Better help requests through topic templates

It seems like many new users require a certain amount of back-and-forth before we can get enough information to help them. Here are a few ideas to make that better. Let me know what you think, and whether you have some ideas of your own to improve the onboarding and help experience.

  1. New users get a welcome that appears in a panel when they are composing their first post. I’ve tweaked the welcome message to specifically request certain information (see below).
  2. Discourse supports topic templates on a per category basis. I’d like to set up a topic template asking for this information in an appropriate category.
  3. The distinction between “Client” and “Server” categories is not really clear. I’d like to merge these into a single “Help” category, which can have the topic template.

@pfg @serverco @cpu @schoen - thoughts?

Welcome to %{site_name} — thanks for starting a new conversation!

  • If you’re asking for help setting up certificates on your site, make sure to include:

    • the full domain name of your site (this will be made [public](( upon issuance anyhow)
    • the command line you ran
    • the output of that command
    • name and version of your operating system and your web server
    • what type of hosting provider you are using, if applicable
  • Please read our FAQ and community guidelines before posting.

This panel will only appear for your first %{education_posts_text}.


Also, I’m thinking of disabling the Uncategorized category to guide more people into the newly templated Help category (though we might want to wait on this until experience has refined the template a little bit).


Would this be similar to the Zen-cart forum? Theirs is very easy to navigate.

Great ideas both, @jsha.

Although some will ignore it, the majority will use it, especially if you add some thing like “In order for us to assist you faster” or similar.


This looks great! That welcome message should cover most things that are usually needed to provide useful replies.

I wonder if there's a simple way we could offer for users to hide their domain from search engines? I think one of the main reasons why users don't want to include their domains is because they don't want their domains to show up in search results in connection to a support forum - some might perceive this as embarrassing if you're setting things up for work or for a client. Discourse has spoiler tags, maybe search engines don't index those (the same way they exclude other "invisible" text). - let's see if this is going to get indexed. :smile:

Here's a possible template for the new Help category (basically following the structure of the welcome message):

My domain is:

I ran the following command:

This returned the following output:

I'm running [your operating system and version] with [your web server software].

[My site is hosted on a dedicated/virtual server with root access.]

[I'm using a control panel to manage my site. The control panel is [control panel name, e.g. Plesk or cPanel, and version].]

[My site is hosted on a shared hosting platform by [your web host].]

I'm not sure about the last three sentences - that part could be made a lot shorter, but it might lead to some missing details. I guess experience will show if it needs refinement.

Overall - excellent idea

Yes, the welcome is an excellent idea. It may also be worth adding something about "where to post" ... a summary of topics ( or a link to a summary of topics page ) ?

I didn't know it had this facility - looks perfect.

I agree the "Client" and "Server" should be merged. I think there could possibly be a split between "Certbot" as the "official client" and "other clients" though .... although my views aren't strong on it. It's more if it manages expectations of what is fully supported here, and what people will try to help, but may need to push back to the author of that client.

The other thing I think is tricky for new users sometimes is pasting info whilst maintaining formatting. the use of a triple quote before / after isn't obvious. When the template asks for "returned the following output" for example - is it possible for it to force that into quotes ? I haven't really had a play with the templates yet.

Agreed. It may be worth just changing the default to be the "Help" category to start with ( so that at least forces the user to choose a different category if they don't think the "Help" on is the correct choice) rather than the default being "Uncategorized", and see what (if anything) ends up going into Uncategorized

Do you want us to go through and move things from the "Uncategorized" ? or does that change the date / time stamp on it when you move ( I've forgotten) which would bring a lot of old posts to be "recent" and not worth it :wink:

I’ve slightly tweaked @pfg’s proposed templates. This is now in effect. Let me know how you think it’s working and we can tweak it further. @pfg, I think as a moderator you have permissions to edit the topic template directly. Feel free to do so anytime.

Please fill out the fields below so we can help you better.

My domain is:

I ran this command:

It produced this output:

My operating system is (include version):

My web server is (include version):

My hosting provider, if applicable, is:

I can login to a root shell on my machine (yes or no, or I don’t know):

I’m using a control panel to manage my site (no, or provide the name and version of the control panel):


Update: I renamed the Client category to Help. I also moved the Server category to a sub-category (I don’t think there’s a great way to actually merge them).

All of the help topics posted in the last 21h have been under Help > Server, which suggests to me maybe people want to post in Help, but see an intimidating template, and select Server instead to get rid of the template.

For now I’ve moved Server out from under Help. We’ll see if that changes anything.

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How are folks liking the new system?

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You can block the directory with a robots.txt or extend the forum to put "nofollow" refs on raw domains.

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What I was referring to was avoiding a topic on this forum showing up when you search for a domain. Preventing the domain from being indexed in general would be a different problem, and robots.txt would definitely be a better choice (hostnames have a tendency to end up in Google’s index even if you don’t consciously share them in public :smile:).

Yeah - I think we’d have to block the entire Help section in robots.txt, and we definitely don’t want that, since search engines are an important way people find the answers they’re looking for.

I’ve been thinking of adding guidance that you can split your domain name, like “exa” if you don’t want to show up on Google. Though I wish people didn’t feel so afraid of been seen asking for help for their domain names. :slight_smile:

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wrapping a hostname in a nofollow isn’t a perfect solution, but would push the domain towards the back.

the only ways to keep it off google’s radar that I know of is to block /path/to/help with a robots.txt – but that makes the help not searchable

i would have suggested obfuscating the domain name or all urls with javascript, but IIRC google’s indexer interprets javascript and should be able to read it.

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I haven't heard that before. Is that documented? I thought nofollow just meant "Don't add pagerank to the target of this link," and didn't affect indexing or ranking of the page hosting the link.

FWIW, Discourse's default is to add nofollow to links from new users up to a certain reputation threshold, so we already have this behavior to some extent.

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I’d say the help template has reduced the back-and-forths quite a bit when it’s used.

I think there was a small uptick in people using the “Server” category, but that could be coincidence. It might also be due to the fact that it’s the first category in the dropdown when you create a new topic. I think Discourse sorts by number of total posts by default, and “Server” happens to be number one there. It seems there’s a way to change that behaviour, maybe that’s worth investigating? Help would probably be a better choice for that first spot.

Thanks for the link! I had searched earlier for a way to affect the ordering in the New Post UI, but found threads indicating it was hard / not implemented yet.

I followed the instructions at the link you sent, and did successfully reorder the categories on the /categories page, but it doesn’t seem to affect the topmost category when posting. If the categories when posting really are sorted by number of posts, we could probably fix this by moving a bunch of Server threads into Help (which you are welcome to try, if you have time!)

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Had to dig a bit, but it looks like there’s a separate fixed_category_positions_on_create option that tells Discourse to use the fixed ordering when new topics are created (at least if I’m reading this code correctly).

Awesome, that did it. Thanks!


It's not documented and perhaps not intended, but from experience it essentially does that as a side-effect (at least it did for several years). I'm just guessing, but I think it's because their indexer treats the link like text instead of an actual link and that has some effect (e.g imagine it as a graph and snip off one of the connected edges).

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