Navigation tree. How to use UX research to create an effective navigation tree?

Árbol de contenidos | Árbol web
Ignasi Fernández 8m of reading

The navigation tree has a big impact on the user experience. If they don’t find what they want in a few clicks, they will lose patience and look elsewhere. To avoid that, UX research helps you to create or improve the navigation tree of your website. Here we tell you all the details about the usability tests you can do to design the tree that best suits your users.

What is a navigation tree?

A navigation tree – also known as a web tree – is a scheme that presents the different types of content on a website in a clear and logical way. The navigation tree is a guide that inspires the design of a site and important elements such as the menu, the home page or the footer must take into account the tree to facilitate access to all the contents.

A good navigation tree design is a fundamental piece to increase the usability of the site. If users can easily find the information they are looking for, they will be more satisfied, will make more use of the website and will be able to complete their missions in a higher proportion – whether it is buying a product in an online shop, carrying out a procedure with the administration, finding information or identifying a possible service provider.

The larger a website is, the more important it is to take the time to design a good navigation tree. That is why large corporate sites, government portals, online shops, media and many other types of websites devote a lot of attention to optimising their web tree with specific UX tests.

In addition, a well-structured navigation tree can have an important effect on SEO, which is also important for attracting more traffic to the site.

How to design a good navigation tree?

The first step in creating a navigation tree that works is to compile all the content that can be included on the site. If you are redesigning an existing website, some of the information will already be available online. On this basis, you will need to think about whether content is missing, surplus or needs to be modified, and to do this you will need to establish a dialogue with all possible content «owners».

The next step is to group the content into logical categories and subcategories. It is important to be aware that the way we ourselves may organise content is not necessarily the same as the way users may organise it. That is why in this phase it will be important to involve real users so that they can help us organise the content or tell us if they miss content that is important to them.

Once we have classified the content, we will represent it by creating a visual diagram of its structure and we can move on to the design phase. However, the UX research input is not over yet. It is always important to continue to validate progress with users. This will prevent us from going too far in the development without having detected any errors in the implementation of the navigation tree.

6 tips on how to design a navigation tree

The key for a navigation tree to meet users’ expectations is to make it simple and intuitive. And these 10 tips can help you achieve this:

  • Descriptive and concise titles: the names of the sections and subsections should be short and descriptive, so that they make it crystal clear what the content is about. Avoid jargon and technical words. It doesn’t matter what something is called in the company or what we would like users to call it. What matters is how users actually call it in their day-to-day lives.
  • Limited number of navigation levels: always use the essential number of navigation levels, no more, and never more than four to avoid users getting lost.
  • Logical structure: each category and subcategory must be clearly different from the others. This way the user will clearly identify which one to choose. Each category should contain all possible subcategories so that the user does not reach a dead end. We do not want the user to have to go back to try another path.
  • Flexibility and scalability: design the navigation tree so that it can adapt to future changes or expansions of the site without the need for a complete restructuring.
  • SEO optimisation: incorporate keywords in titles and descriptions to improve search engine rankings. Using clean and friendly URLs in the design phase will help you improve your ranking.
  • User testing: what the user sees logically may be different from what we can consider with the company’s internal vision. That is why, as soon as you have a minimum of content and traffic, it is essential to dedicate the necessary time and resources to usability testing. In general, any investment in this field pays for itself: higher conversion rate, higher sales, more leads, fewer queries or better image are some of the benefits that are obtained when the navigation tree is truly adapted to the user.

There are many other tips we could add about menu design, structure and design consistency, accessibility or mobile optimisation, but all this would go beyond the creation of the navigation tree and into the design phase, so we’ll leave it for another time.

UX research to create an effective navigation tree

We have mentioned on several occasions the importance of user research to ensure the effectiveness of the navigation tree. But what kind of usability tests can we use and when should we use each one? Here is a list of the most common ones.

User Interviews

User interviews allow you to get a good understanding of users’ expectations, needs and experiences. If we know what users expect to find and how they naturally use language to describe it, we will have a better chance of getting our navigation tree right.

Card Sorting

Card sorting is one of the fundamental tests for creating an effective web tree. It consists of asking users to sort content into categories and subcategories using a set of cards. Card sorting can be open – users define the categories and name them – or closed – they simply organise the cards already created into a category structure. Card sorting analysis will help to discover how users expect to find content.

Tree Testing

Tree testing evaluates the structure of a navigation tree. Unlike card sorting, which is used to define it, tree testing is used to validate a navigation tree that has already been created. This is done by asking users to find specific content within the tree. If users have difficulty finding what they are asked to find, improvements will have to be made.

Usability testing with prototypes

Once you have a prototype of the website, you can use usability testing to see how users interact with the content tree in a controlled environment. To do this, users are asked to perform a set of tasks that involve interacting with the menus and navigation elements. By observing the success rate for different tasks and seeing where they hesitate or get lost, it is possible to identify problems and opportunities for improvement in the navigation tree.

Navigation Data Analysis

The navigation tree can also be improved by analysing real-life user navigation data. For example, we can identify if some content does not receive any traffic at all or what the clickstream has been until reaching a page. But be careful, because in this case, we know what users have done, but not what their intention was when they did it. This is why it is important to validate the hypotheses with other tests that allow us to better understand what the user wanted to do.

A/B testing

Some of the tests mentioned above can be done by incorporating more than one version of the navigation tree – these are A/B tests. By comparing the results between versions, the one that best suits the users can be identified.

It is also important to note that all these tests are not mutually exclusive. User interviews can be combined to create a first version of the content tree and then tested with tree testing. Or you can do a card sorting test and then evaluate its effectiveness with task-based usability testing. Whichever combination you choose, the most important thing is to introduce UX research on a regular basis. This way you won’t invest time and resources in design and development only to find out later that the navigation tree is not optimal.

Design your navigation tree with We are testers

With the We are testers platform you can perform all kinds of UX tests to help you create an effective navigation tree. The tool supports user interviews, card sorting, tree testing and usability testing through tasks. And remember that we also have a user panel of 130,000 people so you can find all the profiles you need. And if you want us to participate in the moderation of your UX tests, we have experts who can take care of everything for you. Contact our team of UX research experts to find out more about how to design the best navigation tree for your website.

Update date 30 June, 2024

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