A free comprehensive guide for evaluating site structures
Unlike online surveys, tree tests are new to most participants. To reduce the number of people who drop out because “this is not what I was expecting”, we need to do a good job of holding their hand throughout the test. This is especially important at the beginning, when they don’t know what to do next.
Most tools provide boilerplate text for the test, but some let us alter it to our needs. The following are tips for tweaking this text to make the study smoother for participants.
This is the first thing participants see when they start a study, so it should concisely answer their two most pressing questions:
- What is this study about?
- How long will it take?
Here’s an example of a welcome message we use in our studies:
Thanks for agreeing to participate! This study will help us find out which parts of the Acme website need re-organizing.
This should take you about 5 minutes to complete, and you may find it more fun than a traditional survey.
Because a tree test is not a conventional survey, and because most participants haven’t done one before, we will need to show them how it works.
Ideally, the tool will do this for us, either by providing its own instructions (using text and pictures) or by guiding the participant through an actual sample task (that doesn’t count in the final results).
Either way, the participant needs to understand that:
- We’re asking them to browse a “skeleton” list of headings, not the real site.
- They can back up if they take a wrong turn.
- They can skip a question if they get lost (provided the tool allows this).
At the end of the study, it’s always polite to thank participants for their time, and remind them how they’ve just helped us improve the next version of the website.
This is also an opportunity to direct them to other content that we’d like them to see (perhaps another study that they may be interested in), or to return to where they came from.
All done, great!
Thanks again for helping us out. Your input will give us get a better idea of how we should organise the Acme website.
If you have questions about this study, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We're happy to help!
You may now close this window or navigate to another web page.
If we’re integrating with a commercial panel, we may need to return to their page to register that the participant has completed the study and earned their reward.
Terms & conditions
It’s common to offer an incentive for user research (see Offering incentives in Chapter 9), and because tree tests typically only take 5 minutes to do, it’s not worth paying each participant. This is why the incentive is usually a prize draw (e.g. “Do our 5-minute survey – win an Apple Watch!”).
And if we’re running a prize draw, we’ll need to state the terms and conditions of the draw – who’s eligible, what the exact prize is, when the draw will be done, etc. For an online study, the terms & conditions are usually summarized on a separate page of the site, linked from the study's landing page or from the email invitation we send to participants.
Luckily, the T&C for most studies is straightforward and mostly legalese-free. We can tweak an existing one that the organization uses, or start with this prize-draw terms & conditions template and customize it as needed:
Next: Adding survey questions