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Chinese Whispers and The Three Click Rule

Chinese Whispers and The Three Click Rule

Clichés aren’t what they used to be.  And on the web over the years we’ve had more hackneyed urban myths than most.  Remember the timeless “launching a website opens you up to a global market”?  Who can forget the classic “on the web no one knows you’re a dog”?  In recent times an old friend has been making a bit of a comeback which is “the Three Click Rule”.

Our sales meeting was coming to a close.  The communications people on the client side had grilled us on all the usual important things.  They wanted to know that our hosting was robust and scalable.  They were keen to know that our designers understood brand and how it applied to their online presence.  Their IT people gave our programmers and network engineers a good honest workout regarding the site technology and content management system.  Just when we thought we had dealt with the business of the day, with no warning, we got the killer question “will the site obey the Three Click Rule?”

We knew exactly what they were talking about.  We’d heard of the Three Click Rule many times before, indeed this unquestioned law of web design has been around nearly as long as the other clichés.  For those of you wondering what it is, the Three Click Rule states simply that every piece of information on your website should be accessible within three clicks from any other piece of information.

The Three Click Rule is dangerous because it sounds plausible.  Its unchallenged wisdom at first glance seems like a good idea.  However The Three Click Rule is total nonsense.  It’s a sure fire way to frustrate your customers and halve your website’s potential.  It totally misses the point of what your site is about.

I’d like to introduce you to the brother of the Three Click Rule, he’s called the Zero Click Rule.  Now he’ll get you results.  He states that you find out the things which are most important to your customers and you prioritise those and only those things, above everything else.  This information should be found within zero clicks on your website, i.e. on the home page.

These rules also have a sister.  She’s called the One Click Rule, and whilst she’s not as powerful as brother Zero, she has her place and works efficiently on behalf of users who visit her sites.  She says you need to identify the top 30% of information which your customers want and ensure that it is no more than one click off your home page.

Zero and One have disowned the rest of the family.  Two and three no longer talk to them.  But Zero and One recognise the absolute necessity of prioritising and organising your content around the needs of your customers.  And that means making the path to different types of content easier or more involved depending on what type of content it is.

Why can I be so sure about this?  Because the world’s most successful websites implement it to perfection.  Google understands the Zero Click Rule to the nth degree.  What is their users core task?  Search.  How many clicks do you require to complete a search?  None – it’s there waiting for you.

Google understands the danger in the Three Click Rule.  Imagine they organised all of their various products (e.g. search / email / maps / blogs / videos) with equal priority, all neatly filed in the three click system.  If you had to click three times to get to search you would quickly start using another search engine.

The same with Amazon; every aspect of the home page is about buying books.  On everything is about purchasing cheap flights.  On E–Bay it is about buying and selling product.  On it is about getting your groceries to your door.  And so on.

Think of the madness of trying to implement a Three Strides Rule in your office, filing everything in your office within three steps of your desk.  It’s because it’s crazy that you have your key files and information to hand on your desk, you have less common items in filing cupboards around your desk, and your audited accounts from 2002 you have stored in the attic.  The Three Strides Rule would turn your office into a mess.  And the Three Click Rule will turn your website into a mess.

Focussing on the Three Click Rule is missing the point.  Your site navigation has a direct bearing on the commercial effectiveness of your site.  If your approach to navigation is giving all your content (relevant and irrelevant, frequently updated or rarely viewed) the same priority then you will be letting down your customers and your company.  Take time to understand your customers and their needs, and serve them by embracing the Zero Click Rule and the One Click Rule.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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