By Roger Pankhurst, optimization partner from Health Canada

Over the past few months the web team at Health Canada (HC) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) have been working with the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) on optimizing top tasks for the diseases and immunization topics of the Health Theme.

Specifically, we’ve been optimizing our digital content for:

  • the flu (where to get your flu shot)
  • Zika (travel advisories for people wanting to start a family)
  • vaccines (getting yourself and your children vaccinated)

You’d think developing web content for these top tasks would be simple enough. Want people to get a flu shot? Put “GET YOUR FLU SHOT” prominently in the flu section. Want to know where there’s a risk of Zika? Post a big list of countries with Zika in the – you guessed it – Zika section!

However, after the first few usability testing sessions, it quickly became clear that while we assumed these tasks would be easy to accomplish, the reality was that our web content wasn’t very good at helping Canadians successfully complete what they had come to do.

The problems

The discovery research and usability testing that we did with the DTO helped us identify the issues we needed to resolve.

After establishing a baseline, it turns out…we had a lot of problems with our digital content, such as:

  • Navigation was too complex
  • Categories were labelled poorly
  • Pages were too long on mobile
  • Too many layers and headings
  • Too many words and unnecessary jargon
  • Content not leading people to the next steps

We were not giving citizens the answers they were looking for up front. Instead they had to read, often multiple sources, and come to their own conclusions – which were often incorrect.

How we’re fixing it: lessons learned

After we identified the issues, we went to work on designing prototypes with the DTO to help us solve them. Our team learned that we could significantly improve our content if we:

  • Reduce the amount of content and prioritize the most useful information
  • Simplify the layers and headings people have to navigate through to improve findability
  • Provide clear calls to action to help people determine their next steps
  • Provide clear, up-front answers to questions and myths

We also learned that while using the “topic” pages from the Content and Information Architecture Specification can help people find a disease they want information about, these templates are not suited for organizing the disease-specific content underneath within a disease.

Before and after

As an example, here’s a quick look at what the flu section looked like before and after optimization:

Screenshot of the old flu page, which is a typical Canada topic page with a photo of sick people and 9 main links. An arrow points to the new flu page, which has no photo, 6 main links, and symptoms and treatment content right on the page.

Before optimization, the topic template offered too many categories and choices. Some topics overlapped (like “risks” and “prevention”), and some had unclear labels (like “surveillance”). It was hard for people to tell where to find the answers they were looking for.

After optimization, content was organized into a new template using simple groupings with clear labels that better match the terms people have in mind. And there’s a clear link to one of our biggest top tasks –the flu shot. These are just some of many changes we’ve made to our optimized content on

What’s next

We’ve just completed another round of usability testing with Canadians to validate the proposed changes. We’ve seen a substantial 31 percentage point improvement in task success! We’re now working to go live with the new content on in the spring.

Photo of 11 people standing in front of a screen showing success improvement data.
Some of the project team from Health Canada and Public Health Agency of Canada with the Digital Transformation Office.

We want to hear from you

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

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About the author

Roger Pankhurst

Roger Pankhurst is a Communications Advisor on the web transformation team at Health Canada. He has worked in internal comms, strategic comms, and has now happily landed in digital comms. He enjoys hockey, baseball, and plain language writing.