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A large website is typically organized into a hierarchy (a "tree") of topics and subtopics. Tree testing provides a way to measure how well users can find items in this hierarchy.
Unlike traditional usability testing, tree testing is not done on the website itself; instead, a simplified text version of the site structure is used. This ensures that the structure is evaluated in isolation, nullifying the effects of navigational aids, visual design, and other factors.
In a typical tree test:
- The participant is given a "find it" task (e.g., "Look for men's belts under $25").
- They are shown a text list of the top-level topics of the website.
- They choose a heading, and are then shown a list of subtopics.
- They continue choosing (moving down through the tree, backtracking if necessary) until they find a topic that satisfies the task (or until they give up).
- They do several tasks in this manner, starting each task back at the top of the tree.
- Once several participants have completed the test, the results are analyzed.
Analyzing the results
The analysis typically tries to answer these questions:
- Could users successfully find particular items in the tree?
- Could they find those items directly, without having to backtrack?
- If they couldn't find items, where did they go astray?
- Could they choose between topics quickly, without having to think too much?
- Overall, which parts of the tree worked well, and which fell down?
- Donna Spencer (April 2003). "Card-Based Classification Evaluation".
- Dave O'Brien (2016). Tree Testing for Websites: A Comprehensive Guide
- Dave O'Brien (Dec 2009). Tree Testing: A quick way to evaluate your IA
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