Tree Testing 101 – Tree Testing Basics
Information Architecture

Published on December 10, 2020

Tree Testing 101 – Tree Testing Basics

Today's article will introduce you to Tree Testing, a well know usability technique used for evaluating the findability of topics on a website. We will explain what it is, how it can help your website or web app and take you through the process of setting it up.

To start with the article we need to knock out a few definitions first.

What is Tree Testing?

Tree testing is a method that tells you how easily users can find information on your website (or application, or other products where information architecture is present). If users get lost, it tells you exactly where that is. It is a popular method for testing the effectiveness and intuitiveness of information architecture.

What is Information architecture?

It is a term that describes what is the organization of information (content) on your website. It’s typically embodied by a site map or menu. Your website’s users rely on information architecture — how you label and organize your content – to use the website properly.

According to the IAI institute – Information architecture is the practice of deciding how to arrange the parts of something to be understandable.

What is a tree?

Your tree is a text-only version of your website structure (similar to a site map or hierarchical navigation – menu) without all the graphic components, so users only focus on the content of the tree, not the actual design.

Of course, you can test any other information structures or even your whole information architecture, which the main menu is only a part of. 

Here is how the tree would look like if we decided to test the landing page of the UXtweaks blog.

Tree consists of:

  • Category labels – your category labels (first level, second-level, and so on) are known as parent nodes. Parent nodes are those labels in the tree that have more labels(known as children) inside them. During the tree test, the respondents will have to click parents to reveal their children.
  • Content labels – the part that is inside the category. It is the “child” of the parent nodes.Category label and cotent label explenation

What can you learn with Tree Testing?

Tree Testing can provide us with insights to answer questions such as:

  • Do users understand labels as they’re intended?
  • Is content split into groups that seem intuitive to users? Is it grouped logically for users?
  • Can users find the information that they want easily and quickly? Are they looking for it somewhere else? What is stopping them from finding the content they want?

Using the gathered insights on how users interact with your information structures, you can tweak the structures to aim for the best performance and pinpoint problems with your information architecture.

When should you use tree testing?

The elegance of tree testing lies in its versatility. You can use tree tests regardless of the size of your project or the stage of development. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new startup just trying to design the prototypes of your new world-changing app or if you are a well-established company looking to tune up the user experience of a website almost as old as the internet itself.

How to do Tree Testing?

  1. Set your goals – What do you want to improve or aim the test at?
  2. Define a Tree – Create new or import existing 
  3. Create tasks and scenarios – They represent user stories on your website
  4. Recruit respondents – Share your test to get better results

Now, we can break each step into details.

Set your goals

So, you’ve decided to use tree tests to gain insight into your information architecture design. Congratulations! But before you start digging into building your first tree test, you should take a minute to answer these questions.

  • What do you want to test and improve? 

To prepare a tree test, you should first settle on what you want to accomplish by it. Maybe your entire website needs Tree Testing because you want to tweak everything to perfection. Or you want to test a partial information structure to find out whether users can find that new feature that you just added.

  • Who are the Tree Tests going to be aimed at and why? 

The entire point of tree tests is to help you make the structure of information in your designs more user-centered. Knowing your audience – the reason why you’re improving your web or product – will help you focus your tree testing.

  • When in the project’s life cycle will you use the tree tests? 

Thanks to their flexibility, you can implement tree testing at any stage of development. They can be used to support informed decisions but also to provide data about the value of your design changes, in handy visuals that you can show off in front of the upper management or shareholders.

Define a Tree

You can create your tree in the Tree Testing editor by either making it from scratch or importing it as a CSV file. We also wrote an entire article on how to make good trees for tree testing.

Tree created using a spreadsheetTree stucture creadet in spredsheet editor.

Use the Tree Testing editor for creating completely new information structures or for adjusting existing ones. When you already have a previous copy of the tree as a CSV file that you’d like to reuse and modify, you can import it as a base for a new one.

Tree defined within UXtweaks Tree Testing editorTree created in UXtweak editor

Quick tip For testing already existing trees on websites/web apps, UXtweak Tree Testing offers a handy feature to load the tree from the live website by using its URL and ID of the tree. This function will save you a lot of time, especially when testing complex structures.

Here is a quick tutorial on how to load a tree structure from the website:

Create tasks and scenario

Tasks in your tree tests should represent the user stories on your website or product. Writing your tasks properly is essential to have the respondents behave as naturally as possible. You want the respondents to interact with menus and other information structures just like they would in a real-life situation. 

In the tasks, we ask respondents to find the location of some piece of content or functionality within the tree. During Tree Testing, the job of the respondents is to click through the tree and find the right solutions to the tasks we prepare beforehand. At first, the respondent can only see the top layer of the tree. More of the tree’s lower layers reveal themselves as respondents open category labels to see their children. To increase the user’s relatability with the task, create a real scenario in which you set your task. The task and scenario should represent the day-to-day tasks your users complete on your website.

Here is an example of how the tasks and scenario could look like:Task used for tree testing study

Recruit respondents

After you launched your tree test, it is now time to share it with your respondents. UXtweak Tree Testing gives you the option to easily share your tree tests on social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), or you can share the study link to your tree test in any way you like.

Of course, first, you need to know how exactly you’re going to recruit those respondents. The quality of your results will depend on the quality of your respondents, so the recruitment process is not to be neglected. There are a few things to keep in mind while recruiting:

  • Who are the people you want to recruit,
  • How many people you want to recruit,
  • What’s the information that you want to share with your respondents.

There is, however, a rule of thumb regarding the number of respondents. If you want to rely on the statistical significance of the collected data and the numerical metrics like success rate and directness, we do recommend aiming for a number of respondents in the range of 40 to 60 users, with 30 as the bare minimum.

Please, don’t forget that unless you motivate participants (financial reward, a competition, or other benefits) no one has the obligation to feel at all motivated to spend their time taking your test. Here are some useful tips that might help you with that: Tree testing tips

Evaluate results

Before you start working with the collected data, we recommend cleaning up the data by excluding the respondents who don’t provide useful data or who don’t meet your respondent criteria. 

With UXtweak, you can start viewing the results of your tree test from the moment that you launch the test, and the first respondents start coming in.  You can use the results overview to quickly pinpoint problems, or you can use a deeper data analysis approach for a more complex user experience evaluation.

 A good start when evaluating results is answering these questions:

  • How many people have completed the tasks successfully?
  • How directly have the people chosen their answers?
  • How long did it take them to complete the task?
  • What paths in the menu did the people take before settling on their answer?

And taking a look at the results of these metrics:

  • The success rate – means how many of the people successfully found the right answer to the task.
  • The directness rate –  means how many of the people fulfilled the tasks without getting lost in other branches of the tree and backtracking.
  • Time to completion: the time it took users to complete a task. If it is higher than you expected you should definitely figure out why. 

Each task receives a score out of 10. Lower scores point to the presence of UX issues, whereas achieving 8 points or higher is a sign of good performance.

What is a good result in Tree Testing?

A good result in tree testing is achieved when the task score is 8 points or higher. The Time Taken indicator should be as low as possible, it shows the time needed to complete the given task. A higher success rate indicates that most of the respondents found the right destination.

After that, it only depends on how deep you want to analyze the data you collected. If you are interested in learning more about how to analyze the data of tree testing, check our: Complete guide on interpreting the results of the Tree Test

Conclusion

Tree testing is a fast, simple, and inexpensive way to evaluate your website structure – without the need to design or code it. It will provide you with valuable findings and an understanding of where your users expect to find content on your site and give an environment to test your ideas when creating new structures or editing existing ones. Thanks to UXtweak Tree Testing data can be gathered and analyzed quickly. 

Tadeas Adamjak
December 10, 2020
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Growth Marketer - always on the lookout for opportunities to help clients provide the best user experiences with UXtweak research tools.

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