Every Click Counts

Do the number of clicks a user has to make on your site still matter in the age of broadband?

In the early days of the web when dial up ruled, every click counted.

As web designers we were obsessed with reducing the number of clicks it took users to get to the information they required. After all, every click probably meant at least a 10 second wait while the page loaded.

Things changed when broadband came along. As pages loaded faster so we became more relaxed about the number of clicks required. In testing we discovered that users didn’t care about the number of clicks as long as they were confident in their choices. A clear information hierarchy became more important than the number of clicks.

However, I believe that things are once more changing and that the actual effort of additional clicks is proving an annoyance in certain circumstances.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that we need to return to flat information architectures to ensure the minimum number of clicks. There is no reason to believe that users notice additional clicks when casually navigating an informational website that they only visit once in a while.

When extra clicks matter

The problem is with apps, both native and online. The unique characteristics of apps is that they are used repeatedly. An extra click here and there isn’t a big deal if only carried out intermittently. However, if you are using the application regularly additional clicks soon mount up and become annoying.

A case study in click fatigue

Take for example Evernote on the iPad. I love Evernote. In fact I have written before that if I could only have one application in the world it would be Evernote. That said, it is not perfect and one example of this is unnecessary clicks.

When editing a document in Word, you launch the document and then simply click where you wish to edit. However, things are more complicated in Evernote. Instead of clicking the location in a note where you would like to edit, you have to first click a small edit icon. After you have done that you must click the field you wish to edit and then the location within the copy.

As you can imagine this becomes irritating when using Evernote multiple times a day. Its even more irritating because it doesn’t follow the convention you see in other text editors. The additional clicks are therefore all the more obvious.

The aim of this post is not to criticise Evernote. Instead I wish to draw your attention to the importance of minimising clicks on websites or applications that are used on a regular basis. Small issues become increasingly annoying when encountered regularly.

Although time has moved on, the number of clicks still matters.

  • BTW, If you have stories of painful interfaces due to unnecessary steps then please post them. Its interesting to hear.

  • I think the click issue mentioned has never gone out of fashion.

    But I would like to add waiting for a page to load after a click is very relevant again with mobile. I don’t know about the UK but in the Netherlands loading times of 10 seconds are regular. So every click counts not just for apps.

    • You are spot on to talk about mobile. I should have mentioned that in my post. Mobile is a great example of why we should still think about the number of clicks.

      That said, I think page load time is the bigger issue. Reducing the number of clicks can create its own problems on mobile because it leads to a flat IA with long lists of menu items that users have to scroll through.

      • The problem with the click rule has always been trying to reduce the clicks for the sake of the ‘rule’ to a number that doesn’t work. Navigation should be simple but not be over simplified. For mobile we shouldn’t fall in that trap again. Long lists of menu items are indeed not a pleasant experience. It’s up to us to find new ways to navigate (on mobile).

        I agree on the page load time being the bigger issue here. The two go hand in hand.

  • The fewest clicks seems the most sensible approach, get the user to the info they need in the quickest way possible but depending circumstances/level of complexity of the app/site it may be advantageous to UX to add additional clicks to present info a more in a more easily digestible way

  • I would argue that we’ve moved past the age of broadband, on to the age of mobile if you will, which once again adds an extra dimension to clicks (mainly page loads) when your connection might not be super fast and you’re on the move.

    Enjoyed the article, and the podcast feature made me subscribe. It was a lot of fun listening to the article while watching your grimace on the left side.

  • Smart architecture always wins, but in my mind and experience, we shouldn’t obsess with “fewer clicks”. We should obsess with getting to the right information. Even on my phone I’d click 5 times to get the info I want …