Category Archives: Tree Testing

How To Improve Your Website Navigation Using Tree Testing

How Good Is Your Site Navigation?

 

How easy is it for your visitors to use your navigation and find what they are looking for? Do you get complaints from users that they can’t find what they are looking for on your site?  Have you tested the findability of items in your navigation structure (often called taxonomy) with real users? If not then you might want to consider a usability technique known as tree testing or reverse card sorting.  This can significantly reduce problems with your navigation.

 

What is Tree Testing?

 

Image of a tree
Source: Freeimages.com

Tree testing evaluates the findability, labelling and organization of topics on a website. Most websites are organised into a hierarchy (a “tree”) of topics and subtopics. Tree testing is a way of identifying how easy it is for users to find individual items in this hierarchy.

However, unlike normal usability testing, tree testing is not carried out on the website itself, but instead users browse a simplified text version of the site structure. This removes the effects of the design, including visual cues, and navigational aids (e.g the internal search box) and other factors that might influence how quickly visitors find what they are looking for.

 

How Does  Tree Testing work?

 

There are 6 steps to complete a tree test:

  1. Users are given a find it task to complete (e.g. “find a portable DVD players for less than £20).
  2. Participants are shown a text list of the top-level topics of the website.
  3. Users select a heading, and then are given a list of the subtopics to choose from.
  4. Participants continue choosing topics in the tree, and can backtrack if necessary, until they find a topic that achieves their aim or they may abandon the process if they can’t find what are looking for.
  5. Users will then repeat the process a number of times with different find it tasks to test the findability of a range of items in the tree hierarchy.
  6. Test results will then be analysed once a sufficient number of users have completed the test.

 

Image of welcome screen for remote tree testing
Example of welcome screen for remote tree testing – Source: Userzoom.com

When Should You Use Tree Testing?

 

If you want to identify the root cause of navigation problems tree testing may be the best solution because it removes the effect of the design of your website and other navigational tools and aids from the equation. With no internal search to assist your user tree testing helps to isolate navigational deficiencies so that you can make the necessary improvements in your taxonomy. Tree testing is often used for:

  • Identify which items, groups or labels are causing problems for your users and set a benchmark of “findability” before you update your navigation. This might then lead you to conduct a card sorting exercise to improve the usability of your taxonomy.
  • Measure the impact of a proposed improvement or implemented change in the findability of items in your navigation structure. This will allow you to validate if the change you are making helps improve findability, makes no difference or actually creates a new problem.

Which Elements  should You Test?

For a small website with less than a hundred items you may be able to test your whole navigational structure. However, for large ecommerce websites with literally thousands of items on the site this is not practical or cost effective. In this instance you should use your web analytics to identify less common paths that can be removed from the testing process.

To decide what to test you should start by defining user’s goals and the top tasks that they need to accomplish to meet their goals. This normally involves getting both users and stakeholders to rank the main tasks so that you can identify what both groups agree on and also identify any low priority tasks that internal stakeholders wrongly believe are important to users. It may also be useful to include some items that cross departments as these create their own issues for users and items that have been identified as problematic from open card sorting or Voice of Customer research.

 

What Sample Size Do You Need?

 

As Steve Krug points out, “Testing one user is 100% better than testing none.” Whilst this is true, we have to bear in mind that with tree testing we may be dealing with a complex navigation structure and that it is important to conduct a reasonably robust test if we are to draw any reliable conclusions. The key outcome metric should be whether the user successfully found the item they were asked to locate and so this simplifies the analysis to a “Yes/No” metric.

I have outlined below the sample size required to achieve a confidence level of 95% and  assumed 50% of users find the item. I have assumed 50% of users find the item because 50% generates the highest possible margin of error and so is the worst case scenario.

Image of sample size required for specific margin of error at 95% confidence level
Sample size required for specific margin of error at 95% confidence level.

 

Generally you should limit the number of tests each participant completes to 10 depending upon how long on average  each task takes to complete.  Otherwise participants may become fatigued and they will also become e experienced users of your site structure which could influence the test results.

Should You Ask Participants Questions?

 

After each tree test it is useful to ask participants to rate the difficulty of the task. This can provide a guide to the usability of finding the item. Keep questions to a minimum but understanding how users perceive a task can add context to the test data. It can be useful for instance to compare task completion data with survey answers to identify any items where user perception does not align with task completion as this could highlight areas of particular concern.

Tree Testing Solutions:

Tree testing may not be one of the most well-known forms of usability testing, but it certainly offers the potential to help organisations resolve problems with their navigation structure. If you want to investigate tree testing further you can check out these solutions:

  1. Treejack from Optimal Workshop: One of the leaders in web-based usability testing for information architecture, Treejack  is a popular solution for evaluating website navigation without the normal visual distractions.
  2. Usability Sciences: Offers a web-based solution and will analyse the findings to determine the effectiveness of your site structure. They will provide specific recommendations on changes to your labels, structure and placement of content within your navigation hierarchy.
  3. UserZoom: Provides a web-based service to identify navigational issues early in the design process. UserZoom will analyse any attempts where participants have trouble navigating to ensure this is resolved before your site goes live. It will also give you a measure how well users can find  items in your hierarchy.

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  • About the author: Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.uk and partypoker.com.  He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.  By  aligning each stage of the customer journey  with the organisation’s business goals this helps to improve conversion rates and revenues significantly as almost all websites benefit from a review of customer touch points and user journeys.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@outlook.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.

Card Sorting Tools To Improve Website Navigation.

What is Card Sorting? – Updated 13th January 2017

 

Online card sorting  is a usability tool that  helps categorise your webpages by identifying how visitors would expect to find content or functionality. Online card sorting is a quick and simple way of evaluating  your information architecture, workflow, menu structure or user navigation journeys. Card sorting  tools ask users to organise topics into categories and may involve them naming these groups.

Card sorting is sometimes used after a tree testing (or reverse card-sorting)  exercise identifies a findability problem with current navigation journeys. Tree testing  evaluates how easy it is to find an item by getting participants to solely use the website’s navigation (i.e. without any use of internal search or other navigation aids) to complete a set task.

How Does Card Sorting Work?

 

The card sorting website will recruit a sample of people who are roughly representative of your target audience or customer base. Participants are then asked to organise topics into categories that they feel make sense. They may also be asked to label these groups to ensure the words you use are what users would expect.

Image of online card sorting screen
Source: Userzoom.com

Benefits of Card Sorting:

Card sorting is about understanding your user’s expectations and their comprehension of your topics. Further, when we discuss our websites internally we often unconsciously use jargon and words that are not generally used outside our organisations to describe aspects of our websites. Knowing how people groups and describe topics can help you:

  • Organise the structure of your website
  • Inform what content to put on your homepage
  • Label categories and navigation
  • Identify how different groups of users view and organise  the same topics

Limitations of Card Sorting:

It does not make allowance for users’ tasks. Card sorting is a content-centric process and if used without considering users’ tasks it can lead to an information structure that is not usable when dealing with real tasks. Make sure you evaluate the output from a card sorting exercise by discussing the potential impact on key user tasks.

It can be superficial as participants may not fully consider what the content is about or how they would use it to complete a task. Card sorting results may also vary widely between participants or they may be fairly consistent. Ensure you don’t rely on too small a sample of users to reduce the risk of a few participants overly influencing your results.

Card sorting should be used to inform your decision making and be viewed alongside other research and usability testing to ensure it is used appropriately. For example you might consider tree testing or reverse card sorting to evaluate the findability of items in your navigation structure.

Like any research technique card sorting cannot tell you exactly how users will in reality respond on a live website . For this reason  it is wise to consider A/B testing any major navigation changes first if they risk having an impact on key success metrics.

 

Open and Closed Card Sorting:

Open card sorting involves participants being asked to organise topics into groups that make sense to them and then give a name to each of these groups that best describes its content. This is great for understanding how users’ group content and the terms or labels they apply to each category.

Closed card sorting is where users are asked to sort topics using pre-defined categories. This is normally used once you have clearly defined your main navigation or content categories and need to understand how users organise content items into each category.

Often organisations use a combination of the two methods to firstly identify content categories and then to validate how well the category labels work in a closed card sort.

Below I have summarised 6 top online card sort tools you may wish to consider using.

 

1. Optimal Workshop: Discover how real people think your content should be organised and obtain user insights to make informed decisions about information architecture. Priced at start from $109 per month, $149 per survey or $990 for an annual subscription.

 

image

2. SimpleCardSort: Online card sorting with the ability to turn on subgroups to capture multiple levels of card placement. This PRO feature allows users to drag one grouping of cards into another grouping. An additional PRO feature offers participant replay which logs every decision made by users and logs each time they sort a card, create a new group or rename an existing group.

Free demo-account allows you to try out the service with a simple card sort. A Basic subscription starts at $49 for 30 days or $99 for the Pro 30 day plan.

Image of SimpleCardSort.com

3. usabilitiTEST: Online card sorting tool that supports closed, open and hybrid testing. Offers a no-obligation Free 3-day trial with all features available for your evaluation. Provides a Prioritization Matrix tool that helps rank tasks by a frequency and importance criteria. This can help identify which issues are of most importance and give priority to resolve first.

Image of UsabiliTest.com homepage

4. Usability Sciences:  A full-service supplier of usability research, Usability Sciences has been established for over 25 years and will design, manage and analyse the result of your card sorting research for you. They offer both open and closed card-sorting solutions for you.

Image of Card Sorting page from Usability Sciences

 

5. Usability Tools: Card sorting is just one of the tools in their impressive UX suite. Supports open and closed card-sorts, and randomisation of cards and categories. Offers a 14 day Free trial and you can obtain a price quote by submitting your details using a short form.

 

Image of UsabilityTools.com homepage

6. UserZoom: Offers clients a full usability suite, including web-based card sorting. Supports up to 100  items and 12 categories. Supports open and closed card-sorts, randomisation of questions to reduce participant bias, and follows a responsive design so participants can take studies on either their desktop or iPad. Using an iPad makes the process more of an intuitive experience by harnessing the power of touch-screen technology.

UserZoom is Ideal if you are a large organisation looking for a comprehensive usability testing programme, including information architecture/UX design, benchmarking and market research. For businesses subscriptions start from $19,000 a year.

Image of Userzoom.com homepage

Finally:

 

Many of these suppliers offer a Free trial or demo so don’t let cost put you off trying out card sorting to improve your information architecture. This is such important element of the user experience don’t leave it all to chance. Get some input from real users.

Thank you for reading my post. I hope you found this post useful and if you did please share using the social media links on this page.

 

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.  I also have a glossary of over 100 conversion marketing terms.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@outlook.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.