Tree testing

A research method used to help you understand where people get lost finding content or information on your website.


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Why is tree testing important?

Think about the last time you were visiting a friend or family member’s house and needed to find something, like a spoon, for example. You start in the kitchen because that’s where we’ve all been trained to find things like spoons. But where do you look next? Some may look in the drawer near the dishwasher, while others may look in the drawer that’s by the cabinet with dishes and bowls. The point is, people use context clues and other points of reference (like familiarity and habits) to find things that they’re looking for. The same goes for navigating a webpage or app.

However, unlike the spoon example, there’s much more variation in website structure than kitchen layout. Websites vary from industry to industry, ranging in purpose from ecommerce to digital portfolios and everything in between. So when someone lands on your website to find something or complete a task, is it obvious where they should go to get things done? 

Your gut might tell you that it is. The people on your design team might tell you that it is too. But what really matters is what happens when actual users land on your website. 

When to use tree testing

Organizing content is foundational to building effective digital properties—regardless of your business objectives. However, many teams don’t have easy access to the tools they need to test their information architecture. 

Through tree testing, you’ll be able to:

  • Optimize your navigation for the most critical tasks, whether that’s to improve engagement or conversions
  • Test alternate labels for the same tree category by setting up two tree tests and comparing results (useful to get insights on findability based on label names)
  • Test alternate locations for the same category by setting up two tree tests and comparing results (useful when adding new features within an existing site, i.e. where does this fit in?)
  • Recreate a competitors navigation to compare solutions and get insights into customer preferences

You can learn more about conducting a tree test here.

Related reading: Tree testing vs. card sorting