We just released a round of changes to surname index pages. For example:
The initial impetus for the changes is our ongoing effort to make WikiTree more mobile-friendly, but you'll notice that a lot of things have been changed regardless of how you're viewing the page.
The first thing you may notice is that it's now a list rather than a table with columns for name, birth date, etc. This conforms the appearance with search results. (Watchlists still have the table format.)
Some members probably prefer the table format, so I apologize if you're one of them. I imagine a table is easier if you're sorting by birth date or edit date and are trying to scan down the page. But our table was just awful if you were on a narrow screen. The list format also makes the page load a smidge quicker for everyone.
In addition to improving things for mobile users, a list enabled us to create a second column for the extras, e.g. the images, tagged G2G questions, and free-space profiles. By having them on the right there's less clutter on top.
We're also utilizing the right column to provide a detailed list of the options for resorting and viewing other surname-related pages. You'll only see this if you break out of the pre-built/cached version of the page that you see initially.
As some of you know, we build the body of the pages in advance so they load faster. A lot faster.
You might wonder why the pre-built versions don't have all the options and links. This is complicated. It's because surname index pages are designed for three different audiences:
2.) Non-member genealogists.
3.) WikiTree members, i.e. you.
The pre-built body of the page is the same for all three audiences. Therefore it's a compromise.
Google is a very important audience because "cousin bait" is central to how WikiTree works. A big part of the benefit of using WikiTree is that our profiles will be found by distant cousins who are searching for our shared ancestors' names in Google.
If ancestor profiles do not appear near the top of Google's search results they will not be found. Our cousins will not find us and we will not benefit from meeting them, finding out what information or photos they might have, etc.
Our goal is not for Google to show the surname index page in search results, unless someone was searching for "[Surname] genealogy" or something similar. People are usually searching for individual names. We want Google to rank individual profile pages for these searches. But the surname index pages are still important for this. They are how we make sure Google finds and properly ranks the profile pages. This is why we list profiles with the most-recently edited ones on top. This ensures that new profiles are found and recently-improved ones are considered more important.
Audience #2, non-member genealogists, of course flows from #1, Google.
Google isn't supposed to be the target audience for any website. The target audience is ultimately people who use Google. Unfortunately, though, they have to be considered separately.
What we want non-member genealogists to see is something generically inviting. Something that shows them the breadth and depth of what our community has to offer. Hopefully they'll want to dig in further.
If they're a genetic genealogist doing a surname project, hopefully they'll discover that we have a DNA surname index page that would be a perfect tool for them. If they're doing a traditional surname project and might be interested in collaborating with others, hopefully they'll discover that we have an index of WikiTree members who are actively interested in the surname. We might even have an ongoing project. We also have this forum, G2G, where you can tag questions with surnames. And so much more.
We also want genealogists to point other genealogists to these pages. This is very important.
We want members and non-members alike to have something easy to recommend. We want you to be able to say, "If you're interested in Smith genealogy, you should see WikiTree's Smith Genealogy page. It's really useful for anyone doing Smith research."
If you give out the URL https://www.wikitree.com/genealogy/SMITH almost anywhere on the Internet other than e-mail (forums, blogs, Facebook, etc.) it leads to Google considering WikiTree in general, and Smiths in particular, more important and more worthy of ranking. It leads directly to Smith profiles appearing higher in the search results.
I know that's all very complicated and much more explanation that all but two or three of you would like. :-)
Most members will only care about how usable it is for them. On that, maybe you could share what you use surname index pages for? Are they now better or worse for that purpose? Are there ways you can imagine they might be improved for that purpose?
Please share your thoughts. Thanks!
Onward and upward,