have more common things like separated by a comma in a single bullet. My point was the 4 point list left too much to the imagination. Cheers!! – closetnoc Oct 21 at 14:00
  • @StephenOstermiller BTW- Basically, I was just expanding upon the 4 points to make them a bit clearer using the most popular tags, however, search engines was not represented at all - so I added it. That is basically where the list came from. I am not suggesting my exact wording. I am suggesting examples under the points to make clearer. – closetnoc Oct 21 at 14:44
  • Thanks for your input here. I like the suggested change from: Questions here are commonly about to Questions here are commonly about but not limited to. I don't think we should be overwhelming users with too much text though - if you compare the same Help page for other SE sites, it's very minimalistic for that reason. I'd be good with adding the two topics that Stephen pointed out, especially the first one since it's less broad and we receive a lot of related questions. For other subjects, users can look at the tags to see the number of related questions we have on those. – dan Oct 23 at 0:17
  • @dan I was not suggesting a longer list per se', but one that was less fuzzy. It is my experience that if you are not specific enough, you will get what you do not want. As a landlord, the lesson I have learned is if you do not define something, you will get anything and everything. I was just suggesting punching up the list. Not my list. It was just an illustration. I have also learned that in detail, you can find simplicity that makes sense. I often bang-up lists and then boil them down for topics and/or topic headings. That is where my head is at. Cheers!! – closetnoc Oct 23 at 2:18
  • @dan This is a clue into how my brain works. I analyze the boogy snots out of everything. If I kept going, I would have made a longer list, organized it, figured out what tags have more off-topic closings, etc. Then I would have formulated a shorter list and then linked to the longer list in another post. It is a form of insanity. There is some wisdom here. I like to give more details elsewhere for those who want it. Perhaps a short list in the help page could link to a meta post with details. You do not have to be as insane as I am, but it sure can be interesting if you were. Cheers!! – closetnoc Oct 23 at 3:52
  • It's all good. I understand where you're coming from, and we arrived at a few good points to consider as a result of your top-down thinking. If you're a new user and want to get quick answers to your burning question, you probably don't want to sort through a lengthy list of things, or feel like it could be off-topic because it didn't match-up perfectly... So general topic areas work better for that - and it's not like we're so swamped with new questions that we can't let them know otherwise. – dan Oct 23 at 4:22
  • Some of the other things near the bottom of your post are covered here by the way, which is the top link in the Hep Center. Our Help page is really just supposed to be about what's considered on or off-topic, whereas the standard network-wide Help docs are more instructional on how to ask an answer questions. – dan Oct 23 at 4:26
  • @dan I had window where I could look at the page before leaving again. Sigh. What struck me is the language was very open for interpretation and could be tightened up. Leaving too much to interpretation is like not having the page at all. And defining too much is like a sieve that only the right shaped and sized topics will fit. You are right on that point. I have also learned to repeat myself. Remember that web users do not click around much or read a whole page. I have learned to repeat myself as an attempt to cover my bases. Don't count on users clicking another link. It won't happen. – closetnoc Oct 23 at 15:13
  • @dan What did you think about linking from the help page to a meta post that is more explicit? It does not have to a long list, but maybe better direction for all users. – closetnoc Oct 23 at 15:57
  • Linking to Meta questions might seem like a good idea, however the Help page is more or less permanent, whereas Meta questions can change: votes can go up or down on answers, answers & comments can be added, and posts can be edited by anyone... So if someone is unhappy about something on the main site or the Help page, they could simply alter things in the related Meta question, which would then invite room for debate as to the Help page's validity (e.g., "But on the linked Meta post it says…"). – dan Oct 23 at 22:18
  • Meta questions are helpful for arriving at the content of the Help page, but they're too editable by the community to be used as part of the Help page. Other SE sites don't link to Meta questions either likely for the same reasons. – dan Oct 23 at 22:19
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    @dan Got it! Good explanation. I am getting the lay of the land. Cheers!! – closetnoc Oct 24 at 3:36

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