What Is Tree Testing? (Plus How To Complete One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published January 3, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Tree testing is a research method that evaluates an app or website's layout. Researchers most commonly use this type of testing to identify common ways in which users interact with a website. Learning what tree testing is and why it's important can help you optimize the websites you create for your company or clients. In this article, we define tree testing, discuss its importance and uses and explain how you can design your own tree test.

What is tree testing?

Tree testing is a type of research method that analyzes the different hierarchical structures of an app or website. When tree testing, the researcher provides the participants with a task and then requests that they complete a series of tasks using that information. The goal of tree testing is to measure the layout of the application and determine how easy it is for users to find information.

Tree testing most commonly analyzes the following:

  • Directness: Directness refers to the percentage of users who can complete a task and directly navigate to where they want on the first try.

  • Success: Success refers to the percentage of users who are able to successfully complete one of the tasks.

  • Time: Time refers to the number of seconds or minutes that it takes users to complete certain task types.

Related: Web Design Best Practices You Should Follow

Why is tree testing important?

Tree testing is important for a few reasons, including:

Creating better websites

Tree testing allows application and web developers to design more functional and purposeful programs that meet users' needs. By reviewing the steps that participants take when navigating a program, developers can better understand how users complete tasks. They can use this information to design websites with an easy and purposeful navigational setup.

Understanding tasks

The process of tree testing also helps developers better understand the order of tasks. Learning how users most commonly complete different tasks on a website can help them format the page in a way that is effective for the largest number of users. They can also identify when a task takes too many steps, thus complicating the navigation.

Troubleshooting process errors

By evaluating the steps that different users take when completing a task, developers can also identify any errors in the app or website. This can help them discover and troubleshoot coding or transactional errors. Because tree testing is simple to plan, it also gives developers the opportunity to fix these mistakes and then retest.

Understanding customers

Tree testing can help developers understand the factors that contribute to how a customer uses a program or app. It allows them to monitor and review the natural thought processes that go into navigating a website. This can also help when creating additional webpages for new products or services. It makes it easier for developers to understand a wide range of customers, including those with all different technical backgrounds.

Getting fast results

One of the biggest values of using tree testing is that it's fast to plan and complete while still providing researchers with a vast amount of useful results. In many cases, tree testing can also occur remotely, making it an easy test for developers to implement. Analyzing and reviewing the data from tree testing is simple and fast, making it a good option for developers with all different budgets and time restraints.

Related: 6 Penetration Testing Methods

Uses of tree testing

The primary uses of tree testing include the following:

  • Identifying navigational issues

  • Learning more about how a customer navigates websites or programs

  • Helping developers create a functional layout

  • Providing direction on how best to group similar items on a website

  • Deciding how best to label different categories on a website

  • Defining common concerns with a website's navigation

  • Maximizing user experience and ease of navigation

  • Offering users content that answers their questions

Related: What Is a Decision Tree Analysis?

How to run a tree test

You can run a tree test with the following steps:

1. Design the research plan

Because tree testing is a type of research, the first step is to plan your investigation. This includes identifying the goals of your research, who to invite to be a part of the study and how you can best organize data. It also includes determining the tasks that the researcher can request participants to complete and in what order to complete them.

An important component of tree testing is to only provide research participants with text directions. To keep track of results, tree testing typically includes no more than 10 tasks.

2. Create the tree structure

Create a tree structure of your website that includes the pages or categories of pages. Try to be as specific as possible, including the names or types of products or services. You may use the title from your navigation bar on your website. This is the structure that you can provide to your research participants to learn more about how they navigate the different aspects of the page.

Related: How To Write Research Questions (Plus Examples)

3. Make a list of tasks

Write down a list of tasks that you want your research participants to complete during the test. Try to be as specific as possible when asking them to complete these tasks. For example, you may include tasks like, "You want to cancel your membership. Tell us what steps you would take to do that." You might also include, "You want to contact a company to learn more about a specific product or service. Tell us what steps you would take to accomplish that."

On a separate page, write down the right answers to the tasks that you ask participants to complete. While you don't want to provide them with the answers, you can use this to measure success and efficiency.

4. Begin testing

Now that you have a good idea of what you're testing and have the materials that you want participants to test, you can begin testing. Recruit the participants for the study, then decide how many people to test and for how long. Some experts recommend testing a minimum of 50 people who have different levels of technology use to get an accurate result of how a wide variety of customers use different programs.

5. Interpret the results

After completing tree testing, collect and interpret the results. Some researchers use a database or testing program to keep better track of this data. Consider the specific key performance indicators you set in the first step, and then measure success rates. A few common things that you may test include the success rate and the average time it takes to complete certain tasks.

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