Does Content Suffer from the 3-Click Rule?

Stop Counting Clicks

TOKYO - OCTOBER 23:  A model display T-Rex, di...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Back in the dim dawn of website design, there was an unwritten rule -Don’t burying information more than three mouse-clicks away.  That 3-click rule has long since been disputed (here , here , here , here , and here ).

The number of clicks isn’t what is important to users, but whether or not they’re successful at finding what they’re seeking.(here )

The guiding principal instead should be make all clicks easy/obvious!  If the user knows she’s clicking the right option on a given navigation page, and that option was obvious (not cluttered with 30 other clickable options) she’s got a growing confidence she’s on the right track and will keep clicking (provided subsequent options are also obvious).

What’s This Have To Do With Content?

Content can be separated into bite-sized bits that a customer navigates to on the website, or it can be grouped into larger documents (multi-chapter user guides, etc).  We can group content because it’s all related information, which is a good thing, but when the presentation of that grouped content becomes too difficult to scan and navigate through, we are no longer helping our readers.

So when we decide what goes into a user guide, are we basing this decision on how much that content really needs to co-exist? Or are we grouping it together under a vague title (like user guide vs administration guide) that is forcing our readers to make a vague choice?

Looking a map

Image via Wikipedia

And how much of that choice is driven by this old rule that we don’t want extra clicks to get to our content.  Once they open the guide, that’s it, right?

Fast, Easy Clicks Trump the 3-Click Rule

As content creators, we need to understand how the user experience guidelines have changed and adapt our content accordingly. As part of that, we need to look not only at our grouping, but the clarity of what is hidden under that grouping.  Will a reader know to look in the vague ‘user guide’ vs the equally vage ‘operations guide’? Would they be better served by an extra few mouse clicks that navigate deeper and allow us to ungroup some of that content and raise visibility of what was hidden?  These are our decisions to make, in association with the UE design folks to optimize our reader’s choices and fast scanning decisions to find the content they are looking for.


About Sandra Durham

Information architect and content strategist.
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