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A Guide to the 3-Click Rule

Think of why you are redesigning the website in the first place. Oftentimes, one reason users leave the site is because of their frustration of not being able to find what they are looking for. Why bother when you can find the information on other sites, right? Navigation is a critical aspect you cannot overlook during a website redesign. There are no hard rules, only guidelines. One of these guidelines that any web design company in the Philippines is familiar with is the 3-click rule.

What is the 3-click rule?

The 3-click rule simply states that the visitor must be able to find the content (or information) that he or she is looking for within three clicks from anywhere on the site. For example, from the homepage to the services section (1st click), from the services section to search engine optimization (2nd click), and from SEO to PPC (3rd click). Each click must be regarded as one level of structure.

Why adhere to the 3-click rule?

Here’s a fact: Visitors are very impatient people that’s why they are on the web, not in the library or department store. These visitors have very short attention spans. They expect to find what they are looking for in the fastest time possible. And the ‘fastest time’ may mean NOW! While it may depend on the patience and whether you are in a hurry or not, the average user will not bother beyond three clicks.

Not to mention, simple and straightforward websites are easier to navigate than large and complex ones. If ever you are wondering why your bounce rates are so high, perhaps, analyze the website structure. The fewer levels, the higher the click-through rates, and the longer the dwell time (the length of time a visitor stays on your site).

Put it this way. How many clicks does it take before you get frustrated? What happens next when you get frustrated with the site? Go somewhere else. Period. So, would you rather lose your potential clients to your rivals because they cannot find what they are looking for on your website? Of course, you wouldn’t!

Can we break the 3-click rule?


Mention the 3-click rule in a room that is full of web designers and developers, and more than 50% of them will frown at the idea. Nonetheless, all will agree that the fewer the clicks required, the better. They just don’t want to be tied to the rule since it limits creativity.

Indeed, the rule is a reasonable goal, but trying too hard enforcing it may lead to other bigger problems. A case in point is the studies that challenge the rule:

Main findings: Users do not necessarily quit after three clicks. They also don’t feel frustrated whenever they have to make more than three clicks. The rule is a well-intentioned but misdirected rule.

Main findings: Every click must take the user closer to the content. As much as possible, non-destination must be eliminated more so because not all visitors start with the homepage.

For the opponents, it would be better to worry about the mistakes that the users might encounter than worrying about the number of clicks. Steve Krug even said,

if the navigation is intuitive and if the path from general to specific information makes sense, then the users will forgive the number of clicks.

For some designers, however, the rule essentially forces them to release and let their creative juices flow. It will be very challenging to fit everything in just three clicks, requiring them to keep the overall website structure within three levels.

Let’s admit it. Complying with the rule is not always possible. So, to answer the question, it would be safe to say that YES we can break the rule. As mentioned earlier, this is not a hard rule that must be strictly followed at all times.

Some websites such as e-commerce sites have several pages, providing a link for each at the homepage is nearly impossible. Even if possible, your users will only get frustrated sifting through hundreds of links until they find what they are looking for, that is, if they haven’t already left your site. So, the 3-click rule may not necessarily be a realistic objective for large sites.

What you can do is to group similar sets of contents (and thus links) together. Next, organize the contents into categories from general to specific. This is just one way of strategizing to comply with the rule. Another way is to stop counting clicks.

Where is the 3-click rule headed?


Here are some points to ponder:

1) Not all clicks are created equal. They are not the same.

2) Ease of navigation is the topmost priority. It improves user satisfaction.

3) Competition sites are only a click away.

The popular belief is that people will leave your site if they don’t find what they are seeking in just three clicks hence the 3-click rule. Many had challenged such a belief and come up with the conception that the rule doesn’t really account for a good user experience (UX). This may or may not be true since the rule is contextual in nature. This will depend on the user, what he or she is looking for and how much time he or she is willing to devote to the search.

With this argument, the bottom line is to eliminate all the distractions and minimize the number of clicks so the user may find the information quickly. Hopefully, the gap between starting the search and completing the task is short enough to fit within the user’s allotted time in doing a search.

For the sake of arguing, we are not even including mobile in the equation. So, what if the user is searching for information using a mobile device and while waiting in a queue at the grocery store? Since they are doing the search during ‘snatched’ times, most often than not, they are not willing to click away until they find the information. And if they know that the information is available on other websites, they will leave your site and go to that site instead.

This leaves us to the conclusion that if possible, stick to the 3-click rule. It improves search and enhances UX. However, if it is not possible, don’t force it. It would be enough to make the clicks easy and easily comprehensible to the users. Make clicking intuitive to the users. The rule is as simple as that. After all, the rule is not applicable to all websites, but it is here to stay and renders itself useful whenever applicable.

Image credits: ChapterEight.com | Emarketing.pl | Receptional.com

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