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Put your content and information architecture to the test with your users

Do people complain that they can't find the information they need on your website or product? Or maybe they don't understand the information once they find it? If so, it's time to make improvements to your content and how it’s structured and labeled.

Research is the best place to start to make improvements that help your users. There are several ways to develop and test information architecture and content, no matter the industry. All of these testing methods can be done remotely with actual users.

How to test your IA

Information Architecture (IA) is how you group and label information. A user-centered IA helps people find information quickly because you organize it in a way that your users understand.

Imagine you are looking for a review of the most recent superhero movie on The New York Times’ website. You should be able to scan the links at the top of the page-“Politics,” “Business,” “Science,” “Sports,” etc.- and decide that “Arts” is the most likely place to find movies, see the “Movies” link within it, and find the article you are looking for. These categories, subcategories, and their labels are all part of the website’s IA.

Your IA should be designed, tested, and refined by conducting card sort and online navigation (tree test) studies with your users.

Card Sorts

The goal of a card sort is to uncover how users think the information on your website fits together and the terminology that they use to describe it.

To conduct a card sort, we present users with sample content and ask them to group it in a way that makes sense to them. For example, if we were creating an IA for a news website like The New York Times, we could give people a selection of news article headlines, ask them to sort them into groups, and give the groups names.

A card sort study with a representative sample of our users lets us uncover their shared mental models and terminology so that we can help design a website accordingly.

Card sort studies can be performed online with remote users or in-person.

Tree Tests

Whenever possible, evaluate the IA developed in a card sort study using an online navigation, or tree test. A tree test gives us insight into how well users can find the information they need on our website.

To conduct a tree test, we ask users where they would go to find specific pieces of information in an IA. If we were testing the New York Times website, we might ask participants “Where would you go to read a review of the most recent superhero movie?”. Then, we’d see how they navigate through our IA and what location they choose.

We can see if people chose the location we are planning to put this information on our website or somewhere else. We can also see if they can navigate to that location directly or if they get lost. Then, we can adjust the IA accordingly.

There are tools for conducting tree tests online with remote users, or can be conducted in-person.

How to test your content

Content is the information that your users read, listen to, or watch when interacting with you on your website, application, or social media channel. Content can also include branded printouts from your company or important forms that people may need to fill out as they interact with your business. Two of the ways that we’ve successfully tested content are with surveys and usability studies.

Surveys

You can learn a lot about your content, including evaluating its clarity and effectiveness with a survey. This is a relatively fast and cost-effective way of getting feedback from many users at once.

You can show your content, or a sample of your content, to users in a survey and ask them questions such as:

  • What action they would take if presented with this content in real life and why
  • True or false statements about the content to test comprehension of key pieces of information
  • Their perceptions of the amount of information given
  • Their perceptions of the ease/difficulty of understanding your content
  • If they have any questions after reading the content

Responses to surveys will determine if you should reduce, elaborate on, simplify, restructure, or remove your content. When testing a sample of content, the results may be applicable to the other content you have. For example, if your users think that the language that you use on one page of your website is too advanced, there is a good chance that you’ll need to simplify the language on the whole website.

Sometimes surveys can help you identify content that may be useful beyond the paper or digital interface you are testing it for. We recently worked with a nonprofit organization to test their content with users through an online survey. Users had a list of statements about the nonprofit and we asked if these statements would motivate the users to take action or make a donation. We found that certain statements made users want to engage more with the organization and increased their likelihood to make a donation. With this data the non-profit could make an informed decision about what statements to use in their content.

Surveys are run online and can be advertised on your website homepage, your social media channels, or with the help of partners.

Clear IA and content lead to user-friendly interactions with your business

Creating an intuitive IA with clear content is a fundamental part of designing a user-friendly product or interaction with your business. We have seen many visually appealing but frustrating to use websites, products, or user interfaces, because the organization, structure, labels, and content were not designed with user input. Research allows you to get feedback from your users and make changes accordingly. Remote research makes getting feedback from your users possible no matter where they are. Each of the IA and content testing methods we described can be performed remotely.

If you're ready to talk about the challenges that your users are facing and what a tailored research solution would look like, get in touch.



Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

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