Over the past few years we’ve noticed a pattern on the corporate websites we’ve worked on:
We’ve started calling this the two-click (or tap) rule: Most people will enter in the middle of your site, click (or tap) twice, then leave. Unlike the three-click rule there’s at least some evidence for it. 
The two-click rule has important implications for how we think about content and information architecture for corporate websites. Here are three issues that we’re grappling with on a project right now:
From the data we’re looking at, we now assume most people will enter a site in media res—in the middle of things—so our thinking about the site must start there too. And while this is not exactly a new idea for us , it presents a challenge for our information architecture practice. In the world of corporate websites it’s still quite common to focus on the home page, global navigation systems and questions like “what goes on the tabs?” No matter how data-driven our IA practice becomes, it might take years before executives grok this idea.
Instead of a site “tree” where everything connects to a main trunk, we’re starting to think of sites as collections of bushes. These are small, dense bundles of content that exist semi-autonomously. They’re connected through common design and, of course, hyper links, but the central trunk is no longer essential.
If most visitors are having rhizomatic–non-hierarchical, in and out—experiences–the top or two or three levels of site structure may be mostly irrelevant. In fact we’ve started asking ourselves if those top two or three levels, which often feature abstract labels that only make sense if you approach the content from a top-down point of view, are there just to make vestigial navigation and content management systems work. Could we get rid of them altogether? 
For many of the corporate sites we work on, search not only drives a lot of traffic, but it’s the most common link between a user’s need and the content or functionality the site offers.
We need a way to incorporate search into our early-stage evaluation methods. We’re big fans of Treejack, and it’s great for evaluating tasks where someone starts at the home page and navigates through a site tree to complete their task.
But we need to test Star Trek scenarios–someone teleports into a site, hopefully landing close to their destination, finds what they need nearby and exits. This means that to evaluate our IA work we need to have our participants start at Google, Facebook, Yahoo Answers or some random referrer and test their ability to teleport to the right place. We know these external manifestations of a website–how and where it appears in search results, and what appears alongside it–are just as important as the content itself. But we don’t yet have tools to effectively test them. (If you do, let us know!)
Thanks to Ammneh Azeim and Andrew Wright for giving me feedback on a draft of this post, and to Dave Robertson for lending me the phrase “transactional imperative of ecommerce”
23 Apr 2012
Written by Gene Smith