Are you looking to update your navigation by adding in additional content, or wanting to restructure it? Or alternatively want to understand if users can navigate to the elements that they require on your website? Starting to review your data in platforms such as Google Analytics is beneficial to give you an understanding of what current users are doing on your website, but it can only give you so much data.
Whenever we are tasked with navigational projects, we look to utilise activities such as card sorting or tree jacking to give us the additional layer of data that we require.
Conducting a card sort is an activity that allows you to be able to review the overall structure of your website. This could be analysing its performance due to the styling, or looking at if the IA is effective for users. These can be completed in two ways, either in person – which can allow for productive sessions with internal stakeholders and various teams, or alternatively utilising online tools to target your specific demographic. Despite internal teams having full knowledge of the product offering and processes of the business, asking your users to complete the card sort can be really valuable – as it is allows you to get further insights into where their potential pain points may be.
Depending on the needs of the project there is the option to conduct either an open or closed card sort.
Open card sort
Users of the study are provided with a range of cards that they need to categorise into groupings. Users can provide their own names to each of these categories as they see fit. These are beneficial if you are looking to re-name categories and the way in which they are labelled, to make them more easily understood and user friendly.
Closed card sort
A closed cart sort is similar, but in this instance, users are also provided with the top-level category names. Users are then asked to provide all the cards into each of these categories. This exercise is useful if you already have an idea or know the top-level categories for your website, or if you want to see how different variations perform against one another.
A tree jack study is used to help you identify where users are getting lost within the navigation structure, and where they expect to find specific information. Users are provided with a range of different tasks, for example ‘Where would you expect to go to change your email address?’ and then they would click within the tree diagram to select where they expect that this information would be.
Whether you are conducting a card sort or a tree jack test, online platforms can provide a lot of analysis of the results, including the most popular groupings / paths. Findings such as these can be really valuable to add onto the existing data that you have got from platforms such as Google Analytics, to get a complete picture of users’ behaviours.
Screen recorded tasks
To add another layer of insight onto the card sort and tree jack activities, there is also the option to record users as they are completing the task so that they can explain what they have done and why. Again, there are multiple tools that can facilitate this, but it provides you with the opportunity to understand more about the choices that users have made. If users were confused and put items in the wrong location, then you may be able to find out more about why they think the other location is better suited. As users are encouraged to speak out loud as they are conducting these activities, the extra insights that they provide could help to further inform your decision making – these are vital insights that could have been missed if it wasn’t for the recording.
Overall, both activities are useful when completing navigation projects and we would suggest that you utilise one of the approaches according to your own needs and requirements before implementing a new structure.
When conducting the activities mentioned throughout, our favourite tool to use is Optimal Workshop. This gives you a lot of flexibility and when paired up with a screen recording tool can prove to be even more valuable.
Here are our top tips to make sure you get the most out of your insight
- Make sure that your tasks are clear and are using terminology that your users will understand.
- Do not automatically assume a closed card sort is right for you. Just because internal teams have decided what the top-level structure of the navigation should be, it does not mean it is right for your website users.
- Ensure you put a lot of thought into the tasks that you give users, do not make the tasks too easy as this will skew your results. For example, on a tree jack test make sure that you are letting using thoroughly explore the structure, rather than providing tasks that have answers on the first level of the navigation.