Web Design & Dev

Tree Testing – Can Users Find What They Are Looking for?

MotoCMS Editorial 18 March, 2021

A lot of the decision-making process of people who visit your website is based on their experience. How they pass their time on your website will determine it all – whether they’ll stick around, buy your products or services, refer you to others, and more. Did you know that users stay on a website for an average of 15 seconds? That’s how long you have to pique their interest and make them look further. It’s not fair considering that you’ve spent a lot of time and effort to make it, but that’s the reality. People don’t have the time to stick around on every site they visit. That is the 15-second rule. So, how do you generate their interest in such a short timeframe? Thankfully, you don’t need advanced programming skills or expensive programs to figure out if users can find what they need on your website as it is. What you need is tree testing.

What is Tree Testing?


Tree testing is a technique that allows you to analyze the quality of your website in terms of usability. It tells you about the pain points of your website, i.e., where people get lost. Using tree testing as a tool, you can find how easy or hard people find the information they’re looking for. Ideally, good tree testing can answer the following questions:

  • Can a visitor find the answers to their questions or solutions to their problems easily on my website?
  • What stops people from finding what they need fast?
  • Is the content I’ve used logically grouped for people to find?
  • Do all my labels make sense to the visitors?

The beauty of using this technique is that it is simple. You have a tree-looking structure, and your tasks spread across it. When you create it, you ask participants to click through the tree and nominate accurate information. The results will show you how people react to your labels, how easy they understand the content, how many people get it wrong, and the pain points you are to fix. Here is a simple example of what tree testing looks like in the making.

Tree Testing vs. Card Sorting

Card sorting is one of the most popular techniques for evaluating a website’s success. Users are given a list of content items and asked to label and group them as they see fit. This method shows you how the audience thinks. Now you’re probably thinking: why do I need tree testing if I already have this information?

Card sorting might be invaluable to understand how your visitors think. However, it doesn’t provide you with an accurate, exact scheme of categories you should use on your website. Participants usually create more of a generic category and put many items in it, which didn’t fit in the categories they made.

You can’t really call a label ‘’other stuff’’ on your website, can you? How will people know what you mean by it? This is why you need tree testing – to figure out how people respond to the labels you’ve decided to give to your items.

Combining Tree Testing & Card Sorting

Boxes and Arrows have defined the difference between the two in the following way: ‘’While open card sorting is a good ‘detective’ technique, it doesn’t yield the final site structure – it just provides clues and ideas.” Ideally, you should use both techniques. Tree testing is usually conducted after card sorting, allowing you to explore and refine your website’s structure without big expenses.

If you decide to do so, know that you’ll have quite a lot of data to deal with. The goal is to use this data to your benefit, not only collect it. This is why you need proper planning and organization in place. In addition to doing card sorting and tree testing for your business, you need to figure out how to use the data to improve.

It should all begin with storing that data. For this purpose, you can use knowledge base tools, i.e., clouds, where you can store and organize the knowledge you’ve obtained thanks to such techniques. But, before you get to the point where you have tons of useful data to improve your website success, you need to understand tree testing better.

What Are the Benefits of Tree Testing?

If you have navigation issues with your website (and even your app), you can detect them thanks to tree testing. This technique allows you to analyze where users expect to find information. Once you obtain such data, you can significantly improve your site. Unlike similar architecture tests, this technique gives participants realistic scenarios to react to. As a result, website owners can base their future actions on real-world behaviors.

Tree testing is widely popular because it is effective and affordable, and relatively quick to implement. It usually takes around 10-15 minutes to be completed, and you need around 50 participants to get solid data. Here is how it is done.

How to Run Tree Testing

Just like the name tells you, this method includes a tree-like structure. The details are determined by the person who runs this method, his needs, and abilities. According to OptimalWorkshop, you should aim for around 50 people to get quality results, or at least 30 to complete the tree tests.

Tree testing is most often done remotely and with the help of technology. Now that we’re facing a worldwide pandemic, this might be the best way to implement it, after all. Users will sit comfortably in front of their computers, and you can eliminate many of the expenses that you’d have if testing were done in person. There are also many tools that you can use to run tree testing, such as UXTweak and TreeJack.

In addition to collecting the data with the help of technology, you can take this one step further by arranging moderated sessions. In moderated sessions, participants are asked about their decisions while or after making them. These are one-to-one sessions and can be time-consuming, as well as expensive. Still, they offer more thorough insight into the decisions that participants make.

Compared to standard user testing, this method takes your website as a core. You’re using a simplified text version of it, one that eliminates everything except for the categories and subcategories. These are spread across a tree-like structure, allowing for better visualization. According to NNGroup, the tree used for testing should list all main categories of content and every subcategory. Even if you only want to test one part of your website to see how it works, you shouldn’t eliminate the rest of the categories.

Evaluating the Results

Results from tree testing focus more on quantitative data than qualitative, which makes them easier to analyze than results from card sorting. At this point, you should have at your disposal data that visualizes the path that users take to get to a specific page or piece of content on your website.

In addition to this, you can use the information you’ve obtained to check the following measures:

  • Time – how much time users needed to complete this task
  • Attempts – how many times users tried to complete a task (tells you which items are harder to find)
  • Success – failed vs. successful attempts at any individual task
  • Directness – how many users completed the task the first time

Based on all this, website or app owners can decide how they can improve their content’s structure, labeling, and organization.

Some Extra Tips for Tree Testing

Here are some other tips that you might find useful when using this method:

  • Do not exclude sections even if you don’t need them. The tree should be a full list of all your categories and subcategories. If you exclude at least one, this assumes that users already know which section to go to.
  • Create at least 3 levels in your tree. Include the full depth in your tree to the lowest subcategories level that you wish to test.
  • Take your time choosing the participants. You need a good idea of who are the people who use your products or visit your website. Perform some buyer persona research before you implement this technique for the best results.
  • Use this technique regularly. Tree testing is not a technique that works only once. If you’re redoing your website, running such a test will give you insight into what didn’t work in the previous version. If you’re adding a new product, this will show you how to label the category.

Final Thoughts

With an increasing number of websites and digital entrepreneurs on the Web these days, it is challenging to stay ahead of the competition. Still, certain things can be done to improve your online presence and attract more leads. One great tool for improving your website and, with it, your online success is tree testing. This is an affordable, easy strategy that can give you invaluable insight into what visitors expect of you.

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Tags: ui design user experience user interface UX
Author: MotoCMS Editorial
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