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    The Great 3 Click Website Hoax

    'People must have access to all content on your website within three clicks or they'll simply leave.'

    Imagine if this rule applied to retail shops; 'you must be able to touch what you want to buy within three steps of walking into a shop or you will leave.' How hard would it be for any business to thrive?

    So why do people keep falling for the 3 click web design myth?

    Perhaps it all started out innocently - a frustrated user throwing up her arms demanding to know why she can't find the answers within a few clicks. Or an equally frustrated developer unable to work out a client's site navigation and wanted to drop half of it.

    3 clicks to midnight

    Do you really believe that every fourth mouse click is a red X closing your website if your user can't find the right answer? That it's better to stick with three clicks forcing your website to have navigation which is over-crowded and doesn't make sense? Is the deciding factor the supposed '75% of visitors that will leave after three clicks if they can't what they were looking for?

    It shouldn't be.

    In 2003, User Interface Engineering (UIE) undertook a study to find out if users really do leave after three clicks. They looked at data from 44 users attempting 620 tasks, recording the clicks of every task and whether the user succeeded or failed at finding what they were after. In total they analysed more than 8000 clicks. They should have seen a drop off in users after their third click, or that users taking more than three clicks to accomplish a task would be unsatisfied.

    But they didn't.

    Instead their "analysis showed that there wasn't any more likelihood of a user quitting after 3 clicks than after 12...hardly anybody gave up after three clicks." In fact as they proceeded to analyse their data comparing successful and unsuccessful experiences they saw that "it isn't until 15 clicks that we see 80% of our tasks completed....the number of clicks doesn't predict task success or failure."

    Misunderstood sentiment

    Certainly in the early days where the majority of users were on slow modems, having a three click rule made sense. Clicking cost a lot of time so keeping navigation short and to the point was the main goal. However the online world today is vastly different and as internet connections become faster, websites are becoming more complex and following this outdated rule is only hindering their progress.

    I certainly agree with the original sentiment; don't complicate your navigation unnecessarily because this will confuse your users and their frustration will cost you the sale.

    Your website needs to focus on quality not quantity.

    Quality navigation

    One of the most important first steps in creating a website should be the site structure. This is the spine of your website and it can make or break your success.

    It's a good idea to think about everything you want on your website and how it relates to each other. Yes this step is boring, but it's important! Make sure that you pay special attention to the point of your website and ensure that this comes across in your site's navigation.

    Some other great ideas to ensure your site is easy to navigate:

    • Use breadcrumb navigation so that your site users can see at a glance where they are and how to get back.
    • Always use sensible, meaningful and descriptive language for links, buttons and navigation items.
    • Keep related content together in your navigation, so that your site users can easily find it.
    • Place contact information in multiple places. Keep it easy to spot so if a user gets stuck, they can contact you.
    • Always include search functionality on your site (unless it is a very small site).
    • Include a site map on your website. This is a simple way to allow your users to quickly find what they are looking for.
    • Give each page a sensible and descriptive page name.
    • Pay attention if someone tells you your website is hard to use, find out why and fix it!

    SEO considerations

    Perhaps a 3 click rule was created with search engines in mind, as some impatient spiders may leave after crawling through just a few levels of your navigation. The idea being that the higher up the navigation the page is, the more relevance a search engine would give it.

    While this largely doesn't hold true these days, it is a good idea to keep your most important and relevant content in the higher level navigation. However don't despair if this isn't possible. Search engines will find any discoverable content on your site. And you can always submit any content which you feel is important directly to search engines to ensure that these pages are also discovered.

    This blog was written by AnneMarie Wilkes from Shard Web Design.

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