’s site structure is designed to reflect the top tasks Canadians are trying to complete on the site. Using data to understand their changing needs is key to ensuring the right content is always up front and centre.

Over the years, the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) has worked with Gerry McGovern as he developed and refined his top task methodology. Gerry is a renowned expert in information design. Organizing a website based on top tasks not only helps people find and use the most common information and services as quickly as possible, but it also helps prioritize efforts, especially when resources are limited. His methods of identifying and prioritizing the tasks that matter most to people on a site continue to influence optimization.

In May 2020, the DTO collaborated with Gerry, the World Health Organization (WHO), Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada on a study to identify people’s top COVID-19 tasks on

Identifying COVID-19 top tasks worldwide

To identify top tasks, we start with data sources like web analytics, search terms and call centre intelligence. Research with users then helps confirm and uncover tasks that the analytics may have missed.

To prepare this original study, Gerry worked with an international team, including members of the Government of Canada (GC), to create a list of potential top tasks related to COVID-19. The team looked at site menus, analytics, search data, etc. The WHO then used the list to run the initial study on their website.

People were given the list of approximately 70 tasks in a random order. They were asked to vote on the 5 tasks that were most important to them when interacting with the government or WHO. Once the voting patterns became clear, Gerry’s team ran the analysis and produced results that organized the top task list in terms of how frequently people chose specific COVID-19 tasks.

Applying it to Canada

After that, Norway, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand ran custom versions of the original WHO study on their own sites, with Gerry’s help. We added some extra tasks to ours to reflect the Canadian context (financial support, for example).

In Canada, the invitation to participate in the study was randomly presented to visitors on pages from May 14 to 19. There were 6,441 responses (90% in English, 10% in French).

Again Gerry’s team ran the analysis and ranked the top tasks.

Canadian results

Top results (25% of votes), 7 top tasks on

  1. Financial support, benefits
  2. Money issues
  3. Outbreak cases data
  4. New outbreak, second wave
  5. Vaccine
  6. Latest updates
  7. Government strategy
A pie chart shows 7 tasks received the top 25% of votes. The chart shows the next 25% of votes were spread over 11 tasks, then 18 tasks and the final 25% of votes were spread over 42 tasks.
The Canadian top task study results.

Select up to 5 tasks / resources that are MOST IMPORTANT to you when interacting with the Government of Canada.

  1. Financial support, benefits for individuals and families (eligibility, availability, training)
  2. Money issues, personal finances, savings, pensions
  3. Confirmed cases, deaths, recoveries (daily, total)
  4. New outbreak, second wave (response, containment)
  5. Vaccine (development, availability, safety)
  6. Latest news, latest research (alerts, directives, updates)
  7. Government strategy (long-term control, lockdown exit, transition, economy reboot)

Taking a closer look a the results

Seven tasks accounted for 25% of the votes. This number of tasks in the top 25% is high in a top task study. It’s more common to see just a few tasks emerge as clear leaders. However, given that the pandemic was still fairly new, we weren’t surprised to see the wide variety of topics people wanted to know more about. The WHO and the other countries all saw a similar 7 to 10 top tasks emerge.

Several of the top tasks confirmed what we were seeing in the analytics and call centre data (for example, there was more interest in financial support than the number of COVID-19 cases).

Some of the tasks that made it into the top 7 did surprise us though. We hadn’t expected to see “latest updates” and “government strategy” so high in people’s priority list.

When we took a closer look, we realized that some news and announcements were available on the site, but they were buried at the bottom of the Outbreak update page. Analytics had shown that they weren’t used much in that location. The study revealed this navigation problem to us and highlighted the importance of pulling together COVID-19 news from across the government.

Actions we took based on the results

To respond to this need, Service Canada’s principal publisher team worked with the Privy Council Office and the DTO to develop and launch a COVID-19 Latest Announcements page. The page contains the latest news and announcements related to the pandemic from all departments. The content for the page is pulled automatically from the GCNewsroom. This reduces the maintenance burden for web teams. The day the link to the new page was placed on the main Coronavirus page, it became one of the top ten clicked links on that landing page.

Seeing “Government strategy” surface as a top task also made it clear that in a crisis people want to know what the government is doing on a daily basis. They want to know what the plan is. This content existed, but we needed to make it more visible for people. We tested some labels and settled on adding a new section to the Coronavirus landing page called “Limiting the spread”. This section links to business strategy, reopening guidance, vaccines, testing and more.

The results of our top task study helped us to better understand these and other content needs of Canadians at this time. Combined with ongoing analytics and page success testing, these insights are helping us continue to plan and prioritize where to focus our efforts to respond effectively to the evolving situation.

Final word

Even during a pandemic, evidence from Canadians should drive decisions and changes to content and the information architecture. This type of study reveals what people can’t find and what key pieces may be missing from the website. While gathering evidence requires time and effort, having the evidence is a powerful time-saving tool. It can help teams prioritize their work and focus on what Canadians truly want and need.

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