Testing Techniques Part 2: Tree Testing

Illustration of tree testing

In our last installment on testing techniques, we talked about card sorting — a simple exercise that helps you develop an intuitive, logical sitemap for your website.

Card sorting is great when you’re building a website from the ground up. But what if you’re trying to find out how well an existing website is organized? That’s where tree testing comes in.

Think of a website as a tree with branches that keep dividing. The more branches you follow, the further you go into the site. Tree testing helps you learn how intuitively those branches are organized. Do the branches — or paths — lead people where they expect? Is information located where they think it will be?

The process is simple. Participants sit down with the testing software, which is loaded with a basic version of the sitemap. You pre-load instructions with a few tasks — things like, “How would you get driving directions?” or “Where would you find out about treatment options?”

Then you let participants do their thing. They don’t see the whole sitemap at once. Instead, it’s revealed as they go — like a real website. Once a participant clicks on an initial topic, the software shows the available subtopics.

The tree testing software records where participants clicked and if they completed the task. The results will tell you a lot. Did they find the right spot directly? Did they hit a dead end and backtrack? Did they give up altogether?

We ❤ tree testing because it gives potential users a powerful voice. Their choices tell you what’s working on your site and what’s not — and then you can fix it.

And a pro tip: This isn’t a great testing technique for users with very limited literacy skills. However, the results you get from other participants will improve the website for all users. What’s not to ❤ about that?

The bottom line: Tree testing helps you create a website where users can easily find what they want — because it’s exactly where they expect it to be.


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