A house of card-sorting : And the categorizing begins

Research Webinar Series Card Sorting

Are you designing a website, but you have no idea how to organize all of your content for your customers to find? Ever wonder if your product and service features and benefits translate to your target audience? Fortunately, those questions can be answered for you through a qualitative research technique known as Card Sorting – a quick, cheap, and useful way for people to drag and drop items or attributes into categories. This helps give you, the researcher, an opportunity to discover how your target audience both understand and categorize your information.

At QuestionPro, Inc., we offer an array of different research techniques, both quantitative and qualitative, that we’re able to tie back to our Communities platform. For more information about QuestionPro Communities, and how to further enhance your research experience using our tools, please click here to learn more!

Within, QuestionPro, card sorting can be done in two forms

Closed card sorting is when the survey designer already has the categories defined, and the exercise is meant for customers to decide what items fall within the conceptual framework. It can be useful to your research if and when you want to:

  • Figure out which items are best placed in what categories by your customers
  • Prioritize or rank products/services by importance or usage
  • Pinpoint misleading or unclear labels, based on mixed results
  • Reduce the number of categories, based on which categories are ignored the most

Open card sorting is when the respondents define the categories, rather than the moderator pre-defining them. So respondents can give any category-answer that comes to mind for an item, rather than being confined to one type of response. It can be useful to your research if and when you want to:

  • Find out how people understand or conceptualize your products/services, including their expectations or perceptions.
  • Generate new ideas from your customers for how to structure or label your products/services.
  • Compare your products/services to those of competitors to see if those perceptions, expectations, and structure are aligned.

What you have displayed on your cards can represent a variety of things. You can include text, images, or both if you want to avoid obscurity or confusion. Examples of cards with text include the following: 

  • Physical objects
  • Concepts
  • Products
  • Phrases
  • News headlines/titles
  • Advertisements or claims

Examples of cards that have imagery displayed include the following:

  • Physical objects (e.g. clothes, appliances, furniture)
  • Logos
  • Designs for portfolio or photography websites (For when you want to come up with ideas for how to best group images on a website -OR-For when you just want to know how customers think of your sketches or designs)

When setting up a card sorting exercise, make sure that you follow these steps

Put together a list of 30-60 topics

There are no hard limits for this, but this range of topics is recommended. The reason for this is because you want to make sure you have enough useful data to allow you to make informed decisions. 

*If you decide to run a closed card sorting exercise, using more than 60 topics can work to your advantage. 

Make sure to brainstorm and decipher all of the different info that you’d like to include, whether that be for an inventory, or a website, etc. Reviewing any organizational charts, sitemaps, or content audits can also be very useful in knowing beforehand what list of items your customers find the most important.

Review all of your topics (cards) and make sure each topic could be represented and grouped within a concept or an item

Whatever your list of topics may be, it’s vital that they are all on the same conceptual level and are similar enough to each other (e.g., you don’t want to have ‘Sports’ and ‘Basketball’ be two topics in your deck). At the same time, make sure your topics are distinguished enough to be categorized differently.

You’ve run the exercise and have collected the data – then what?

Before you start interpreting the results, it’s good practice to review the overview/participant data, which includes the following:

  • The time frame in which participants participated in the exercise (date and time)
  • The actual number of participants to have completed the exercise
  • The average time it took for members to complete the exercise

Start analyzing the data

This includes searching for the following:

  • Repeating -or- common patterns you find among the participants
  • Similarities as well as differences among your different audiences/segments
  • Anomalies that you wouldn’t have expected
  • Any card labels that are left aside more frequently than others, so that you, the moderator, can determine if the card labels are unclear or they’re outliers and don’t fit with the rest of the categories

General guidelines and best practices so that you can maximize your card sorting insights

  • Have at least 30-50 participants
  • Make sure the participants you recruit represent your market
  • If you have too much information, or too many topics, try to just stick with the main attributes that you’re evaluatingthe more topics that you have filtered down, the easier it will be more respondents to comprehend the task. Insights will be much stronger for the moderator to observe.
  • Make sure to provide all of the essential instructions for participants. Mention there are no right or wrong answers in this exercise. It also helps to provide why they are being asked to card sort and provide examples of how the exercise work for them to follow.
  • Don’t be too obscureit is essential that you’re explanatory enough so that participants have a good idea of what the content might relate to or be about. If you’re worried about the wording across cards to be too similar, use imagery in your cards as well to help clarify the text.

To learn more about card sorting and how to implement it in your market research strategy, sign up for the card sorting webinar on Tuesday, May 19th 01:00 PM (CDT).