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Consolidating and linking up browse categories on GOV.UK

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Image of library stacks. Credit: Beth Jusino

This is an update on some work we’re doing to make it easier to find things on GOV.UK.

As explained in the previous post, part of the solution to help users find what they need is to reduce the number of separate browse systems we have on the site, and provide ways for users to move between the those that remain.

So we’re working on two changes right now which progress that. We are:

  1. retiring a set of browse pages called “detailed guidance categories”, upgrading them to use the newer and much richer functionality of “topic and subtopics
  2. adding links between “mainstream browse” pages (that’s the list of popular categories on the GOV.UK homepage) and the related “topic and subtopic” pages where more detailed content can be found

These changes are small steps on a long road to making it easy for users to find things, but they should make a big difference.

We’ve been talking directly to publishing organisations who have large volumes of detailed guides. Those with smaller amounts will be contacted via an email which complements this blog post.

1. Turning off “detailed guidance” categories

“Detailed guidance categories” are an old system of browse pages which existed before topic and subtopic pages were introduced early last year.

They are of limited use, in that they can only contain content in a single format (detailed guides) as opposed to all related content on a subject. They’ve also fallen behind functionally, as we’ve added more features to topics and subtopics - for example they don’t provide email alerts and ‘latest’ views and curated lists.

We need to reduce the number of ways to browse to content on GOV.UK and we intend that topics and subtopics will become the primary method for subject-based browsing of content on GOV.UK in the future. So we are replacing detailed guidance categories with topics and subtopics.

What this means in practice

For example, we are replacing the detailed guidance category called “Additional guidance for VAT-registered businesses” with a more feature-rich VAT subtopic.

We’re doing that by re-tagging all the detailed guides in the old category to the new subtopic. We’ll repeat this process for all detailed guidance categories, then remove all of the detailed guidance category pages and redirect each one to the most appropriate subtopic page.

Where we’ve got to

This work is well underway. We held a meeting last November with affected organisations and since then we’ve been working closely with many of them on the re-tagging. Over half of the detailed guide categories are now ready to be retired and redirected, and we’ll finish the remaining work over the next few weeks.

What this means for publishers

If you haven’t heard from us directly, it’s because you don’t need to do anything.

If you’re one of the small number of organisations whose content is being re-tagged, you might notice your content has been forcibly re-published with the new specialist tagging metadata. Don’t worry - we aren’t touching the content, just changing over the tags.

2. Links from mainstream browse to topics and subtopics

Once the work of retiring and redirecting detailed guidance categories is complete, we’ll be able to add the new links to related topics and subtopic pages from mainstream browse.

This will help users who are browsing general services and information find more detailed and specialist content on the same subject, if that’s what they need.

Sticking with the same example, a VAT specialist looking at the browse page for mainstream VAT content will soon be able to follow a link to the VAT subtopic page, which displays all relevant GOV.UK VAT content (as opposed to just the most popular items).

This is step 1 of an ongoing process to make improvements

We know that the subtopics we create for the detailed guides won’t be perfect at this stage, because they will be based on detailed guides alone. We’re not yet considering all of the content in other formats which may need to be grouped into these newly created subtopics.

However, we’ll be revisiting all the topics and subtopics in the near future, once we’ve had an opportunity to complete a basic content audit of the entire site and have a full picture of the size and scope.

Then, over time, we’ll be contacting all relevant organisations so that we can work together on labelling, grouping and organising all the site’s content by subject in ways that best support user needs.

We’ll share a progress update on this blog as we go, so watch this space.

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  1. Comment by Hai posted on

    A mockup / screenshot would have helped me understand this, but here goes...
    The last example. Mainstream browse page for VAT. Will this page still be there as it is now ( and on that page, there will be the a-z list of links PLUS a link to the VAT subtopics page?
    Or will that page "become" the subtopics page (replacing A-Z list and the Detailed guidance at the bottom, with Quick links, Introductory guidence etc etc. ? Thanks,

    • Replies to Hai>

      Comment by Ben Andrews posted on

      Hello Hai,

      Thanks for the feedback. I agree a mock up would have made this easier to understand. Noted for the future.

      To answer your question, we do not plan to remove the mainstream browse pages, or sub topic pages. We will be linking from mainstream browse to sub topic browse and phasing out the use of detailed guide categories. So would link through to We think of it as drilling down into more detail.

      The links will feature at the bottom of the A-Z list of mainstream browse columns, where the detailed guide category links are currently located (under the 'Detailed guidance' label).

      I hope that helps.


      • Replies to Ben Andrews>

        Comment by Hai posted on

        Thanks for clarifying.

        But how come you are sticking with the a-z in the mainstream browse, if you found that sub topics works well (grouping the content together).

        I also wonder, if i'm browsing the mainstream a-z list looking for "VAT Repayments" and don't find it in the a-z list, i should go to the bottom of the list, find the link to the topics page "Business tax" (i'm already in a section called Business tax, mind you), then at the bottom of the list click VAT and behold the full index of VAT related pages.

        • Replies to Hai>

          Comment by Ben Andrews posted on

          Hello Hai - I agree there are improvements we can make to mainstream browse and we have plans to do so. A good summary of all the work relating to how people find things on GOV.UK can be found in this earlier blog post -

          Probably most relevant to your specific question is the work to introduce a service (or needs based) based information architecture. It's likely this will change the presentation, grouping and ordering of content.

          We’re choosing to build links between mainstream and sub topics because we feel this is the most valuable thing we can do right now (the next most important thing), based on what we’ve seen in user research and our analytics. It isn’t the last and only thing we’ll do regarding mainstream browse.

          I hope that clarifies things.



  2. Comment by Hai posted on

    Just a followup to my latest question for clarity:

    Will you remove

    and replace with

  3. Comment by Ale del Cueto posted on

    Hi Ben

    I'd like to ask how the new policy pages fit into the work you're doing to improve browse categories.

    I know policy pages are still called policies and they have a big ‘policy’ banner at the top, but this seems misleading given that there’s no policy information in them. They’re now just a way of grouping content by topic. This is confusing to us as publishers because we don’t understand the value of tagging a piece of content both to a policy and a topic; and we suspect users are likely to feel the same confusion.

    For example, how is a user supposed to know what information they are likely to find on the ‘early years’ subtopic ( vs the ‘childcare and early years’ policy (

    What is the difference between the SEND subtopic ( and the SEND policy (

    Or between the ‘looked-after children’ subtopic ( and the ‘looked after children and adoption’ policy (

    When we brought this up at the content clinic a couple of weeks ago, it was suggested that maybe we should only tag content that relates to policy-making to policies and guidance to subtopics. However, as far as we know, this has not been communicated widely and so there is lots of content tagged both to topics and policies.

    We feel that policies are now just one more potentially confusing layer of navigation - they are essentially yet another set of browse categories. We’d like to hear how this fits into the work you're doing to improve existing browse categories so users can navigate to content more easily.

    Many thanks

  4. Comment by E. Brown posted on

    Hi Ben and Vicky,

    I'll second Ale's confusion.

    In our area of content, I just recently found the 'policy' tag for 'obesity and healthy eating':

    ...which doesn't include a single, fixed policy on obesity and healthy eating.

    There are several policy papers on this topic, but none are tagged, and there's no 'what's the government doing about...' link for obesity and healthy eating.

    So there seems a mismatch: it's a 'policy' with no policies in it, and it's not a topic.

    We (PHE) are trying to 'capture' all the content related to obesity and healthy eating, including stats, policies, programme documents and research and analysis. There seems no easy way to do this: we have enough content to use a browse category as we have for our PHE services:

    ...but I can't include a link to, say, the stats published on obesity, short of linking to each doc individually. Perhaps eventually I can include a stats feed on a browse page? I don't know.

    What I really want to avoid is having several 'pages' of obesity and healthy eating', some generated by tagging (which is informal and inconsistent) and some created manually (the dreaded detailed-guide-pcking-up-everything-else workaround).

    Is the solution to have an actual mainstream policy about obesity and healthy eating? that is (ideally) linked to all the analysis, stats, and programmes for this item?

    Short of this, it's workarounds, like turtles, all the way down.