The Insighter

August 2011

View all articles on our new site

Neo Insight's monthly e-newsletter on Customer Experience topics and techniques.

We invite you to subscribe to our e-newsletter:

In this issue

Reduce stress when web visitors arrive

Website cause stress. To visitors trying to get a task done, and to web teams and managers trying to get the most out of a key business asset. Reducing stress all around can make for a great visitor experience, as well as a more cost-effective website. It can make it easier to set strategic priorities. We have some suggestions.

Reduce stress when your visitor arrives
Do your landing pages cause stress for your web visitors? Are there loads of links to scan and differentiate? Make your landing pages less stressful, to keep web visitors focused on their task. Links are the main asset of your web strategy. They help your visitors get to your site, get around efficiently, and do tasks effectively. Without good links, your great content is worthless. If you don't manage your main asset it is difficult to succeed. You may be causing unnecessary stress on users, and your web team.

Task-stress-reduction tool: rate your links
A quick technique borrowed from stress management can help. Look at links on your landing pages, and rate them as either “gotta”, “oughta”, or “wanna” links.

A physician years ago spoke to us about managing stress. He began by asking us to make three lists, one of work tasks you “gotta” do, another with work you “oughta” do, and a third list with work you “wanna” do. We all made three lists. The M.D. asked us to make sure there weren’t items on the “oughta” list that belonged on the other lists. Then he told us to draw a big “X” through the “oughta” items, to make the “gotta” items our highest priority, and make the “wanna” items lower priority. A feeling of relief emerged. This is the kind of relief your visitors want to experience when they arrive at your website.

Prioritize “gotta” links to Top Tasks
Now apply this rating technique to one of your key landing pages, or your home page. Print out a view of that page. Even better, print out a view with clicks overlaid on links, from Google Analytics or WebTrends SmartView. Highlight the “gotta” links, circle the “wanna” links, and black out the “oughta” links. What should remain in highlight are the key links users need to see when they arrive. If you look at “In Page” analytics, these should probably account for half the clicks on that page, or more.

Keep the links you “gotta” have. Those links start the site's top tasks. Successful completion of these tasks will help achieve your organization’s goals or mandate.

“Wanna” links can wait
The third category are “wanna” links. They lead to content that your colleagues are passionate about. Passion is good, but these “wanna” links more than likely could wait until the user is done with their task. If you arrive at the Canada site to look up contact information, or do a task related to EI or immigration, you will see "wanna" links like these displayed prominently. They are topics that users would expect the Government of Canada to be authoritative and passionate about. But they are irrelevant to the user as they scan for links to their task.

example of wanna links

The problem with "wanna" links is that people arriving at your website scan quickly for words related to their task, and for links to get them there. The top task links for EI or immigration are way down the page, requiring many users to scroll just to see them. Give users the “gotta” links first and foremost. Save the “wanna” links until your client gets their task done. That’s when they might appreciate it.

Get rid of “oughta” links
Get rid of “oughta” links that just clutter up the page. These are links you “oughta” have because somebody thinks you should. Make sure people can find them via Search. They might look like a list of departments in your organization, or might be the “tiny tasks” that a tiny number of your clients will click. Stop promoting “oughta” links because of someone’s opinion. Links that are based on opinion are likely not related to Top Tasks. They will cause clutter, distract people from the link they really want, or slow people down as they scan for the links they want.

Here are some examples of "oughta" links. They appear on many government sites, often on the right side where users don't notice them. A very small percentage of users click on them. They look like ads, causing more people to ignore them. They are links that "oughta" be there because they lead to content the government should provide, and nobody could argue differently.The irony is that each of these button ads can be found in a Google Search, at the top of Search Results. Searchers can get directly to the content from Search, so they're unlikely to use the ads, as we've seen many times in usability tests. Thus, if a searcher does arrive at the page any of these buttons are displayed, it wasn't by searching on the text in the ad. Searchers arrive for other reasons, and these button ads could distract them away from their task.

example of oughta links

Data is your best defense against “oughta” links, so you can confront them with evidence rather than opinion. If you have data, they are easier to refute. So test your top task links with users. Evidence is the only way to counteract opinion and keep “oughta” links, buttons, or ads from proliferating. They get there because people say they ought to be there, but they really ought to survive on their own data. Of course you should optimize content for search first. Instead of cluttering a landing page for everybody else, keep these “oughta” links off landing pages, and optimize them for search so people can get to them from search engines.

Don’t promote links past their level of competence
Some “oughta” links get promoted to landing pages just because they have lots of hits. Hits are not evidence. Maybe they are huge PDFs that have not yet migrate d into HTML. Everybody seems to think the link is important, but nobody knows why. Manuals and Policies are famous for this. People assume they are important because many people land there. But nobody is exactly sure what task visitors come to do. The Manual or Policy gets larger, and attracts more visits from search. But nobody can articulate what task people come to do. The only way to deal with these “oughta” links is to gather hard data with users: quantify task priorities, determine keywords, redesign the content to support top tasks, create “gotta” links to get people to it, and replace the “oughta” links. Stop promoting “oughta” links by demanding evidence. Like people promoted past their level of competence via the “peter principle”.

Back to Top

Characteristics of a Top Task culture

Top Task culture = share the vision + measure behaviour + re-organize for UX
Jared Spool has researched the key characteristics of top-performing organizations. His organization helps people move toward three characteristics: vision, feedback, and culture. We agree. Hats off to the UIE folks for their 3Qs of great experience design. And we'll up the ante with a hyperfocus on Top Tasks. To move your web team forward, make sure the vision is shared, that you are measuring in terms of behaviour on Top Tasks, and that you re-organize roles and responsibilities around Top Tasks in the user experience.

  1. Share a vision of the Top Task experience
    Make sure your web team and stakeholders understand your Top Tasks and the key priorities to supporting them. Is everybody on the same song sheet? Or is the vision blurred, so you get side-swiped by “oughta” links? Focus people on tasks rather than tools, on task performance rather than hits. A shared vision will help you prioritize “gotta” links in main menus and de-clutter by removing “oughta” links. It will keep “oughta” links from cluttering up the search experience.

    Here is an example. We defined a goal model connecting jobs, skills, and training content for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. We prototyped how users would do top tasks. It helped the developers build context-aware links for their Career Navigator, so job-searchers can know what skills are expected for a job, or how to get training. The shared vision inspired other approaches like the Working in Canada tool at Citizenship and Immigration.

  2. Measure behaviour
    Monitor your progress of your web visitors doing Top Tasks. Especially measure the usage of “gotta” links, monitoring areas where performance could improve. Measure time-on-task in Task Performance Indicator testing. In analytics, regularly check how well visitors can do Top Tasks in navigation or in search. Compare A/B test results, and monitor completed goals. Monitor key priorities in a Customer Centric Index. Relentlessly focus your stakeholders on visitors’ tasks and high-level goals. They do not change as quickly as tools and technologies.

    Measure the outcome, not the inputs or outputs. Outcomes will put everything else in perspective. Inputs will tell you things like how many hits your web pages get. Outputs will tell you things like whether people left right away or clicked around your site. But neither inputs nor outputs will measure the success of your site or your business. Task completion is the primary measure of success - is your visitor satisfied that they did what they came to do, efficiently. Task completion is the outcome of visits and clicking, the litmus test. Manage your website on the outcomes, not the inputs and outputs.

  3. Re-organize for the user experience
    Continuously improve task performance. If you are a senior executive, measure your success by it. Give a person the responsibility for how well users perform on a top task. Keep re-organizing for your shared vision, increasingly measuring your success by the users' success. Avoid huge redesign projects. Instead continuously improve how you support user tasks, and how well you serve the visitor’s higher level goal. For content authors, write for the task path, in bulleted lists rather than embedded in paragraphs.

    For the long term, plan for the visitor's overall goals. Like finding a currency exchange rate is part of a larger goal such as buying something in another currency. Resist long-term commitments to tools and systems. Reward people who learn from risk-taking, and celebrate failures, to share the learning. Begin with the user experience in mind, and everything else will follow.

    • Action item: Contact us for a free consultation about building a Top Task culture.

Back to Top

Top Neo Tweets

Follow us on Twitter

Back to Top

Quote of the month

"Action-oriented links and menus are the most essential content you write. The most important web content isn't even a sentence, let alone a paragraph."

Gerry McGovern

If you have any comments on The Insighter, or ideas on usability topics you'd like to send us an email.

We invite you to subscribe to our monthly

  Home   About Us   Services   Case Studies   Training   Teamworks