Let´s imagine the following scenario:

John is an Information Architect working on a design of a website. Prior to creating a prototype, John wants to ensure that customers will be able to navigate the new site structure successfully. He also knows that it is generally much cheaper and easier to get the structure right from the beginning rather than fixing it later down the line.

How does Tree Testing help?


“Tree Testing is a methodology used to evaluate the findability of content within the information architecture.”
For a typical Tree Test participants are given a task and are asked to navigate through a tree menu structure to identify where they believe they would find an item or piece of information.

Example: You are on an office supplies website. Where would you go to find a mouse pad? Please click through the menu until you locate where you would expect to find it.

Tree Test Strengths

  • Tree testing, unlike other IA methods, (card sorting for example), presents participants with realistic task scenarios.
  • Tree tests allow researchers to evaluate multiple levels of information architecture in one study.

Tree Test Weaknesses

  • Both a strength and a weakness, tree testing doesn’t incorporate the visual design of a website.
  • Tree Tests focus only on the structure and naming of information architecture. Participants won’t be able to see visual elements that might aid or hinder navigation.

10 Tips for Conducting a Successful Tree Test

  1. A clear concise welcome page will increase the participation rate for a study. Include a brief description of the study content, study time, and incentive if applicable.
  2. Create real-world scenarios for each tree testing task. Varying the phrasing between tasks will keep your study interesting and increase participant engagement.
  3. We recommend recruiting 50 participants for a typical tree test study. Fifty participants will give you the flexibility to exclude participants while maintaining reliable results.
  4. Limit the maximum number of tree tests a participant completes to 10. Consider using a between-subjects design if you have more than 10 tree test tasks.
  5. Keep trees under 1000 items.
  6. Avoid including tree labels like “search” that allow participants to get through the task without navigating through the tree.
  7. Avoid using the same wording in your task description and tree labels. This may cause participants to focus on similarly phrased labels in the tree.
  8. As part of the task instructions inform participants that they have the option to navigate back up the tree if they would like to try another path.
  9. For studies with multiple tree tests consider enabling randomisation to control for learning and fatigue.
  10. When analysing tree test results look at successful vs. failed attempts, time on task and number of attempts. Multiple attempts can indicate that content is difficult and or frustrating to find.

Example of how to set up a remote tree testing study:

Remote Tree Test

Bonus Tip: Combining Card Sorting and Tree Testing.

Card Sorting and Tree Testing are two great research methods for designing and testing the navigation structure of a website.
Once you designed your site structure with card sorting, it is important to visually test it before you go build your prototype or a dynamic site.

That’s where tree testing comes in. It complements card sorting by testing the site structure created from a card sorting exercise.

Combining these two methods will ensure that your navigational structure is more spot on, and your customers will be able to accurately find items on your site.