New task analytics for managing Top Tasks

Posted on December 25, 2011 by ssmith

Are you getting the analytics you need to manage top tasks? Many organizations continue to use hits and page-views as primary metrics. But to manage top tasks you need task analytics. You need analytics that indicate how well visitors are able to do specific steps of a top task.

The problem is that web analytics emphasize page views, time on site, and bounce rate. We will discuss a few ways to make web analytics can give you what you need to monitor how well your customers can perform their tasks.

“Top performers turn out to be the organizations most focused on?improving their use of analytics and data”
Michael S. Hopkins, editor-in-chief, MIT Sloan Management Review

Analytics can help you identify areas where to improve your users’ success. Your team can use them to monitor success along a task-path, in search arrivals, and on key pages. Monitoring key interactions along critical task paths helps you monitor how well your visitors can use calls to action or navigation. The data help focus your efforts on areas that will improve customers’ ability to do things quickly and easily.

Here are just a few things you might discover when you use a task-oriented approach to web analytics, each based on real situations:

  • If people are clicking on the menu item or link that re-loads that same page, then that page may not have what visitors expected, or visitors are not sure they are on the right page
  • How many people arrive at your site from search
  • People are coming to your site for the wrong reason – they quickly bounce off their arrival page and click a link to another site
  • A high bounce rate is not always a bad thing; e.g. if web visitors can complete their entire task on the page they arrived at
  • Page views are not a good metric for the task of Contact Us: your customer can increasingly find your phone number and address in Search Results text, without visiting your site

You may need examples like those to help convince your stakeholders to give up old metrics. People may still expect to measure success in page views. The way to convince stakeholders is by using facts and data gathered in usability testing, usability reviews, and analytics.

Measuring hits can be misleading

Old metrics are failing. Page views can imply good traffic, yet be dead wrong. A large number of page-views may imply that tasks in that area of the site are important. Yet it may mean the opposite – visitors might be quickly clicking into a number of pages without ever completing their task. For example, analytics for one Communications department’s pages showed very few clicks on links in the content, and most clicks on menu items as users tried News, Media Releases, Events, or Notices.

Page views can drop markedly when links and menus are redesigned to support tasks. If your customer needs to contact you, they are likely to find your phone number right in search results, and without visiting your page. If you optimize your content for key tasks, search results are likely to send people directly to the content they need. When Google can send people to the correct page quickly, users are happy not to waste time on your site. Their task is accomplished, with few page views, a high bounce rate, and minimum time on-site. The old metrics would fail to show that success.

Monitor task-path problems

Here are a few ways to keep on top of issues along task-paths, using web analytics:

  1. Measure tasks that count. Before you look at analytics, find out which tasks contribute to your organization’s strategic differentiation or mandate. Measure what your organization values. If your mandate is to build a sales funnel, measure warm leads. If your mandate is to provide responsive customer service, measure the number of people that contact Customer Service. For government websites, measure top tasks related to your outcomes or accountability framework. John Blackmore of IBM says, find the intersection of what is valuable to your organization as well as what is valuable your web visitor.
  2. Tweak calls to action on landing pages. View the percentage of clicks on landing page links. Google Analytics does this with In-Page Analytics. WebTrends uses SmartView. When visitors arrive on your landing pages, they should be able to start their top task right away. In direct arrivals, a high bounce rate and low time on page may be good. Direct arrivals can be from a link in email bulletins, newsletters, or social media campaigns. Get people to the right links or input fields quickly. Help them start or finish their task right on the landing page to which you have sent them.
  3. Identify steps where top tasks are not well-supported. Using In-Page Analytics or Smartview, inspect each page that is a step along the the path. Find out how many visitors are clicking on the key links. The first step in a task path is critical. Make sure the link to it is clear and visible without scrolling. Consider whether links that get few clicks might be moved to another page to reduce clutter.
  4. Track your organization’s response to task completion. Track what happens after your user completes a task. This is the seducible moment when users may be interested in customized offers, or links to go to the next step. Web tasks are two-way so track how well you respond. Choose a metric meaningful to your mandate, such as call centre response interval, subscription follow-up, lead-follow-up, etc.
  5. Monitor critical steps in top tasks. Find areas that are critical to completing top tasks. Set a threshold to know when to test with users. For instance, monitor the percentage of clicks a critical link gets on a landing page for a top task – the first step in a path is critical. When the percentage of visitors who complete it falls below 50%, test with users to find out why.
  6. Track web form completion. Web forms are being used to let users “do it” rather than read policies or guidelines about “how to do it”. Track the completion of them. Google does this with Goals, and visualizes them with Funnels. Know what search terms people use who get to a web form such as Contact Us. Web forms measure incremental behaviour, but the completion of a small task on a Contact Us web form can be more powerful when combined with your call centre’s statistics.
  7. Track interactions within a page. The default statistics in web analytics are about pages and URLs. But often users do their task without loading a new page. It’s what AJAX and Web2.0 brought to the web. Especially monitor small actions related to the task, like a mega menu or interactive form. For example, monitor usage within mega menus – for a primer start with Google’s Event Tracking Guide [1].
  8. Compare performance of two alternatives in A/B testing. Very large websites can run high-frequency tasks through two page options. Google Analytics does this with Website Optimizer. Test how small differences in the interaction details might impact task completion. This can help refine the wording of key links, placement of calls to action, or characteristics of a Search box.
  9. Focus on the analytics for top tasks. Don’t try to boil the ocean. Pick battles that count and that are manageable. Most of the value of your website is in the top tasks.

Using web analytics is part of a whole new strategic approach to managing tasks. But it is just a part. Analytics will not tell you why usability issues are happening. Use analytics to complement other methods like usability testing.

Get buy in for an overall Top Tasks approach

Analytics can help you get buy-in from stakeholders for managing top tasks.

  1. For stakeholders planning a new area or redesign, plan how they will test it with users – what visitors should be able to do, how success will be measured. Discuss how analytics could help them. Sketch out the steps web visitors will take in accomplishing the top tasks.
  2. For Marketing stakeholders, show them conversion rates. Measure leads in an area important to them. Agree on the value of some key transactions. Measure arrivals from email or social media campaigns.
  3. For Customer Service stakeholders, show them key search terms. Show the search terms for people who complete the Contact Us web form versus search terms for people that do not.
  4. For content authors and editors, provide the key search terms by which visitors arrive at key landing pages. Agree on the top tasks visitors should be able to do on content. Make sure top search terms get to the right landing page to start those tasks right away. Show the In-Page Analytics view of pages along the path to completing top tasks.

The best way to track task-completion is by observing users. Usability testing is a key aspect of user-centred design. A recent study found that most companies have no idea why transactions on their site fail, or why visitors leave their website. Use task analytics to pinpoint the problem areas, and use observation and usability testing to find out why.

“The ‘what’ data of analytics helps you sharpen the ‘why’ questions of qualitative research”
Louis Rosenfeld

The best way to succeed is to make your web visitors successful. Prioritize their top tasks to prioritize your constrained time and resources. Measure important aspects of those top tasks using the suggestions above.

Stay focused on the top tasks, and you will get greater value out of your web analytics. We’d be happy to help. See our Services page [2] to learn more about how we can gather data and evidence to help you manage Top Tasks.

URLs in this post:

[1] Google’s Event Tracking Guide:

[2] Services page:

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