By Eric Cooper, Digital Transformation Office

Canada is a great big, beautiful country with lots to see and do. In 2017, Canada’s 150th year of Confederation, we had approximately 20.8 million visitors, breaking our previous record.

It’s no surprise then that two of the top five most popular services on are “Get a visitor visa” and “Get an electronic travel authorization (eTA)”. Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) issues both of these travel documents.

Knowing which document you need to apply for, if any, isn’t always clear. Many people were having a hard time determining which one they needed. Some people could not board their flight to Canada because they had the wrong document.

In January 2017, the IRCC Web team made it a priority to fix this task before a change to the eTA requirements came into effect in May which would have added to the confusion. To help out, the Digital Transformation Office worked with IRCC to improve people’s experience in figuring out what documents they need when visiting Canada. Here’s how this optimization project turned out.

Understanding the problem

During our discovery research, we mapped out the different scenarios for people visiting Canada. What they need depended on a variety of criteria:

  • what country they are coming from
  • what foreign citizenship they currently hold
  • whether they are a dual citizen or a permanent resident
  • what mode of travel they are using to cross the Canadian border

We then narrowed our scope to the most common tasks based on IRCC’s data and knowledge:

Find out what I need to come to Canada…

  • … as a tourist from my country
  • … to visit my children or grandchildren
  • … as a Canadian permanent resident
  • … as a former Canadian permanent resident
  • … as a Canadian dual citizen
  • … from the USA with an American passport
  • … to transit through a Canadian airport

We ran hundreds of people through these tasks in a combination of online and moderated studies to find out how and why they were struggling.

This is what the key page in the process looked like when we started. Notice the text at the top of the page with links for exceptions, dual citizens, and Canadian permanent residents. Testing showed that people weren’t able to consistently see these links and would go straight to the drop-down list.

Image showing what 'Find out if you need an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) or a visitor visa' looked like before optimization.
Text version of this image

This image shows what the "Find out if you need an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) or a visitor visa" page looked like before it was optimized.

There are two paragraphs of text with four links embedded in them. Below that, in a blue box, is more text with a drop down menu of countries. At the bottom of the page are three large related links in boxes. On the left side of the page is a left-hand navigation table with links to:

  • visit as a tourist
  • visit your children or grandchildren
  • visit on business
  • extend your stay
  • transit through Canada

Redesigning the process

With baseline research in hand, the team redesigned the process to solve the issues we learned about. Together, IRCC and DTO built prototypes that we hoped would improve the experience of people trying to understand which travel documents they needed. Key fixes included:

  • using a question and answer approach to guide people through the task
  • creating new pages for groups that were not covered previously (refugees and former permanent residents)
  • simplifying navigation to reduce cognitive load, by removing sidebar navigation links from pages
  • reducing the number of links on the Visit Canada topic page from 9 to 5 to streamline the target path
  • adding a crosslink to the Visit Canada topic page in the Travel theme menu based on user evidence
Image showing what the "Find out if you need a visa page" looked like after optimization
Text version of this image

This image shows the "Find out if you need a visa" page after optimization.

It has a small paragraph of text followed by "You are:" and then five possible selections:

  • a citizen of Canada and another country (dual citizen)
  • a permanent resident of Canada (PR Card)
  • a refugee travelling with a document for non-citizens
  • a stateless person travelling with an alien’s passport
  • a former resident of Canada, but have not been back for many years
  • none of the above

The layout was at times confusing, including links to rules and requirements. We replaced it by a series of questions and answers that help people get to the right answer.

Validating the prototypes

To understand if the prototypes were working better for people trying to visit Canada, we ran 46 participants through the tasks in café testing sessions. The overall success rate for the prototypes was 91%, representing an improvement of 47 percentage points against the same tasks on the live site.

Seeing it work in the real world

Once the prototypes were integrated into the live site in March 2017, analytics showed a solid improvement in people making it from the Visit Canada topic page through to the apply pages.

Before and after optimization: February 2017 and June 2017

This image shows two funnels comparing before and after optimization.
Text version of this image

This image shows two funnels comparing before and after optimization the number of people who went from the Visit Canada topic page to any of the following pages:

  • find out if you need an Electronic travel authorization (eTA) or a visitor visa
  • apply for a visitor visa
  • apply for an eTA

Before optimization, 35% of clicks from the Visit Canada topic page went to one of those pages.

After optimization, it was 62%, meaning the topic page was more effective at driving people to those pages. There were also 10% more entries to the Visit Canada topic page through the megamenu after optimization.

As the chart shows, people’s success at finding the apply pages jumped by 27 percentage points, from 35% before to 62% after. Also, we saw more people using the navigation menu to enter the flow. Due to this project, people who want to visit Canada can spend less time worrying about travel documents, and more time enjoying their visit to our country.

What do you think?

Let us know what you think about this project. Email us at or tweet using the hashtag #Canadadotca.

Learn more about this project

About Eric

Eric Cooper Eric Cooper
Project Coordinator

Eric is a Project Coordinator for the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. It takes a lot of work to overhaul a top task and Eric contributes by engaging with partners, managing the schedules, and getting tools when needed (digital or analog). Over the past 3 years, he’s contributed to the development and publication of the Content and Information Architecture Specification and the Content Style Guide.

He holds an honours Bachelor’s degree of Integrated Science with concentrations in Mathematics and Psychology and he earned his Project Management Professional PMP certification in 2017.