Kyle Cassidy
Kyle Cassidy
Head of UX Design & Insights


How to optimise your website navigation with Tree Testing

It’s a sad fact that users are on our beloved websites for less and less time, and are increasingly impatient if they don’t find the content they need quickly.

Modern browsing experiences are fragmented, interrupted and spread across multiple devices. On mobile, in particular, the average session duration is just 72 seconds, with desktop at around 150 seconds; both offering too brief a window to guide people to the context and content they are seeking.

It’s never been more important to invest time in optimising your website navigation structure. Get this right and you can be confident that your users are engaging with your precious content, and being guided to your key services in the brief time you have with them.

How to uncover real insight

At DEPT®, we analyse and benchmark website architecture before testing and validating a new proposed structure, based on clear rationale. We like to remove the guesswork, and enable a framework that provides clear evidence and analysis to inform refinements.

To do this, we use Tree Testing – a usability technique for evaluating the findability of topics in a website. Simply put, it provides a way to measure how well users can find items in a hierarchy, based on setting mini-tasks to find content.

How to implement Tree Testing

We use TreeJack to conduct Tree Testing studies, which is part of the Optimal Workshop suite of tools.

There are four key steps to undertaking the perfect website navigation Tree Test:

Devise your test questions

Tree testing is conducted over multiple rounds of testing, where you iterate refinements. However, it’s essential that you use the same tasks and questions, so that you can benchmark any improvements.

Think about the audience for your website and devise some key questions where the user is seeking specific content. For example, “you’re an office manager looking to replace the staff seating in your company’s meeting rooms. Where on the site would you find information that would help you? ”

Try not to give too many clues in your questions, and don’t mention the exact label of the correct content in your question (i.e. find the Conference Chairs in the Office Chairs section).

You want your questions to be high level enough to provide a fair and unbiased test. Once you have 5 to 10 questions devised, you are ready to go.

Benchmark your existing website structure

Conduct your first test on the current website structure, however bad it is. It’s essential that you have results that you can benchmark so you can measure improvements.

Enter the website navigation structure into the test software, and specify where the correct content is, based on the questions you have devised. When your users find this content, it is classed as a success.

Launch your test and send out the link to your respondents. Ideally, you would test on real customers, but if you don’t have access, just try and get as many responses as possible. As long as you get at least 20 responses, this will highlight patterns and provide enough useful data.

Analyse your results and refine your structure

Once you have your required 20+ responses, you are ready to analyse your results.
I believe that some things are still best done off-screen, to gain a full picture of trends and patterns. Print all available data for each question and place them on a large wall.

For each question, you should have data on success rates, time taken, movement patterns, as well as other useful metrics. Apply post-it notes with your observations on the key findings for each question, and compile your notes and design rationale.

Revise and test again (and again if needed)

Once you have your design rationale, make the necessary tweaks to your website structure, based on your findings. There might be other influencing factors that might impact changes to the navigation, such as customer feedback, new services or changes in company strategy.
Once you are happy with your new proposed structure, run your test again using the same set of questions.

Once you have your results, you will hopefully see improvements in seek time for key content, and more directness in people finding content the first time.

A successful Tree Test provides concrete rationale for improving website navigation structure, and is a proven method for increasing conversion and engagement with content.

DEPT®’s experience design

DEPT®’s team of highly experienced UX experts and experience designers specialise in creating sites which fully support both user and business goals.  Contact us to discuss how we can optimise your website.



Head of UX Design & Insights

Kyle Cassidy

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