“Tree testing is a usability technique for evaluating the findability of topics in a website. It’s also known as ‘reverse card sorting’ or ‘card-based classification’” ~ Optimal Workshop

The test works like this. You take your current navigation structure, which in case of an ecommerce site might be quite wide (product range) and deep (product sub categories) and list them on a tool like Treejack from Optimal Workshop. You then ask users to navigate this menu and indicate where they would expect to find a certain product. For example: “Where would you find Black Shoes for a school boy?” The user then might navigate down your menu structure through “Fashion – Men – Shoes” or they might go through “Kids & Toys – Fashion” or through “School – other”. It all depends on which items you have available in your menu and which words interest their train of thought. This leads to an interesting graph on how many people find your product and which other paths they take. If a big portion of your users can’t find your product, you will need to move it to the category they expect to find it, or maybe not…

I did a tree test on our company’s ecommerce site a little while ago and found something interesting. We asked users to indicate to us, where they would find ten products in our current menu structure. The result for “Screwdriver” was the most interesting result of the ten.

What do you notice? You will notice that people went looking at “Computer Accessories”, “Musical Instruments & Equipment”, “Automotive Parts & Accessories”, “Home & Kitchen” and “Electronics”. What do they have in common? What they have in common is “context of use”. These categories show the context in which the user wants to use his “screwdriver” in. He might be looking for a screwdriver for his car or DIY, fixing his musical instrument or computer. People navigate according to the content in which they want to use a tool.

Lets try another one: ‘Nokia Stereo Bluetooth Headset BH-503″

As expected, using the word “Nokia” will predispose people to start looking under “Phones & Tablets”, but they also looked under “Computer Accessories” and “Electronic Accessories”.

What does this mean to you? If you want to improve your product’s findability, do some Tree Testing and figure out your product’s “context of use”, and tag it with the appropriate sub categories.