1. I think one factor that may not have started this myth, but certainly propagated it, is “home page politics”. That is, various stakeholders fighting over real estate on the home page (or anywhere they perceive to be prominent) created this hierarchical economy.

    Top of the hierarchy is the home page, getting less valuable as you move down the page. Then comes being in in the main nav, and so on and so forth.

    So being within a few clicks was seen as highly valuable, and quoting the three click rule became a bargaining chip.

    Of course, smart people would look at web traffic stats and find where the people they want to target are *actually* going, then put their stuff there…instead of blindly aiming for the home page or within three clicks of it.

    • James Robertson

      @Patrick, agree completely! Everyone wants to have *their* stuff on the homepage, citing that “it won’t be found otherwise”. Of course, with the poor state of most site’s information architecture, they may well be right…

  2. This is spot on!

    The ‘three clicks’ myth can become a heavy burden on websites, intranets and their content teams. It can turn the top two levels of sites into lists of links without appropriate organisational principles or context, thereby reducing their effectiveness and usability.

  3. John Chifley

    With a large and exceedingly complex intranet providing information about a sophisticated financial product “three clicks” is just not possible. The menus are long enough as it is. Thanks for this article, it’s very helpful.

  4. Florian Nachreiner

    Really good article! The 7 +/-2 rule, which as mentioned is equally questionable, and the 3-click-rule complement each other rather nicely. With a certain amount of content, it just becomes mathematically impossible to comply with both those rules, i.e. only have 7 items to choose from on each page, but also have a structure in place that’s only 3 levels deep. What the existence of both those myths can show us though, is the importance of getting the balance of horizontal and vertical right within an Information Architecture. I am simplifying a bit, aiming the 3 clicks mainly at vertical and the 7 items at horizontal, but well.

    Also I wanted to mention Hick’s law here, which demonstrates the effect a higher number of items has, on the time the selection process takes. Less clicks (e.g. only 3 instaed of 6) meaning more links on one page meaning more time for finding the right one, meaning it could potentially be quicker to make a faster decision 6 times than making a slower one three times. This can help to mathematically prove it…

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Published December 17, 2009

James Robertson
James Robertson is the Managing Director of Step Two, the global thought leaders on intranets, headquartered in Sydney, Australia. James is the author of the best-selling books Essential intranets, Designing intranets and What every intranet team should know. He has keynoted conferences around the globe. (Follow him on Twitter)