CXL Growth Marketing Minidegree Review 4 of 12: Top Task Analysis

This is my week 4 review of the CXL Minidegree in Growth Marketing. You can preview it here: Growth Marketing Minidegree | Training Program by CXL Institute. Alternatively, you look at the other programs that CXL offers here: Digital Marketing Training Delivered by The Best. (

Top Task Analysis

This week’s post builds from last week’s lesson. Yes, we have to understand users, but we know that some questions or concerns from users are deal-breakers whilst others are not. Questions and concerns have a hierarchy, and we need to be able to identify and address the crucial ones. Top Task Analysis was developed by Gerry McGovern as a way of managing and understanding online user experiences. It is based on the following principles:

  • That the most important thing to a customer when they are online is the task they want to complete.
  • That in any environment or general activity (health, buying a car, choosing a university, etc.) there are top tasks. There are roughly ten top tasks in any particular environment.
  • That organizational goals will be reached more easily and quickly when customer top tasks are well-served.
  • That we can reliably identify these top tasks with clear data and evidence.
  • That we can reliably measure how successful customers are at completing these top tasks, and how long it is taking them.
  • That we can build a highly intuitive information architecture based on top tasks data.
  • That if we focus on an ongoing basis on increasing success rates and reducing time-on-task for these top tasks we will deliver an excellent customer experience.

In marketing top task analysis helps us understand users so we can address their most important questions and concerns

Why Top Task Analysis Is Important

We only have about 8 seconds to convince a user that we have what they need. If their initial scan our site does not answer their questions, they can easily go to our competitors that are just a click away. People are more powerful, skeptical, and impatient today than they’ve ever been. They want what they want now through the device they have at hand now. People are extremely demanding these days, and it’s only going to get worse.

The control dynamic has changed. In the past, organisations had all the control. Consumers did not have enough information or choices to exert any influence. As a result, organisations could get away with anything. Today, Google provides vast information to consumers, and products can be shipped from almost any country to virtually any corner of the world.

Organizations need to simplify things for their customers. They need to understand the customer/user much better. The design of their products must be genuinely intuitive—so simple even a distracted adult can understand it.

The problem is organizations love complexity, verbosity, glut and vague language. websites quickly grow and apps are littered with “features”. According to McGovern, when organizations delete up to 90 percent of what they have, everything begins to work much better. Yeah, I’m serious. He cites the following examples:

  • The Norwegian Cancer Society reduced their website size from 4,000 down to 1,000 pages. Donations and satisfaction rose substantially as a result.
  • Liverpool City went from 4,000 pages to 700 and saw lots of positive results.
  • Telenor Norway went from 4,000 to 500 pages. Sales and customer satisfaction went up. Customer support inquiries went down.
  • The UK National Trust reduced their web presence from 50,000 to 9,000.
  • The U.S Department of Health deleted 150,000 out of 200,000 pages. Nobody noticed.

Without the use of task analysis, organizations create vast quantities of useless stuff. What matters most to the organization often matters least to the customer. I remember at one agency I worked a third of our credentials deck talked about our proprietary processes. We took so much pride in what we had developed but customers just stared at us with glazed looks because great as our proprietary processes were, they were not linked to what the customer needed to achieve.

Top Tasks helps you fight ego with evidence—evidence of what customer top tasks are and how these tasks are performing. Evidence of what the real customer experience is like.

How to identify top tasks

Figuring out your top tasks is an important step in clearing away the fog and identifying what actually matters to your users. We’ll call this stage of the process task discovery, and these are the steps:

  1. Gather: Work with your organization to gather a list of all customer tasks
  2. Refine: Take this list of tasks to a smaller group of stakeholders and work it down into a shortlist
  3. User feedback: Go out to your users and get a representative sample to vote on them
  4. Finalise: Assemble a table of tasks with the one with the highest number of votes at the top and the lowest number of votes at the bottom

We’ll go into detail on the above steps, explaining the best way of handling each one. Keep in mind that this process isn’t something you’ll be able to complete in a week – it’s more likely a 6 to 8-week project, depending on the size of your website, how large your user base is and the receptiveness of your organization to help out.

Step 1: Gather – Figure out the long list of tasks

The first part of the task process is to get out into the wider organization and discover what your users are actually trying to accomplish on your website or by using your products. It’s all about getting into the minds of your users – trying to see the world through their eyes, effectively.

If you’re struggling to think of places where you might find customer tasks, here are some of the best sources:

  • Analytics: Take a deep dive into the analytics of your website or product to find out how people are using them. For websites, you’ll want to look at pages with high traffic and common downloads or interactions. The same applies to products – although the data you have access to will depend on the analytics systems in place.
  • Customer support teams: Your own internal support teams can be a great source of user tasks. Support teams commonly spend all day speaking to users, and as a result, are able to build up a cohesive understanding of the types of tasks users commonly attempt.
  • Sales teams: Similarly, sales teams are another good source of task data. Sales teams typically deal with people before they become your users, but a part of their job is to understand the problems they’re trying to solve and how your website or product can help.
  • Direct customer feedback: Check for surveys your organization has run in the past to see whether any task data already exists.
  • Social media: Head to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to see what people are talking about with regards to your industry. What tasks are being mentioned?

It’s important to note that you need to cast a wide net when gathering task data. You can’t just rely on analytics data. Why? Well, downloads and page visits only reflect what you have, but not what your users might actually be searching for.

As for search, Jerry McGovern explains why it doesn’t actually tell the entire story: “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! Similarly, top tasks tend to get bookmarked, so they don’t show up as much in search. And the better the navigation, the more likely the site search is to reflect tiny tasks.”

At the end of the initial task-gathering stage you should be left with around 300 to 500 tasks. Of course, this can scale up or down depending on the size of the website or product.

Step 2: Refine – Create your shortlist

Now that you’ve got your long list of tasks, it’s time to trim them back until you’ve got a shortlist of 100 or less. Keep in mind that working through your long list of tasks is going to take some time, so plan for this process to take at least 4 weeks (but likely more).

It’s important to involve stakeholders from across the organization during the shortlist process. Bring in people from support, sales, product, marketing and leadership areas of the organization. In addition to helping you to create a more concise and usable list, the shortlist process helps your stakeholders to think about areas of overlap and where they may need to work together.

When working your list down to something more usable, try and consolidate and simplify. Stay away from product names as well as internal organization and industry jargon. With your tasks, you essentially want to focus on the underlying thing that a user is trying to do. If you were focusing on tasks for a bank, opt for “Transactions” instead of “Digital mobile payments”. Similarly, bring together tasks where possible. “Customer support”, “Help and support” and “Support center” can all be merged.

At a very technical level, it also helps to avoid lengthy tasks. Stick to around 7 to 8 words and try and avoid verbs, using them only when there’s really no other option. You’ll find that your task list becomes quite to navigate when tasks begin with “look”, “find” and “get”. Finally, stay away from specific audiences and demographics. You want to keep your tasks universal.

Step 3: User feedback – Get users to vote

With your shortlist created, it’s time to take it to your users. Using a survey tool like Questions, add in each one of your shortlisted tasks and have users rank 5 tasks on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the most important and 1 being the least important.

If you’re thinking that your users will never take the time to work through such a long list, consider that the very length of the list means they’ll seek out the tasks that matter to them and ignore the ones that don’t.

A section of the customer survey in Questions.

Step 4: Finalize – Analyze your results

Now for the task analysis side of the project. What you want at the end of the user survey end of the project is a league table of entire shortlist of tasks. We’re going to use the example from Cisco’s top tasks project, which has been documented over at A List Apart by Gerry McGovern (who actually ran the project). The entire article is worth a read as it covers the process of running a top task project for a large organization.

Here’s what a league table of the top 20 tasks looks like from Cisco:

A league table of the top 20 tasks from Cisco’s top tasks project. Credit: Jerry McGovern.


  1. Top Tasks – A how-to guide – Gerry McGovern
  2. Understanding top tasks (