A free comprehensive guide for evaluating site structures

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The experts say that we should do usability testing early and often. Tree testing is no different – indeed, it was created to let us test very early (before we even have a website coded) and very often (because it’s both cheap and easy to run a tree test).

In general, we can start testing as soon as we have a structure to test – either a text dump of our existing site’s IA, or the new IA ideas we’ve been playing with. We’ll also need time to create “find it” tasks that exercise our structure(s), and time for the overhead of setting up the tree tests.

Here’s a typical high-level timeline for 3 rounds of tree testing (testing the existing tree, testing our new trees, then testing our even-better-with-revisions “final” tree):


Time requiredActivity


(varies)Earlier IA work
  • User research (surveys, contextual inquiry, etc.)
  • Content inventory/auditing
1 weekRound 1
  • Open card sort
  • Baseline tree test (existing site)
3 daysCreate new trees
  • Try alternative groupings and terms
1 weekRound 2
  • Test new trees against each other
  • Compare to existing tree's results
  • Pick best tree and revise
1 weekRound 3
  • Test revised tree
  • Revise and finalize based on results


If we’re just planning 1 or 2 rounds of testing, it should be easy to take this and cut it down to what is needed.


Next: Which tool will we use?

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