By Michelle McConnell, CRA

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) collaborated to simplify tasks for small businesses on

We worked on:

  • Getting a business number for your business
  • Registering your business with the federal government
  • Getting a Canada Revenue Agency program account
  • Making changes to your business
  • Navigating the Business Registration Online (BRO) system

These tasks were chosen based on call volume data that let us to identify some of the most common reasons that people call to get help. We were also interested in why small businesses called the CRA instead of using, especially when all the information they need is available to them… or so we thought.

When we did usability testing on our webpages, we realized there was room for improvement. The architecture, the placement of words and links, the complex language, everything was derailing the user! We learned that the information wasn’t always easy to find.

There were so many questions we needed to answer. Why were they not taking the (in our opinion) obvious route to the information? Why did they click there? Why did they miss the information in the block of text? Did people not understand the specific tax terms, or was the text too complex?

Everyone, including the users, agreed that registering for a Canada Revenue Agency program account shouldn’t be this hard.

Benefits of the project for our taxpayers

Together, CRA and TBS redesigned the way information can be found on certain small business webpages. The changes increased the overall task success rate by 39 percentage points!

We did this by:

  • improving the scent of information with more plain language keywords in labels
  • chunking information into shorter “step by step” pages, based on the tasks people are trying to complete
  • reducing and simplifying text
  • building a simple wizard to give users a precise answer for where to mail their tax documents

Here is one example of how we reorganized information:


Business Registration Online before.
All the information related to the Business Registration Online program was on one page. There were anchor links at the top of the page, but users got lost when they began to scroll.


Business Registration Online after.
By splitting the information into small, manageable chunks, users were able to easily scan the information on each page and find what they were looking for.

How it affected my work as a CRA program officer

Throughout this project it became clear that little changes make a big difference.

Every time I write, I now asking myself:

  • Who is the audience I’m writing this for?
  • What keywords should I use?
  • What information is redundant, outdated or trivial?
  • How would the taxpayer ask this question?
  • Does this information serve the taxpayer in their task?

I find it ultimately always comes back to: how can we ensure we are meeting the highest possible standards for the people we serve?

Lessons learned

Working with TBS and the other teams in CRA was an invaluable experience. As a program officer, I learned about the complexities of the web and how every little thing CRA does is connected to a larger piece. I learned that small changes make a big difference. Everything we put on the web, how we write it, where we put it, what words we use, what tabs we use, how we link from page to page, all of it, affects the service we provide to Canadians. I know that CRA is committed to ensuring the best taxpayer experience, and the joint content optimization project helped us do just that.

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About the author

Michelle McConnell is an acting Senior Program officer in the Business Information Section at the Canada Revenue Agency. She’s worked in various positions in the agency and is now happily in the Information Programs Division.