Two Low-Key Ways to Effectively Evaluate How Your Website is Organized

If you’ve ever been part of a website evaluation, you’ve probably used one of the many methods that require a moderate to substantial investment of time, money, and resources. However, if you’re a smaller company and just want to evaluate how well your website is organized but without having to set aside a large amount of time and resources, then the following two activities can be effective ways to do so.

1. Card sorting (the quick and simple way)

Card sorting involves using cue cards (or small pieces of paper of a uniform size) to test whether your website is organized intuitively. This can be quite a lengthy process if it is conducted using focus groups or carefully selected samples of a website’s overall audience. However, you can still gain the benefits of this technique for testing the effectiveness of your website’s organization without having to invest time and resources in scientifically selected samples.

Large corporations or organizations with substantial research and development budgets may prefer the scientific over the quick and simple approach, but if you are a small business or smaller non-profit organization that just wants to see how you could reorganize your website to make it more effective, card sorting (the quick and simple way) can be a helpful approach.

How to do it:

  1. Buy some coloured cue cards (a.k.a. recipe cards) and write all of your website’s Level 1 page headings on them. For example, if the tabs at the top of your website are Home, About Us, Services, and Contact Us, these are your Level 1 page headings.
  2. Write your Level 2 page headings on the cards. These would be the pages that are within your Level 1 pages. For example, if you have pages for a number of different services on your Services page, these are Level 2 pages. The path at the top of the page might be Home > Services > Software Development (Software Development would be the Level 2 page heading you would write on the cue card).
  3. Write your third-level page headings on the cards. These would be the pages that are within your Level 2 pages. For example, if one of your second-level pages under Services is called Software Development, and within that page you link to other pages that describe specific types of software development services offered, such as Database Applications, the page called Database Applications would be a third-level page. The path of the page would be Home > Services > Software Development > Database Applications.
  4. If your links go even deeper to other pages embedded within your third-level pages, then write these down on the cards as well for your fourth and fifth-level page headings, and so forth (although if you’re creating pages that are this embedded within your website, so that your readers have to click through four, five, or six other pages to get to them, that’s a big hint that they’re too buried in your website and you’d likely be better off linking to them from second- or third-level pages, and the next step of the card-sorting process will help show you where to put them).
  5. Find some people you know who aren’t very familiar with your website and who can give you objective, unbiased, constructive feedback. In other words, perhaps don’t choose your employees for this activity. You want someone who might know what your company does but who hasn’t really visited your website and will offer you honest criticism and feedback. These might be former colleagues or classmates, friends, acquaintances, siblings or cousins (you can try selling it as a fun family activity), or even well-known clients that you have a friendly relationship with. You can start by selecting a few people to do the activity and then figure out how many more you might need based on whether their responses are pretty similar.
  6. Shuffle the cards with all of your website’s page headings on them. Then ask people to take the cards and sort them based on which ones they think should be Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 page headings for a website (preferably in groups, so you can get useful feedback by sitting back and watching them discuss their choices). You can also ask them to combine cards if they think some are too similar to be separate pages, or provide them with blank cards they can use to create new pages if they feel they are needed, or provide them with a pen to rename some cards (page headings) if they feel it is necessary.
  7. Ask them to lay the cards out on the table when they’re finished, starting with the Level 1 pages, then placing the Level 2 pages under the appropriate Level 1 pages, and so forth until all cards have been organized hierarchically. Then take a picture of this with your cell phone camera. Gather up the cards, keeping them in the same order in which they were laid out on the table, in case you need to look at the order again when reviewing the results.
  8. Repeat the same activity with a few other groups of people, and then compare the results. Do they all organize the cards in the same way? If there are certain patterns that seem to work best (e.g. placing employees’ biographical information under About Us rather than on the Contact Us page), then you might want to consider reorganizing your website to match this order.

2. Hide and seek (the website version)

If you’ve already done the card-sorting activity with a group of people, you can use those same people (or different people) to play “hide and seek” with your website. However, this activity would work best with each person individually rather than as a group.

How to do it:

1. Come up with about 5 or 6 specific questions you want people to find the answers to using your website. You want to try to use very different types of questions; otherwise, they might already know not to go to one part of your website for information if they’ve already gone there to answer a previous question.

2. Sit each person in front of a computer and ask them to find the answers to each question. Take note of where they go first in order to find this information. Did they find it there, or did they end up having to try another page, or yet another page before finding this information on your website? It’s important to just sit back and observe them and take notes, and let them know you will be just observing them rather than answering questions or showing them where to find the information. Tell them it’s helpful if they want to say what they are thinking out loud as you’re taking notes. If they really get stuck or frustrated, feel free to show them, but make sure you make a note that they were unable to find what they were looking for.

Here are some of the types of questions you might use (they should be fairly specific):

- What year was our company founded?
- Where did our business analyst attend university?
- Where is a map to our head office?
- What types of consulting services do we offer?
- What events did our company host for our customers last year?
- What was the name of the most recent blog article we posted?

3. Compare the notes you took for each person and see whether there are any patterns you can pick out. For example, do most people go to the Contact Us page to find a map to your head office, but you currently have the map on your About Us page instead? Then you might want to move it to the place where most people intuitively go to find it. Or, if the information about your company’s events is buried deep inside your website, and it takes people a while to find this, you might want to move it to a higher-level page.

In tandem with other website evaluation tools, such as website analytics that list most-visited to least-visited pages, the results of the above activities can be useful for determining whether your website is organized effectively or if people are getting lost in a sea of information they aren’t looking for before finding what they want.