Q: Is it important that users be able to get to any content in a website within 3 clicks?

We hear at least weekly of companies enforcing the “rule” that users must be able to get to any page in the site within 3 clicks. There are several problems with this rule.

One problem is scalability. In very large or complex websites and web applications, the rule just doesn’t scale. If your website has several hundred or more pages, to expect users to be able to get to any one of those pages in 3 clicks means you may be overloading the global navigation structure, the number of links on a page, or other mechanisms for getting from page to page. Trying to make sense of all of that information at once takes users a long time.

The 3-click rule also is what we call a false metric. Making pages accessible within 3 clicks has no inherent value as a metric to the users of a site or to your business goals. What might matter, though, is efficiency (how quickly users can complete their tasks) or how easily users can find what they need. Do users have to call tech support or use other resources that cost the company money to find the information they need?

In a wonderful paper called Designing for the Scent of Information, User Interface Engineering notes that what users do expect is that every click makes them more confident they’re on the right trail to get to the information they need. As long as users are confident they’re heading in the right direction, then they are not likely to abandon the site if it takes a click or two more to get where they’re going.

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