The three click myth
17 October 2012
Phil debunks the myth of the three click rule.
I’ve lost count of the number of website briefs and tenders I’ve received which specify the “Three Click Rule” ; “no page should be more than three clicks from the homepage.”
And without fail, I think – where the hell did that come from?
It’s just not appropriate for many sites. It might seem like common sense at first glance but it’s artificial, more about what a site owner thinks users might like to do, rather than what they actually do.
It’s a bit like a road planner saying let’s simplify driving to London by only allowing the driver to turn three times. Nice if you have cruise control but a total bummer if you’re picking your brother up from Coventry on the way.
Don’t get me wrong, I admire the spirit in which this rule was created – a classic “Keep It Simple, Stupid” approach. That kind of thinking was very important when we were all on dial up and 56k modems were still an upgrade too far, paying by the minute and hogging the phone line until your cohabiters started shouting up the stairs.
But that was 1998 guys! Sure, there are a small minority on slow connections, but by far, the vast majority are not. Even the glut of mobile only users are on 3g, very soon to be 4g.
No, let’s debunk this three click rule.
Firstly, The consequence of imposing a 3 click rule is an internet full of sites no deeper than 4 levels. Personally, I wouldn’t fancy telling Facebook, Amazon or EBay that they’ve got it wrong. This “3 click” approach actually leads to one of the cardinal sins of web design: putting everything on the main navigation.
Secondly, three clicks assumes that every user journey has similar purpose, intent and that all users know what they are looking for. And that whatever that might be, it’s on one page only and other pages are of no interest. Not so.
Thirdly, search has come a long way. If a user is interested in something buried deep in that page 6 sections deep in your site, chances are their specific 5 word search query will link them straight to that content.
Finally - that user journeys of over 4 pages are bad.
Are you kidding?! Try actually sitting with a user some time. Rarely is the sound of mouse microswitches one of annoyance. Rather its one of engagement. People like to click, providing the experience is relevant, worthwhile and useful.
In conclusion, the number of clicks is largely irrelevant. A user experience should be simple, clear, relevant, worthwhile and if possible, enjoyable. Think twice before imposing artificial constraints on interface design.
1. Sit with a user, as they try to use your site. Resist the urge to help, but note when they get stuck. Fix that problem
2. Take a look at your analytics. Find three landing pages deep in your site which are popular. Improve them, perhaps add some more content.
3. Count items on your main nav. If there are more than eight, you probably got it wrong. Simplify it.