Card Sorting

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What Is Card Sorting?

Card sorting is a method used to help design or evaluate the information architecture of a website, intranet, DAM or other digital content repository. In a typical card sorting session, participants organize topics into categories that make sense to them and group them accordingly. The card sort results can then inform how content should be organized.

Key Benefits

A card sort can help an organization quickly—and affordably—yield valuable data to better understand its user’s expectations and understanding of topics. Knowing how users group information can help:

  • Provide a strong foundation for building the structure of a website or product
  • Label categories and navigation so that they are user friendly
  • Provide a taxonomy of additional labels (or tags) to support alternate ways to find a piece of content
  • Decide how to prioritize content

Card Sorting Techniques

A team may choose to do an “open” or “closed” card sort depending on its needs. The techniques differ as follows:

  • Open card sort: Participants are asked to organize content topics into groups that make sense to them and then name each group they created in a way that they feel accurately describes the content. Use an open card sort to learn how users group content and the terms or labels they give each category.
  • Closed card sort: Participants are asked to sort content topics into pre-determined categories. This method is best when working with a pre-defined set of categories and a team wants to learn how users sort content items into each category.

An organization may also combine the two, first conducting an open card sort to identify content categories and then a closed card sort to see how well the category labels work.

Card sorts have the option of being conducted in person—one-on-one or in a group—using physical cards, pieces of paper, or online card-sorting software. Or, facilitators can use card-sorting software to work with participants remotely, in multiple locations.

Best Practices for Card Sorts

  • Be mindful of participant fatigue. Limit the number of cards to 30 or 40, especially for an open sort.
  • If possible, randomize the order of presentation so that each piece of content has a chance to be sorted earlier in the session.
  • Provide participants with an estimate of how long the card sort will take before beginning the session to help them better gauge the required time and effort.

Why It Matters for B2B Content

Before making a purchase, today’s B2B customers typically conduct their own online research and educate themselves about a company’s products and services. That’s why it’s never been more important for enterprises to have a well-organized website.

Too often B2B marketers yield to the temptation to organize content the way their organization is structured, rather than the way their customers see them. This makes for a frustrating experience and lower engagement in what is otherwise great content.

In addition, many internal B2B knowledge repositories are sprawling, with large volumes of content. If this content is not organized with an understanding of users’ priority needs, tasks, and questions, then users can become quickly frustrated or overwhelmed. A card sort is a good first step to ensuring that content is well-organized and easy to find.

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