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I've been working with a Magento 1.9 shop that has issues with their speed, and I've noticed turning off the 'Is Anchor' in Category settings speeds up the category view significantly.

I understand this removes the layered navigation on the left, which is why the speed increase happens. I'm just wondering if it does anything else in the background I should know about, or any other 'side effects' that I should know about before turning it off on all categories?

As I noticed when I turn off 'Is Anchor' in a certain category the number of products displayed next to the category name goes from 400 down to 11 which worried me a bit.

Some of their category pages even have custom views where the layered navigation doesn't even show but 'Is Anchor' is still set to 'Yes' so I imagine it's pointless being on especially on those categories?

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You are right in your finds, the only other thing is that the "Is Anchor" feature switch the way you can navigate the website (by a list of categories or by a list of attributes).

So, if you have products that are not using attributes (color, size, price, etc) they will not show up depending on the option you choose for "Is Anchor". That's why your number of products is different. But this is not doing anything else in the backend that you should worry about.

You can check more here and here

Ps.: Some of the layout changes will be based on the theme that you are using.

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I don't think it makes any difference other than layered navigation,

But It may depend on your theme, B'coz when you set is_anchor to yes then your handler is catalog_category_layered

and If if its set to no then your handler is catalog_category_default on this bases if your theme provider or you have made some changes then those are the things were affected.

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