Guest post by our optimization partners from the Canada Revenue Agency

The web, communications, and program teams at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) have been working closely with the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) to make tax information on easier for small business owners to find, understand and use.

We’ve been working on web content for the following core tasks that Canadians must accomplish when setting up a new business:

  • Determining if it’s necessary to charge GST
  • Setting up a GST account
  • Determining if a payroll account is required
  • Setting up a payroll account

Following our first round of baseline usability testing, we realized just how complex our web content was. Sometimes, people found what they were looking for, but couldn’t understand the information. This meant that ultimately, they couldn’t complete the task they were trying to accomplish.

We set out to optimize these top tasks with the DTO and key CRA program areas:

  • Public Affairs Branch
  • Assessment and Benefit Services Branch
  • Legislative Policy and Regulatory Affairs

The aim was to improve findability, clarity of the language used, success rates, and completion time of top tasks for payroll and GST/HST topics.

The challenge

Our process included discovery, research and baseline usability testing that we conducted with the DTO on the existing web content. Through this, we were able to identify top GST/HST and payroll-related tasks that we needed to improve.

Our baseline testing revealed several usability issues that resulted in task failure, such as:

  • complicated or technical jargon and wording
  • long, complex, difficult to understand pages that slowed people down, or prevented them from finding important details complex headings and content sequencing issues
  • unclear navigation paths which led to task failure
  • long, unstructured lists of links
  • unclear calls to action
  • missing key terms in labels and descriptions

People were spending too much time looking for the information they needed. They weren’t able to complete their tasks because the content was difficult to understand once they found it… if they found it! Often links were not descriptive enough and people had to read over content 2-3 times to understand it. Many people clicked on incorrect links and wasted valuable time — time they could be using to grow their businesses.

This video notes the observations and interactions with the initial GST/HST and Payroll web content from usability participants during baseline testing:

Transcript: Payroll webpage content


(Video showing someone looking at the “Payroll overview” page on Participant scrolls up and down slightly)

I don’t see very…

(Participant click into a page called “RC4110 Employee or self-employed?”)

That’s not helpful. Yeah it’s not obvious from here...




…where to find the information

(Participant clicks the “back” button and is back on the “Payroll overview” page. They scroll up and down the page then hover mouse over a link titled “Employer responsibilities- the payroll steps”)

It should be in employer responsibilities…

(Scrolls down the page again and then scrolls back up to the link titled “Employer responsibilities- the payroll steps”)

…but I don’t really see

(Clicks on the link titled “Employer responsibilities- the payroll steps” and ends up on that page. Starts to read out steps on the page)

“Determine your status”…

(Scrolls down the page and back up. Hovers over the word “employeer” under the first step which is called “Step 1: Determining your status)

Obviously you’re an employer but I need more information

(Clicks on the word “employeer” which is a link to another page called “Are you an employer?”. Scrolls down the page slowly until they get to the bottom)

Alright well that’s not very useful

How we’re fixing it: lessons learned

As we developed and tested prototypes, we learned that some basic changes to our content and navigation would have big impacts on task success.

In our prototypes we worked to:

  • provide clear calls to action
  • rework links, labels and navigation text to be comprehensive and include keywords near the start of the text
  • label topics using a task-based structure, rather than CRA organizational structure
  • use plain language that closely matches commonly used terms to reduce ambiguity
  • reorganize certain pages into a step-by-step structure to help provide context to the content
  • group long and complex pages into tabs to improve navigation and scanning

We also learned that lists of links were a findability issue in some tasks. To help decrease ambiguity and improve findability, we grouped long lists of links were into categories. Finally, we found that shorter keyword phrases showed significant advantages over full sentences on navigation pages. They made the key information easier to find.

Results: Before and after

Here’s an example of what the main Payroll and GST/HST pages looked like in baseline usability testing, and after optimization in validation testing:

A before and after screenshot of the Payroll page showing the differences.

Before optimization, baseline results indicated that the initial Payroll topic page caused confusion because people had trouble choosing which link to follow.

After validation, we organized topics into a new template. We laid them out in sequence to provide context. We found that adding steps to topics made it easier for people to determine the correct navigation path. Findability increased by situating people in a sequence.

A before and after screenshot of the GST/HST page showing the differences.

Also, before optimization, people didn’t know what to click on, as the labels were not descriptive enough. For example “Charge the GST/HST”, “GST/HST returns” and “GST/HST payments all seemed very similar.

After optimization, the topic page was much more successful, because we had clear, descriptive links that helped people find the right page.

What’s next

Our most recent round of validation usability testing resulted in a 28 percentage point improvement in task findability to an average of 90%. Overall task success improved by 27 percentage points to an average of 76%! We are now working to integrate the successful aspects of the prototypes into production.

We will continue to work closely with the program areas, namely Information Programs Division (Assessment and Benefit Services Branch) and Policy and Legislative Research Section (Collections and Verification Branch), to ensure that optimized content has been reviewed for technical accuracy, welcoming any suggestions for modifications to improve the accuracy of the information that relates to the three identified tasks.

Stay tuned for the new content to go live on very soon!

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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