I’ve seen a lot of websites. A lot. More than I care to admit. Sometimes I dream about websites. It’s not fun.
But scarier than dreaming about websites is seeing a website that has terrible organization. Buttons that are out of place, menus that explode off the screen, and images that stretch to make a church home page look like Stretch Armstrong.
We’re all guilty of it. That’s why, when I talk to a church, I always stress the importance of the user experience (UX).
Are they able to find the information they need without having to go through too much trouble? Can they find your service times? Do your videos take forever to load?
In other words, how efficiently can a user interact with your site?
One time-and-tested unofficial web design rule that we utilize with all of our sites is the so-called “three click rule.” It’s not bulletproof, but it’s a great rule of thumb when we sit down and wireframe a site.
What is the Three Click Rule?
The three-click rule is a marketing theory that says your website visitors should be able to go to any page on your site inside of three clicks.
Want to hear a sermon? Three clicks.
Want to contact the church? Three clicks.
Want to read a blog? *Click* *Click* *Click*
The reason this rule was put in place to begin was because of the problems outlined earlier. With so much content on websites these days, trying to find what you’re looking for can be nearly impossible.
That applies double for churches who have nothing but content on their sites. Since churches are inherently a content-churning machine, it’s even more important that people are able to access the pages they need without too much trouble.
Does the Three Click Rule Still Mean Anything?
Despite the logical nature of the 3 click rule, not everyone’s on board with the concept. Some think that it’s unnecessarily restrictive, especially when talking about e-commerce stores that have thousands — if not millions — of product pages.
Others argue that it’s an outdated and irrelevant rule. Some studies on the three-click rule have shown that it may not be as important as it once was.
Still more people argue that the number of allowable clicks is actually closer to four. Fair enough, I’ll grant you an extra click.
The one caveat to all of these studies is that the emphasis needs to remain on usability. Websites aren’t just written for algorithms anymore — they’re written for humans. And humans need to be able to interact with your website.
Things like dwell time are absolutely a ranking factor for search engines like Google, so the more you can increase that, the better it’ll be.
How Do I Get My Sites Down to Only 3 Clicks?
If you’ve decided to improve your website navigation, good for you! Whether you stick with three mouse clicks or 30 (please don’t), streamlining your site is never a bad idea.
Here are a few questions that you should consider when you set out on this most noble of paths.
Does My Current Site Navigation Accurately Reflect My Site?
Take a look at your website’s navigation bar. It’s located near the top, and should provide quick access to virtually all of the pages on your site.
Does it accurately represent your content strategy? Or does it unintentionally hide areas of your site that you want to be front and center?
For instance, I’ve seen sites that have four different “media” tabs — blog, sermons, classes, podcast, etc — and no mention of the fantastic Bible correspondence course that they also have on their site. The course is designed to generate email signups, and yet it’s hidden. Why?
Think about the relevant content on your site that you want to see the most and make sure it’s adequately represented.
Is My Site Confusing?
Chances are, your site makes sense…to you. It should; you either designed it yourself, or had a hand in its web design.
But does it make sense to other people?
People pay big money to usability testing companies to allow screeners to give their honest opinion about their site. They track things like ease of use, analyze performance, and suggest changes.
You don’t need to do that, but you do need to ask for feedback. Ask people in your congregation to go through your site and perform a certain task (find a sermon, find service information, etc). See how easy it is for them.
Do I Have Broken Pages?
Orphan pages are created unto the order of Melchizadek. They are “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life” (Hebrews 7:3).
Or, more directly, they have no connections anywhere else. There are no links that take you to them, and there are no links on the page that take you anywhere else.
They just kind of…exist.
When people arrive at them (somehow), they’re unsure what to do with them. Where am I supposed to go?
Most sites have at least one orphan page or two. What is far more common, however, are pages that serve as dead ends. People arrive there and it is — quite literally — the end of the line.
You can use a service like Screaming Frog to export all the URLs on your site and make sure they’re adequately represented on your site. If you see one you don’t recognize, there’s a good chance that’s because you have no clear path to get there.
Don’t leave those broken pages on their own! Bring them in out of the cold, link them to your other pages, and you’ll shore up your navigation in no time.
The three-click rule is not really a rule per se. It’s more of a suggestion — a rule of thumb, if you will — to provide cleaner, more efficient navigation through your website.
Whether you actually implement it is up to you, but it at least gives you something to think about as you think about ways to improve your site.
And remember, the fewer clicks, the better.