The 3-click rule for navigation
The 3-click rule was created to encourage web designers to design easily navigable websites that allow users to find their desired information in the fewest clicks possible. This rule assumes users will get frustrated if they don’t find the desired information within three clicks and will then abandon your website.
Usability tests challenge this so-called rule and have actually proven that three is an arbitrary number. There is no evidence to support the 3-click rule, and it’s now widely recommended that rather than focusing on following the three-click rule, designers should dedicate their efforts to creating a proper, well-organized navigation and user flow.
Origins of the 3-click rule
The 3-click rule was created in 2001 by Jeffrey Zeldman, an American entrepreneur, web designer, author, podcaster, and speaker who believed that the most important information should take no more than three clicks to access. He maintained that if a user was unable to find their desired information within three clicks, then they were likely to move on to another website.
While this rule does encourage designers to create websites and apps that are easy to navigate, the number of clicks has not been found to be a reliable gauge of user experience. There are many aspects of a website that give more weight to usability, such as the navigation structure (e.g. the use of a mega menu for websites with deep information architectures).
Studies that challenge the 3-click rule
There are many studies that challenge and dispute the 3-click rule. Here are just a few.
Usability tests demonstrate that visitors on a site don’t get frustrated after three clicks. It’s not actually the number of clicks that matter, but rather the presentation and appropriately labeled information.
In 2003, Joshua Porter’s study, “Testing the 3-Click Rule”, demonstrated that a user’s abandon rate did not increase when the task involved more than three clicks and that the number of clicks had no impact on user experience and satisfaction.
Jakob Nielsen’s usability tests found that “users’ ability to find products on an e-commerce site increased by 600 percent after the design was changed so that products were 4 clicks from the homepage instead of 3”. This finding debunks the myth that the number three holds any unique significance when it comes to usability.