Separating the top tasks from the tiny tasks is one of a web manager's most important responsibilities.

A major publisher has for the last 30 years published technical books that can be up to 200 pages long. When they started moving their books to the Web, they found that the same 20 pages in each book get the vast majority of visits. A huge number of pages never get read at all.

Another legal and medical publisher spent a long time trying to figure out what its customers' top tasks were. One area in which they publish is family law. After much discussion it dawned on them that there are really only two tasks that matter: Getting married; Getting divorced. If you went to their current website these tasks would have been very hard to find amidst all the clutter.

Have you heard of website creep? The new website launches and the top tasks are fairly visible. But there is an immediate and relentless pressure from the tiny tasks within the organization. They all want to be on the homepage. They all want to be a news item or an ad. They want more links. And they will press and press the web team to give them these things.

Little by little the tiny tasks clutter the homepage, the other major pages, the navigation and the search. And of course once these tiny tasks are published there is absolutely no incentive to review or remove them. Thus as the website gets old it gets worse. What is the classic solution? A redesign.

A classic web redesign is like taking a raving alcoholic and sending them to rehab for a month. (Giving a website to a marketer or communicator is like giving a pub to an alcoholic.) They come out looking clean and redesigned. However, the underlying problems have not been addressed so six months later you're back in the same mess.

Related article: Web Design: The Decline of the Homepage

We have to find a way to keep the tiny tasks at bay. I remember talking years ago to an executive from the US Environmental Protection Agency. "Our top tasks such as Clean Air and Water, we often don't have enough web resources for," he said. "But the smaller programs and particularly the programs we want to kill, well they're publishing like hell."

Let's say there was a program called "Saving Badgers in Alabama." It worked. In fact, there are now too many badgers in Alabama. But the team responsible is avidly publishing lots of cute pictures of baby badgers. The tiny tasks know they're tiny and they will fight like hell.

We need to show how the tiny tasks lead to:

  • Poor search results by adding more and more pages to index
  • Confusing menus and links adding more and more links
  • Cluttered layout by adding more elements to the homepage and other key pages
  • Out of date information because there's simply too many pages

The tiny tasks reduce customer satisfaction, sales, productivity, efficiency. They negatively impact every metric that really matters. The top task is the elephant in the room. The tiny tasks are the 800 mice in the room.