Anyone for a game of cards?

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We're not talking blackjack or poker here unfortunately – we’re talking about card sorting as a method of arriving at a website navigation structure (it can be more interesting than you think!)

I've worked with a number of clients this year on restructuring their websites and had great success in using the card sorting technique as a means of arriving at the new site structure/primary navigation.

The first part of card sorting goes something like this:

  • Assemble a group of subject-area experts from your organisation – ideally no less than 6 people but the more the merrier
  • Split them up into groups of 2/3 people where no one from the same subject-area works together
  • Ask them to write on cards (post-it notes will do) the main headings they see for the principle site navigation

This gives you a starting point to bring together a coherent and consensus agreed site navigation.

Next start grouping similarly worded or related cards, using a wall in a meeting room is ideal so everyone can see what’s going on.  Group the related cards in columns and then eliminate the duplicates so you end up with a set of cards that represent the whole group’s opinions.

Postit's on a wall

Don’t get too hung up on naming conventions at this stage or the process will take much longer than really needed.

You will need participants to compromise but this process empowers everyone to have an opinion and the group will eventually agree.

Once you’ve got your main navigation items you should now try and sort them in some kind of order.  There are lots of schools of thought on how this can be done, much of it depends on the nature of the site.  Where there are obvious user journeys through the site you can use that as a guide, if not then perceived order of importance is another factor you can use.  If all else fails you can just order them in alphabetical order but this isn’t always all that intuitive.

Remember that you want to try and limit the number of navigation elements to no more than 6 to 8, any more than that and visitors will start having difficulty scanning the list for what they are looking for.

The naming convention of links is something that can be done in a separate exercise, the key thing here is not to have too wordy navigation items, no more than 2 or 3 words works best (anymore and "scanability" becomes impaired).

This whole process can be repeated for further levels of navigation of a site and once your participants become familiar with the process you can quickly bring together your navigation for your whole site.

Remember that using subject-area experts for this isn't necessarily going to always give the ideal results from a visitor's point-of-view.  If you’ve got the time and inclination you should try and test the navigation with real end-users – ask them questions such as "Under which heading would you expect to find X or Y".

Another pitfall to avoid is trying to reproduce your organisation’s structure in your site navigation – avoid this at all costs as the typical visitor doesn’t care about how your organisation is structured and in most case it will act as in impediment to them finding what they are looking for.

About the Author

James CTwo is our blogging alter ego for the Dynamics CRM and Web experts here at C2. We have a passion for anything CRM, Web Design or Social Media. We love writing about it! Find us on YouTube & Twitter.

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