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How to identify your users’ top tasks

Posted by Lucy Collins on Jul 23, 2023 11:02 AM

Most people come to most websites with a clear goal in mind. If people cannot quickly and easily achieve these goals, they will find somewhere else to go. If going elsewhere is not an option, they will likely get annoyed and your reputation will suffer.

  • I want to buy a blue top
  • I want to find out when my bins will be collected
  • I want to complain about my train being delayed
  • I want to book a flight to Timbuktu
  • I want to find inspiration for my bathroom redesign

These are user goals.

The key things that get in the way of people achieving their online goals are:

  • Sexy design that masks how to use a website
  • Content that nobody cares about

Solving design issues is often simply a case of not re-inventing the wheel. Convention is your friend when it comes to web design and there is no shame (designers!) in sticking to it.

Getting the content right is a little more challenging. This is because what people want from your website does not always match what you think they want.

How to find out what your customers really want

The first step to getting the content right on your website is to understand what information your customers really need.

Too many organisations rely on their internal perceptions of user goals. Often these are skewed by unconscious bias or the personal agenda of a specific business area.

While chatting to customer facing staff (e.g. sales reps, call centre staff) will give you a good idea of some user goals, the most effective and comprehensive way to find out what people want is to talk to them!

There are a number of ways to do this – online surveys, 1-2-1 user research, group discussions, diary studies. All these methods have their place depending on what you are trying to achieve. The key thing is that they involve real people.

Doing this sort of research will no doubt produce a huge amount of insight: who your users are, what they want, how they want it and where they want to go to get it. At this point, it can feel a little overwhelming. How can I actually use this evidence to improve the online experience for my users?

Enter: Top Tasks.

Prioritising user goals with the ‘Top Tasks’ method

“Top tasks are what matter most to your customers”

The ‘Top Tasks’ method, developed by Gerry McGovern, helps organisations identify what content customers really want on a website.

It also helps identify the ‘tiny tasks’ – the organisation-centric content that gets in the way of the top task (we’re talking about the bloated news articles and self-serving wittering’s of senior management).

The process is simple enough.

First, gather a long list of tasks that users may want to achieve on your website. To do this, refer to the research you’ve conducted with customers, online surveys, behavioural and search data in your analytics and your corporate strategy.

Second, review and refine this list. Get key people from across the business to cast an eye over it and contribute their two cents. This has two purposes: it helps to clean up the list and ensures their buy in to the process. Your final list is likely to have somewhere between 50-80 tasks.

Third, put the list in front of your users in a randomised fashion and ask them to choose the five MOST IMPORTANT things on it. About 400 responses should be enough.

You may think this sounds mad, but this method is deliberately designed to overwhelm; to force people to go with their gut and choose the things that really matters to them.

What you will be left with is a clearly ranked list of tasks – your top tasks and the long tail of tiny tasks.

Armed with this evidence you can begin building a website that effectively serves these top tasks and the customers trying to achieve them.

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