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The 3-Click Rule for Website Design

Too often, businesses tend to view their websites as a repository of information, a library for the brand if you will, adding as much information as humanly possible to try and ‘educate’ the audience. It is just as easy to fall into the entertainment trap, adding picture after picture, feature after feature, and video after video in an attempt to impress your visitors. Yes, educating your audience is important. Yes, entertaining your audience is important. But, leaning too far to one side can either mean a boring website or one that takes ages to load.

I always like to say that a website should be seen as your virtual shop floor. Similarly to how the shopping experience is paramount in a physical store, so too should the experience take centre stage when deciding on the structure and design of your website.


So, how exactly do you build a website focused on user experience? In this post, I break down what the 3-Click Rule is, what it has to do with user experience and give you practical tips on how to apply this rule to your website. Let’s begin!



What is the 3-Click Rule?

To really understand the 3-Click Rule, we need to first understand what user flow is. As explained by Optimizely, “User flow is the path taken by a prototypical user on a website or app to complete a task.” Building your website according to the 3-Click Rule means that your user flows should take no more than 3 clicks to complete. I understand that this might sound difficult, or even impossible in some instances, but the reason behind the rule comes down to effort and value.


Effort And Value: Your Guiding Compass in the Digital Space

Success in the digital space is often measured by engagement; how many people commented, how many people clicked, how many people submitted their details, how many people made a purchase, etc. In order for you to get the level of engagement that you need to meet your goals, you need to ask something of your audience. Register, like, comment, buy, share, and more. To get the engagement your call to action (CTA) asks something of your user - you need your user to exert effort. Whether this is on your website, your emails, or in the social space, remember that the value you give is the value you get and the less effort required of your audience, the higher the probability that they would engage. This creates two situations:

  1. Low effort should be required for a low-value outcome for the user.

  2. High effort could be required for a high-value outcome for the user.

Keeping this in mind when designing your user flow will help you maximize the engagement on your call to action.


While you can make the user flow a bit more complicated for something that is of high value to the user, it is encouraged to keep the user flow as simple as realistically possible.


How do I design my site using the 3-Click Rule?

As explained above, a user flow is a path taken by a prototypical user. This means that you need to plot the user flow for each of the different kinds of users that will be visiting your site. Essentially, each of these users will have a different reason for visiting your site and have a specific ideal outcome associated with that visit.


How do I build these prototypical user profiles?

It is important to understand that you are not looking at a customer profile, you are looking at a user profile. Where a customer profile is determined by data such as their income, where they live, their age, gender, affinities, etc. a user profile looks at:

  • where they are in the customer life cycle

  • what they want to achieve by visiting your website

And more often than not, the first influences the second.


Applying the 3-Click Rule - Examples

Discussing the 3-Click Rule is also a great opportunity to touch on the importance of a multi-channel marketing process. As Marketing Evolution explains it: “Multi-channel refers to the use of several media channels for spreading marketing messages. This can include email, social media, print, mobile, display ads, television, and more.


One of the main reasons why a multi-channel marketing process is so important for the success of the 3-Click Rule (and ultimately your aim of offering a great user experience on your site) is the fact that it allows you to speak to your different user profiles in the context which is most relevant to them. BUT, for you to fully leverage the benefits that a multi-channel marketing process has to offer your website, you need to make use of different landing pages for the different channels and the different campaigns that you run for the different user profiles that you target. Why? Because it means that your user profile enters your website at a point that is more relevant to their purpose on your site, requiring fewer clicks for them to complete their user flow.

Let me explain this better with examples.


The Retailer

You are launching a new women’s shoe as part of your winter collection. You start marketing your shoe on social media and in your weekly newsletter. The page to which the marketing messages takes the user is dedicated to the shoe that you are marketing. On the page, the user can click on a button to add the shoe to their cart, once added the checkout page automatically loads with an option to go back and shop some more. The user then creates a profile or logs in with one click (making use of social login integration), make profile changes or add information on the final page, and presses complete purchase.


The Webinar

The user can either enter the website on a landing page that is dedicated to webinar information and registration, or the location of the webinar registration page is clearly visible from the home page or website menu. Again, it takes one click (two at most) to register for the webinar, and the user receives the confirmation email with relevant information and reminders via email. Accessing the webinar should be just as easy as registering (if not easier!).


The Service Business

Again, the user can either enter your website on a landing page that is relevant to the specific service that they were looking for or you can have the services clearly indicated on the home page or website menu. The option of getting in touch with a representative should be visible at all times or, at least, clearly indicated, and signing up for your services should also be easy.


The same framework can be applied to users who visit your site to download your eBook, sign up for your newsletter, read your blog post, complete a feedback form, etc.


Take Note

It is important to remember that a user can go through several different user flows in one visit. A user flow in this context should be designed with the end result in mind - what does the user want to achieve by visiting your website? Applying the 3-Click Rule to your user flows means that you need to plan your user flows according to the end result and design your website to facilitate these user flows. What’s more, understanding where the user is in the customer lifecycle when going through the user flow will enable you to include information that the user will find relevant and of value.


How does this impact my home page?

More often than not (and assuming minimal influence from factors such as SEO, paid promotions, partnerships, and leveraging keywords), when looking at your website traffic, you will see that your home page gets the most amount of visitors per month compared to your other pages. This means that your home page is generally the first point of entry for most of your visitors. Apart from including a clear (but short) description of who you are, applying the 3-Click Rule to your home page effectively means that you need to assess your user flows and create an opportunity for the user to enter those user flows from the home page.


Conclusion

As tempting as it may be, your website is not the place for your business to shine. When designing your website, the experience that the user has should take centre stage and bombarding users with information or showing off with tons of videos does not help you achieve that goal.

A good user experience leads to increased engagement with your brand, and creating a good user experience means that the value you give the user should equal to or be more than the effort required of the user to get it. Herein lies the secret and importance of the 3-Click Rule - planning and designing the user flow of your website in such a way that the user can complete the user flow in as few clicks as possible.

To effectively build these kinds of user flows, you need to understand the different prototypical user profiles of the users that visit your website. Essentially, looking at where they are in the customer life cycle and what they want to achieve by visiting your website.


Your user flows should be built around outcomes (purchases, brand education, registrations, sign-ups, etc.) and one user can go through more than one user flow per visit.


I feel it important to state (or add a disclaimer rather) that there really is no hard or fast rule as to the specific number of clicks that a user flow should contain. Similar to the Rule of 7, it's the principle that is important, not the number itself. Now, I know that we have been speaking about 3 clicks specifically throughout this post, but I hope that you were able to pick up on the principle behind the rule that is more important than the number itself - making the user flow as easy and uncomplicated for the user as possible.


In the end, you need to remember that placing the user at the centre of your website design means creating a website that is easy to use and easy to understand - it’s not about you, it’s about your user! What’s more, websites were never meant to be static, unchanging spaces. Physical stores regularly change their layout to make the experience better for the customer, and so should you with your website.