When looking to improve the findability on your website or intranet or in your CMS or DAM, there are a few areas where you can look to diagnose and solve findability problems. To find these problems, you can do an expert review and user testing. This first part in a two-part series focuses on diagnosing findability problems.

What is Findability?

On page 4 of Morville’s Ambient Findability, findability is defined as “a) the quality of being locatable or navigable; b) the degree to which a particular object is easy to discover or locate; c) the degree to which a system or environment supports navigation and retrieval.”

Plain and simple: this definition is saying that findability means people are able to find things.


While it can be really tempting to delve into the diagnosis yourself, I have some advice. Based on personal experience, I have found it better to start on projects like these with the buy-in and/or consent of others. Why? Because you never know who has worked on your site or in your content. By working on your own and then presenting problems, instead of appearing as a genius, you might appear as very offensive. Collaborating with others will give you a good sense of history as well as who worked on these things. You can adjust the tone of your message to suit your audience.

Focus on Scenarios

Whether you’re doing an expert review or user testing, always focus your research around your personas and scenarios. You might even focus it around the user journey (or the user’s touchpoints with the company from first to last transactions).

Start with an Expert Review

When looking to improve findability, it’s important to first diagnose your findability problems with an expert review. While user testing will give you great information on findability problems, an expert review and highlight more intricate or more detailed findability problems.

When doing an expert review for findability, here are some things you can examine:

Rabbit Holes

From the content inventory, what does the hierarchy of the site look like? If the hierarchy is too deep, users might feel like they’ve gone down a rabbit hole. Or, if they come to your site from an internet search, they might feel that they’ve landed deep in a rabbit hole!

Note that even if site uses adaptive content (or content built on-the-fly based on the persona), then you’ll want to review the content inventory based on persona. If the content is built based on persona and product/service, I suggest picking a few combinations to see what the hierarchy. You can pick personas and products based on the more important combinations


From going through the site, look at the navigation supports.

  • What kind of global and local navigation is there?
  • Are there breadcrumbs to give context?
  • Are there inline links to other relevant content?
  • Are there related links to support finding related information?
  • Is there any metadata or taxonomy displayed to find related information?
  • Is the information displayed based on metadata and taxonomy useful? (I.e. Do the related products or topics show taxonomically related items?)

These items all support findability of related content. A user might not arrive at the right page on your site, but hopefully the design of the page allows them to find the related (and right) content.

Different Devices

Findability is impacted through using different devices. I like to use the terms “small screen,” “medium screen,” and “large screen” instead of mobile, tablet, and desktop. You can approach this expert review in two different ways: you can do the same scenarios on the different devices, or you can do device specific scenarios on the different devices. Sometimes you may know enough about your user’s routines on different devices to make this effective. Other times you may not know enough about the different routines and need to use the same scenarios on the different devices.

User Testing to Diagnose Findability

User testing can help you determine problems with findability. Focus your testing around scenarios to see if the users can successfully move through the scenarios to find the knowledge they are looking for.

While a lot of user testing can focus on interactions, when you’re working on findability you’ll need to focus on content usability. If you’ve given a user a scenario, you might find that they’ll browse or search for the information. Instead of just making sure that they have found the right page, you can ask them if they understand the content, if they can find related content, and ask them what different techniques are available to find the right piece of content.

Measuring Usability gives a few different ways to measure findability including: 1) the user is able to find the right thing; 2) the time it took to find the right thing and; 3) the difficulty of finding the item.

Putting It All Together

Once you’ve finished the expert review and user testing, you can put it all together to rank the findability problems. At this point, you’re still not trying to solve the problems, but you are making a list of all the problems and ranking them in terms of severity and difficulty to solve. Remember that items that are severe might also be very difficult to solve. Picking off the low-hanging fruit can make for some easy wins and fast usability improvements.

What to Know More?

If you’d like to know more, you can follow Key Pointe’s Company Page on LinkedIn or you can contact me for a free, one-on-one, 15 minute phone call to get a more solid understanding and direction to more resources.