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There are two rules of thumb that have sprung up in many designs that don't really have a background in research. Or rather they do, but that research is being misinterpreted. The first is that all content should be no more than three clicks away from the homepage or else visitors will lose interest. This just isn't true. Having watched literally thousands of people using websites I can say that sometimes visitors will lose interest on just the first page they see. Other times they will continue clicking through many pages of content. What makes the difference is how likely they think it is that they will find the information they are looking for. As we have mentioned already they clues they see in the navigation and the content on your site are what keep them moving forwards.
So it's important to provide them with a signpost that they need by creating good navigation labels and following those up with great headings, summaries, and other content within each page so that visitors are drawn through your site by a strong scent of information. The other concept you might have heard about is a Seven Plus or Minus Two rule. Applied to menus it states that menu should be no longer than nine items. Thus seven items plus or minus two items. This rule comes from psychological research into human memory. It refers to the number of items that we can hold in our short-term memory at one time.
Depending upon the task some people can hold as many as nine items, some people can only five, but most people, for most tasks, can hold about seven items. The interesting thing about the Seven Plus or Minus Two rule is that although it was never based on or designed for website menus it actually worked quite well. Once you get beyond seven or nine menu items, it gets harder for people to distinguish the item that they need. So even though you can't necessarily relate it back to the memory research it's a useful design rule to apply. Just don't be scared to break it every now and again. If you're going to have long menus it really helps if you can group the items into similar chunks and place separators between them.
That helps people quickly identify the relevant chunk and each chunk is likely to be less than seven plus or minus two items long. So don't worry about the three clicks concept. Instead make sure you always signpost where your content is. However, it's wise to limit your regular menus to no more than around seven items in the chunk in order to make it easier for visitors to parse the information and find the item they need.
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