What is card sorting?
Card sorting is when you enlist the help of users (or potential users) to help build the information architecture of your website. In a session of card sorting you can ask participants to help you with organizing categories and even labeling categories.
Even if you think you’ have decided the best ever layout for your website, it’s still a good idea to try card sorting, because you will inevitably be biased. Think about it: who better to inform you of how best to create the most intuitive and straightforward structure for users than users themselves? What makes sense to you won’t necessarily make sense to your user. And internet users are notoriously impatient; they will very easily find reasons to leave your site given half the chance.
Imagine a scenario where you walked into a department store looking for a shiny new pair of high heels. Common sense dictates that these should be in the women’s shoes section. How annoying would it be if you spent a ludicrous amount of time searching high and low, only to find the store had bafflingly placed them in the Furniture section? You would probably grumble at the store assistant who helped you find them, but you would most likely still peruse what they had to offer.
This generally isn’t the case online. Unlike customers in the physical world, internet users these days have short attention spans, Subjecting them to navigation that doesn’t make sense is a cardinal sin that will cost you customers and conversions.
This is why it is vital that website architecture is based not on the business structure, but on the user’s needs.
So, how exactly do you go about card sorting? There are two methods of card sorting: open card sorting and closed sorting. Whichever you choose is up to you, but is often dependent on how big your website will be.
Open card sorting
In open card sorting sessions, the participants have full control over the organization and labeling of categories. They will sort topics and content into groups that they feel make sense and will suggest category names. You can also allow them to create new card topics.
Closed card sorting
In closed card sorting sessions, categories will have already been determined by you. It is up to the participants to organize topics into these categories.
Online/Offline card sorting
Offline card sorting isn’t at all high-tech or complicated. The main thing you need is (you guessed it) cards, as well as a space in which to spread them out, whether it be a large table, or a wall or notice board to pin them on.
Use index cards. Label each one neatly and number the each one at the back to help with later analysis.
There is a plethora of online software for card sorting. The handy thing about them is that you won’t need a physical space to gather participants, and the analysis will be done for you.
The downside is that this software can be a little bit expensive, so if your budget is already stretched, this might not be a viable option. You also won’t be able to take into account the body language and behavior of participants as they card sort.
How to card sort effectively
Limit the number of cards you’re sorting; the more you ask of your participants, the less effective it will be. Try about 30 to 40 to start.
Create a list of the content topics and information types that you are planning for your website.
It’s best to start small – even with just one person. You can later scale up if needed. It’s suggested that any more than 15 users will start to be a detriment to your results.
Choose users based on the indicators of the demographic for your site based on the research we mentioned earlier.
Offer incentives, such as small payment or a gift voucher.
Be there to moderate. Explain that there is no right or wrong answer, but be sure to note instances where participants are having a hard time as it suggests that the labeling isn’t effective.
Ask questions and find out why they came to the conclusions they did.
If they create too many groups, see if any of them can be combined.
When it’s done, take photos of the arrangements your participants made and take note of the numbers you labeled the cards with.
Analysing your results
If you used online software for your sort, this will analyze your results for you. If it was offline, you will need to think about what patterns emerged throughout the process. Look back on the pictures and notes you took and see if there was any particular ordering of the cards that happened time and time again. If you’re excel savvy, inputting your data into a spreadsheet can make things easier for you.
When you’re done, you should have a clear idea of your website’s main categories, their subcategories, and which pages correspond to each of these subcategories.
Create a sitemap
A sitemap is essentially how your user will get from point A to point B in your site. It’s a visual representation of how the site will be navigated. An effective sitemap will be straightforward, without any unnecessary detours. It will contain all the pages of your site and how your user will get tot hem. It will begin with your homepage and then branch out to your categories and subpages.
Write a list of the pages your site will be using and create a diagram. This shouldn’t be too difficult if you went through the card sorting process. When you do this, you’ll be able to point out any transitions that don’t make sense as well as gaps.
If you’re starting a takeout service for your pizza restaurant and creating a simple website, your list could look something like this:
As a diagram, it would look something like this:
Of course, if your website is going to be a little more content heavy, it will more than likely be somewhat more complicated than the above. Your could also include URLs and annotations and information on the timeline of pages that you won’t be created straight away.
Ultimately your sitemap will be a planning tool that will help you understand the layout of your site by giving you a clear visual perspective.
The structure of your menu will be the key to easily navigating your site. An effective menu:
Is intuitive and easy to use
Allows users to find what they need with ease, whether they are making a purchase or seeking information or customer service
Based on your sitemap, your menu should list all of your products and services so that customers can easily find what they need and see what is available. This will include your basic categories, products, and services, but it may also include segments and scenarios.
Segments are perfect for when a customer isn’t sure about a specific product, but knows the segment they are looking to pursue. Examples can include hardware, homeowners, landscapes, construction, and companies. Think about how some specific customers may see their needs and cater to that.
A scenario can be situational or promotional. For example, this could include Valentine’s day promotions, or season-specific offers like “Summer Barbecue Kit” or “Christmas Offers!”. Think about how what you’re offering can be molded into a scenario that would suit your user.
Some essential menu best practices are:
You should think about the design of menu that would work best for your site. Ultimately, what kind of menu you opt for is down to personal preference, but some types do work better for certain kinds of websites.
Common Menu Types
Horizontal and vertical navigation bars
Smaller websites tend to use horizontal menus while more corporate companies often use both
A large panel that drops down from global navigation bar that displays many options at once. These are good for eCommerce sites with extensive category lists, or websites advertising a large number of services. These would look cluttered in a standard menu.
This type of menu stays in view even as you scroll through a website. The CTA is often in the primary bar.
At the bottom of a website, this kind of menu is often used for websites that contain more content. It tends to include privacy/email/legal links and contact details. For eCommerce sites they also tend to include methods of payment.
Link your logo to the homepage
This is a tried-and-true, common-sense convention that will only confused your users if you don’t do it too.
Your mantra before, during and after building your website should be test, test, then test again, which conveniently takes us to the next section.
User testing is essential. No matter how impartial you think you are, at the end of the day you have been far too immersed in your project from the get-go, so outside critique is the only way to get true indication of what’s working and what isn’t.
Get in touch with people from your target audience. Prepare a list of questions to ask each person. This will be dependent on what your website is going to offer, but it can be anything from what they look for when shopping online, what puts them off, and more.
Asking a customer to do a survey after completing a transaction on your website is also a good method of gathering data. It may be less personal than a one-on-one interview; however, the transaction will be fresh in their mind, so they’ll be able to effectively discuss what worked and what did didn’t, while an interviewee may find it difficult to think of specific examples.
Sometimes the most effective thing is to simply observe your customers as they browse your website, taking note of how easy it is to search or navigate, or purchase if it is an eCommerce site. You can witness firsthand whether or not they have a straightforward experience, or if they have trouble finding what they want, or if they don’t see important CTAs.
A/B testing your small business website involves comparing two different versions of the same webpage, and tests how users respond to both. One is the control and one is a variant, which should mostly be the same, but with one slight change. This can be anything from headlines to color combinations or substituting imagery. You can then collect data based on analytics and conversions that will show how much the change does or doesn’t impact.
When it comes to testing, it’s also important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all category for how your users will be using your website. It will be important to test not only different versions of your site, but also to test them across different devices and even browsers. Your analytics will show how effectively each works across all of these.
Testing is an ongoing process. While it would be convenient to assume that once you’re finished you’re finished, but people and their habits are continually changing, and what used to work for your site might not work as well several months later. So it’s best that user testing becomes habitual for you, rather than an occasional inconvenience.