I love these funny explanations for sysmbols that we see often. On the left if for clothing tags, the right from a car’s dashboard. For our customers, sometimes I wonder if this is how our customers or vistors on the website interpret our main navigation items!

Symbols Explained

Gerry McGovern has a pretty cool career of helping some of the largest companies in the world (and govnerments!) develop a system and process for identifying and optimizing around customers’ top tasks online. I had heard his name on Twitter quite a bit over the years, but episode 106 of The Web Ahead podcast was the first time I had heard from him directly. That episode is definitely worth a listen if you deal at all with building and maintaining websites. In addition to the podcast, I also read the first chapter of his book The Stranger’s Long Neck which clearly steps through the top-task process.

Some takeaways:

  • The first step is that you need to define who your customer is. In thinking about higher education, I feel the customer is pretty easy to define, however there are several, very different personas: prospective students, current students, parents, alumni, and faculty/staff. What I haven’t learned yet is how you account for their very different needs. Do you do testing around them separately? Are your results combined? More on this as I learn!
  • Define a list of tasks. This should be a pretty large list of tasks, almost like a laundry list. I’m not sure if this is made by “web staff” or customers, or perhaps both? I think it might be hard to ask customers what their tasks are, as the next step deals with asking customers to rank tasks. This might be hard to do as your customers could feel as though they are being badgered. My guess (and I’ll update as I learn!) is that “web staff” would probably make the list.
  • Get customers to see that list and then vote on which are their top tasks. Each person would get to choose and rank up to 5 options. McGovern says you need to get several hundred responses to create a statistically valid model.
  • Create a series of tasks with specific outcomes. This stage is all user testing, in that you literally want videos and timings of how long it takes the customer to complete specific tasks. These tasks can then be reviewed periodically to check on how changes to the website are impacting these results.

From the book’s first chapter:

  1. Know the Long Neck; the long neck is the idea that the top tasks (5%) account for approximately 25% of the total value of your website. The “body” section is that the next 35% of your pages account for the next 55% of the value of your site. The rest is the long tail.
  2. Continuiously improve your top tasks. In the measuring I wrote about above, test and improve against your top tasks. Measure:
    • success rate
    • disaster rate
    • completion time
  3. Manage with facts and not opinions. evidence is customer centric; opinion is organization centric.

I’m definitely going to get Gerry McGovern’s book because I’m insterested in how these studys happen, how you use them, and how you convince others of the value. Higher Education needs this kind of customer task focus. And like Michale Feinen says offten, Do Less Better!

Peace – KS

Today’s lyric is from the song “Empire” by Of Monsters and Men’s album Beneath The Skin.