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Should You Scrap Your Search Log?

Not altogether—but here’s how it can lead you astray from your customers’ true top tasks.

Top Tasks Management is about understanding what’s truly important to your customers, and designing your website to match. The Top Task methodology was developed by Gerry McGovern, author of Top Tasks: A How-to Guide and Transform: A Rebel's Guide for Digital Transformation. Gerry travels the world working with firms such as Cisco, Toyota, NetApp and many others, helping marketing teams build the measurement of top tasks into their strategic KPI’s. Gerry is also a Board Member of Task Analytics.

We'll let him describe the methodology:

Digital is a space of endless replication. It has never been easier to create—and create, and create. People love to publish, but they hate to remove, which leads to overloaded websites and constant, inevitable redesigns. The top layers get a shiny new coat of graphics and meaningless “we really care” content—but underneath, a teeming mass of out-of-date, badly organized information still swirls about.

The solution is to make hard choices using Top Tasks Management. Top tasks are the small set of tasks (usually less than 10, often less than five) that matter most to your customers. The purpose of Top Tasks Management is to reduce complexity by identifying what really matters to customers.

Top Tasks Management is a model that says: “Focus on what really matters (the top tasks) and defocus on what matters less (the tiny tasks).”

Tiny tasks are a nightmare for web teams. On their own, these tasks seem innocent enough. It’s just one more page, one more link, one more graphic. But gather them up, and many a web professional has found themselves nibbled to death.

Tiny tasks are also full of organizational ego. Often, the more important the task is to the customer, the less content is being produced for it; the less important the task is to the customer, the more content is being produced. This inverse relationship is very typical.*

So how do you figure out which are your top tasks?

As Gerry describes, page views and search logs are an important window into your customers’ intention when coming to your website. But they can be very unreliable metrics. Gerry explains the challenge like this:

When a website has a very bad navigation and information architecture, searches tend to be for top tasks because people depend on search more. However, when you have a very simple and well organized environment, search tends to be for exceptions. So, search results can be a mixed bag and need to be interpreted properly. Similarly, top tasks tend to get bookmarked, or people just go straight there out of habit, so such top tasks won’t show up in search results.

Page visits reflect what you have, not necessarily what customers want. There may be tasks that you don’t have content for—so it’s unlikely they will show up in search and site data. And analyses of page views often reflect an amalgam of tasks; it’s hard to separate the top tasks on these pages from the tiny tasks.

Search is a window into customer behavior, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. For example, when we worked on the BBC intranet, we found they had a feature called “Top Searches” on their homepage. The problem was that once they published the top searches list, these terms no longer needed to be searched for, so in time a new list of top searches emerged!*

Here, Gerry describes just how tricky it can be to identify what tasks your customers are trying to accomplish when they search:

Lots of people search for “remove conditional formatting” on the Excel section of the Microsoft website. Initially, Microsoft created a page explaining how to remove conditional formatting, but no matter how many times they revised the page, the satisfaction was always very low. After doing more extensive research, they discovered that the term “remove conditional formatting” was a symptom of the larger task of formatting in Excel. When they deleted the page on conditional formatting and sent people who search for “remove conditional formatting” to the overall page on how to format, satisfaction jumped. So, the words and terms that come up in search are not always a true reflection of the real task of the customer. Search is thus one input into the development of the customer task list.**

Using Task Analytics to find your top tasks

Task Analytics was built as a tool to help companies identify their top tasks and measure how successful their customers are in completing them. We use a short, non-intrusive survey that asks your customers why they came to your sites and sends responses to our dashboard. That dashboard is specifically designed to work with task management so you can easily find your top tasks, measure their performance and share with your team.

Excerpts from Gerry McGovern, Author and Board Member, Task Analytics

* What Really Matters: Focusing on Top Tasks, by Gerry McGovern Published January 20, 2016. Originally published on A List Apart, April 2015.
** Identifying Customer Top Tasks, by Gerry McGovern,, September 1, 2017

Curious about the top tasks on your website? Request a demo.

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