A free comprehensive guide for evaluating site structures

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While the vast majority of tree testing is done online using dedicated tree-testing software, we can also test on paper (the original medium) or by using quick-and-dirty (and free) methods.

Testing online with commercial tools

As tree testing has matured as a recognized IA technique, online tools have sprung up to meet demand. All of these tools offer advantages over doing a tree test manually, such as:

  • Unmoderated testing
    People only need a web browser to participate - anywhere and any time, without us having to be present.

  • Flexible testing options
    As the test administrator, we can customize how the test is run.

  • Automated analysis
    This is the big one. The software records the participants' actions, and automatically summarizes/visualizes the results.

Here's a list of the commercials tools we know of (listed alphabetically), with some basic information on each:

ProductOwnerStarting at...Summary
C-InspectorSteffen Schilb$99/studyIntroduced in 2008, but discontinued in 2014.
TreejackOptimal Workshop$150/month
or $100/study
Introduced in 2008 as a companion to the OptimalSort card-sorting tool.
UserZoom tree-testing moduleUserZoom$19,000/yearAimed at larger enterprises, the UserZoom suite of tools includes tree testing.

Disclaimer: While most of our experience is with Treejack, this guide does not recommend a particular product, because the right product will depend on factors such as budget, compatibility with other tools we're already using, and the specific features needed.

Testing with paper cards

For pointers on running a tree test using index cards (the original method), see Tree testing on paper in Chapter 15.

Other tools

Besides paper, designers have come up with several other "home-grown" ways to test site structures. Most of these involve building an expandable tree in some existing tool, then manually tracking participants' clicks through that tree. Some examples include:

  • Folder clicking
    In an OS file manager (e.g. Windows Explorer), we create a tree of folders that represent our headings. Then we present participants with tasks as usual, and jot down which path they click through the folder tree.

  • Site maps produced in web editors
    Some HTML editors (such as Dreamweaver) allow us to create interactive site maps. As above, we can then give tasks to our participants and see where they click as they move down the tree.

  • Simple HTML prototypes using tree widgets
    Several JavaScript libraries offer tree controls that present a clickable, expandable tree of text. This makes it possible to quickly create a site tree that we can test manually.

  • Custom tools
    The folks at Sense/Net created their own tree-testing tool to help them redesign their website. Check out their articles on deciding on tree testing, the tool itself, and the results they generated.

Next: Where will we test?

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