How to improve your SEO with the 3-click rule

Improve your website user experience by making it easier for visitors to find the content they are looking for within 3 clicks. Here's why the 3-click rule is important, and what you can do to apply it.
4 Feb, 2020

What is the 3-click rule?

If you have a lot of content on your website, it can be difficult for visitors to find if it gets buried within a complex site hierarchy. If the content isn’t readily available in your website navigation, sidebar / footer links, or from links within your main pages, then you might be relying on search engines to deliver traffic directly to those pages.

You might think this is ok, but you write great content and so you should really maximise it’s visibility for anyone who visits your website.

Some commentators suggest that all of your content should be available within 3 clicks by anyone landing on your website. More specifically, they say that this is 3 clicks from any main landing page, but your home page is a good place to start as a good proportion of your visitors will most likely arrive there first.

First thing to say is that this is not a ‘one rule fits all’ thing. You might like to see it as a common sense target to move towards.

There might be perfectly good reasons why some older, perhaps out-of-date, content doesn’t deserve pride of place on your site. Some ecommerce pages might be just out of reach of those 3 clicks. For example, visitor lands on your home page, clicks to visit the shop, clicks to choose a product, clicks to go to your cart, clicks to pay etc. Even then, though, you could optimise your checkout process to make it simpler for visitors to get to making their payment. That’s another blog post though!

So you might want to view this rule rather as a guideline – something to generally think about and work towards, without sweating the detail.

How can the 3-click rule improve my SEO?

Website visitors aren’t that patient. Very few visitors will bother staying on a website too long, clicking through loads of pages to find the thing they want. You might be tracking average pages per visit in your Google Analytics. Whilst getting users to view several pages on your site, rather than bouncing straight away from their landing page, might seem attractive, bear in mind that they might be visiting multiple pages because they are having difficulty finding what they want. That’s not good. You want your visitor to take the action you have in mind for them as quickly as possible.

Search engines frequently implement what are called ‘crawl budgets’. These determine the number of pages they will crawl on your site at any one time. For small sites, this may not be problematic. For larger sites, or sites that dynamically generate content based on url parameters, it might mean that some content keeps getting missed because search engines stop crawling your site before they reach it.

So, putting content out of reach, beyond 3 clicks, may not be a good idea.

My XML Sitemap contains all of my content – right?

Probably, but search engines will still limit the pages they crawl, and they will prioritise their crawling based on the priorities you specify in the sitemap. So this may not guarantee that everything gets crawled.

In any case, the main objective here is to make sure that real visitors can get to all of your site content without having to work too hard.

What steps can I take to bring all of my content within 3 clicks of my home page?

Site search

If your visitor knows the sort of thing they are looking for, a good site search option might be helpful. This is good where you really do have a lot of content on your site. It won’t help your site crawalability, but it is really helpful to visitors and will help you achieve the 3 click rule.

Make sure that you have an attractive search results page. Some default theme templates (thinking WordPress here) don’t always deliver search results in a friendly way for users. We have custom-built our search page template using the Divi theme.

There are some plugins (sorry – WordPress again!) that can help with organising and prioritising search terms, to deliver better results, and which can also keep a log of terms searched for. This might be particularly useful in identifying content that is more popular than you thought, and which you might want to make more readily available.

Screenshot of a stylish search results page on a WordPress site

Stylish search results page in a WordPress + Divi site

Better pagination for archive pages

Whilst it’s useful for visitors viewing your archive pages to be able to go forward and back one page at a time, they often have no idea how many pages of content there are. We changed our own pagination to allow visitors to jump to specific archive pages, rather than just go back and forth one at a time. This doesn’t particularly help visitors – as they won’t know that the content they need is on page 7 – but it does let them know how much content there is. If they are looking for something from some time ago, they might just choose to jump the end and work forward. 

This will help the 3-click rule though, which might lead to search engines crawl your site more efficiently.

Screenshot showing how pagination can achieve the 3 click rule

The use of wp-pagenavi plugin in WordPress archive pagination

Use your sidebars

Sidebars aren’t the height of fashion right now. If used wisely, though, they can give your visitors quick links to categories of content that might interest them. We recently added a list of our blog categories to the top of our sidebar on our blog archive pages. This should help visitors home in on the content that interests them.

Careful with your splash pages

You know the sort of thing. You arrive at a website only to be presented with a full screen image of a random office block somewhere, and a button that says ‘Enter the site’.

That’s already asking the visitor to take one further action BEFORE they can actually see your website.

It might have been fashionable 10 years ago, but it never was a good idea even then. So, if your site still uses a splash page in this way… probably a good idea to bin the page.

To summarise

Consider whether your best content is available easily to your website visitors. Will they find it without too many clicks? Can you change your navigation, or introduce category lists in your sidebar, to help them out?

Don’t over think this! It’s just a ‘good practice’ measure that might just help you to help more of your visitors. If you help your visitors, Google will like you!

If you have any techniques for exposing more of your content to visitors, please let us know by dropping a comment below.

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