Tree Testing

Tree testing is a usability testing method used to evaluate the effectiveness of a website or application's information architecture (IA). The primary goal of tree testing is to determine whether users can easily find the information they are looking for by navigating through the structure of the site or application. This method is sometimes called "reverse card sorting" because, unlike card sorting, which focuses on organizing content, tree testing focuses on evaluating the existing organization of content.

Purpose and Role:

The main purposes and roles of tree testing include:

  • Evaluate information architecture: Tree testing helps identify whether the current IA of a website or application is well-structured and user-friendly, allowing users to find the information they seek with ease.
  • Identify navigation issues: By observing users' interactions with the IA, tree testing can reveal any navigation problems or bottlenecks that hinder users from reaching their goals.
  • Optimize user experience: The insights gathered from tree testing can be used to improve the IA and navigation, ultimately enhancing the overall user experience.


A typical tree testing process involves the following steps:

  • Create a simplified text-based version of the website or application's IA, representing the hierarchy of topics, categories, and subcategories.
  • Develop tasks or scenarios for users to complete using the IA, such as finding specific information or completing a particular action.
  • Recruit participants who represent the target user group.
  • Ask participants to complete the tasks using the simplified IA, observing their interactions and noting any difficulties or issues they encounter.
  • Analyze the results, identifying trends and patterns in users' interactions, success rates, and any difficulties faced while navigating the IA.
  • Use the insights gathered to improve and refine the IA, addressing any identified issues and enhancing the overall user experience.
  • Repeat the process as needed, iteratively testing and refining the IA to achieve optimal usability and effectiveness.


Tree testing is important for several reasons:

  • Improved usability: By evaluating and refining the IA, tree testing contributes to a more intuitive and user-friendly website or application, making it easier for users to find the information they need and accomplish their goals.
  • Enhanced user experience: A well-structured and easily navigable IA can lead to increased user satisfaction, engagement, and retention, ultimately contributing to the success of the website or application.
  • Informed decision-making: The insights and data gathered through tree testing can help stakeholders make informed decisions regarding the design and organization of their website or application, ensuring that it meets the needs and expectations of its target audience.

Examples to illustrate key concepts:

  • An e-commerce website conducts tree testing to evaluate the organization of its product categories and subcategories. Participants are asked to find specific products by navigating through the IA. The results reveal that users have difficulty finding certain items due to unclear category labels and a confusing hierarchy. Based on these findings, the website's designers adjust the IA, improving category labels and restructuring the hierarchy to make it more intuitive and user-friendly.
  • A government agency conducts tree testing on its website to assess the effectiveness of its IA in helping users find important information and resources. Participants are given tasks such as locating specific forms or accessing specific services. The test results identify issues with the current IA, such as the placement of frequently accessed resources in less obvious locations. The agency then uses these insights to reorganize the website's IA, making it easier for users to find the necessary information.

In summary, tree testing is a valuable usability testing method that focuses on evaluating and improving a website or application's information architecture. By identifying navigation issues and optimizing the IA, tree testing helps create a more user-friendly and efficient user experience. This method is particularly important for websites and applications with complex structures and large amounts of content, where effective organization and navigation are crucial to user satisfaction and engagement.

See Also