The Myth of the 3-click Rule

How many times has a client or stakeholder told you that it takes too many clicks to get to a page? Or that they heard that users give up after 3 clicks?

Free Usability Advice has a handy article about this long-standing myth.

I love the idea of calling something like this a ‘false metric’ (sounds so much better than ‘a bunch of baloney’):

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.

This will go nicely alongside my rebuttal to the argument that users don’t like to scroll.

12 thoughts to “The Myth of the 3-click Rule”

  1. It really does drive me crazy when clients spout off random stats like that because some IT guy told them that once.
    It’s the whole idea of “97% of all statistics are made up.” It’s not about a specific number of clicks for any tasks. It’s about reducing the number of clicks to the absolute minimum for any given task.

  2. 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.

    That is the key imho. If its a smaller website, I agree that you should keep it within the 3 click rule.
    So I would say big ecommerce sites like eBay, Amazon etc, you would not worry about the 3 click rule but if it was this site or other ‘normal’ sites, stick with the 3 click rule.

  3. Me three. What arguments do you use against the scrolling issue? Sounds like your next blog post topic has been selected for you 🙂

  4. Re. whether users like to scroll, I should definitely write something longer on this.
    In a nutshell, clients often say to me that such and such information must be ‘above the fold’ otherwise users won’t see it.
    However, in all the user testing I’ve done, I’ve never found scrolling down long pages to be an issue.
    As long as it looks as if there is more content below the fold, users are perfectly happy to scroll down in order to see what’s there.
    It doesn’t even appear to be a conscious decision on their part to do this as it happens very ‘naturally’.
    Here are a couple of articles on the topic:
    * “Utilizing the Cut-off Look to Encourage Users To Scroll”:
    * “Balancing visual and structural complexity in interaction design”: (section on scrolling)

  5. I can’t entirely agree with the sentiment of this post. There is a good reason for the Rule of Threes in all aspects of design. Conversely, I would agree that putting too much emphasis on a Three Click Rule can threaten the integrity of a site. Just making sure that all pages are accessible within three clicks doesn’t give any assurances about the usability or “friendliness” of your site. It’s just not that simple, but to a visitor, it should seem that simple. (Aye, there’s the rub.) After all, there’s plenty of sites that are perfectly usable, with pages sometimes four or five (or more) clicks “deep”. The main difference is, the visitor is given clear direction on where to go next. It goes beyond mere structural design and into areas of semantics, context and general Rules of Style. (as in Chicago) That, I believe, is more of a true axiom in Web Design than anything else. The Rule of Threes would then be a secondary concern.- Doug da Geek

  6. Hmm, I’ve actually heard this myth in a very long time. I’ve always thought things like this were dumb, but they exist in every industry. I think the point to be made is to ensure that your visitors are catered to, and can find what they want quickly.
    Although the 3click rule can be handy if you need to argue against using some sort of crappy/complex navigation system.

  7. It may be a myth, but its a practical rule to go by for smaller sites. If you have a site under 20 pages, ideally you want to get a prospective client or customer from homepage to destination in just one or two clicks if possible. Unless you’re looking for an extremely specific part or service that requires narrowing down, I can’t help but see that you’d lose visitors if they have to click four or five times.

  8. Just to throw the cat amongst the pigeons :). I like information above the fold as im lazy and I also hate browsing through heaps of pages for the content im after. I think the 3 click rule is a good one to try and stick too.

  9. It’s certainly a good idea to minimize the number of clicks it takes for a visitor to get to their content.
    However, on larger sites this quickly becomes impossible to do — you simply can’t satisfy the differing needs of a large number of visitors within a couple of clicks.
    The point of this article is to say that it is better to have a well-constructed site that may involve several clicks to get to individual content than to try to make sure that everything is no more than three clicks away.
    As long as your visitors feel that they are heading in the right direction (i.e., the ‘scent of information’ is strong), the number of clicks they make (within reason) is irrelevant.
    This may seem somewhat counter-intuitive (especially to internal stakeholders). I’ve found it best to be able to draw upon user testing (which will confirm this myth) in order to add weight to your argument.

  10. i agree you should really not have to scroll very far on a page but with large sites this can be difficult im really starting to use images less and less but good navigation must be top of the list and you really need to do some usability testing even if it is just your friends

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