Bringing forth the toolbar

I’ve been known to say that “helpful links” is geek for “we don’t know what to do with this stuff.” It’s the web equivalent of a junk drawer, or, more accurately, a junk room. A poorly organized garage catch-all full of all kinds of actually great things that really could be somewhere else if we took the time to arrange the living space more intentionally. You get the point.

One of the first things we did when I came on board was to improve the way we collect user data. I wanted to know where users were clicking, since we had so many option to get them through the site. What were they actually using, and did we really need the catch-all after all?

The Helpful Links mega menu before the update.

The Helpful Links mega menu before the update.

Let me name off the sections of this screen. It’ll matter when I show you the data. The wall of links here is called “Resource Links”, and the dark blue toolbar is labeled “Online Tools”.

“Customize your background” is a neat trick, but has zero strategic value and data shows essentially zero use. It was a lot of code and bandwidth overhead with no return. In our site data this was called “Other Helpful Links.” It is represented by red in the chart below. Or it would be, if anyone ever used it.

Data shows the vast majority of use was the Online Tools bar.

The top four Online Tools were each clicked more times than all of the Resource Links put together.

Across all of our major segments the “Online Tools” was used more than everything else in that slide down interface. The interface was also difficult to translate into a mobile friendly display, so based on 8 months of user data and several anecdotal conversations with users across campus (including the intern candidates we interviewed and the Web Advisory Council), we decided to remove the “helpful links” interface and bring the really useful “Online Tools” bar out into the open.

Screenshot of the revised Online Toolbar

Bringing the Online Toolbar out into the light.

You’ll notice we didn’t remove any of the Online Tools, even the ones that weren’t heavily used. This is an iterative change. We’ll evaluate user behaviors on this new display and decide down the road if anything needs to be removed or replaced with something more valuable.

One thing to point out, the “Helpful Links” icon exists in the same place it always did, and links to the exact same information. Anyone who DID utilize that menu will only experience a minor change and will lose none of their resources.


  1. […] Oh yeah, we also removed helpful links and brought the toolbar out into the open. […]