What Is a Hierarchical Website?
By Josh Fredman
For any website you build, one of the most important design decisions is how to organize the content. In a hierarchical model, visitors to the site begin on a central home page and then click through to pages that are progressively more specific.
Create a Natural Flow From Generic to Specific
To understand the hierarchical model, think of a news site. Readers start at the home page. From there, they click through to the section they want, such as sports or editorials. These section pages make up the second layer in the hierarchy. On the section page -- let's say it's the sports page -- readers can proceed to the subsection page for a specific sport such as baseball. From there, readers click through to the news stories. Each layer flows intuitively from the one above it -- from the generic to the specific.
Make Hierarchical Navigation Fast and Painless
When you design the site-navigation menu on a hierarchical website, minimize the number of mouse clicks. Using the news website example, a reader in the traffic section should be able to navigate directly to the business section without stopping at the home page first. You don't need a navigation menu that links every page on your site to every other page, but you should have links to all the pages in the first two or three layers of the hierarchy.
Josh Fredman is a freelance pen-for-hire and Web developer living in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, studying engineering, and worked in logistics, health care and newspapers before deciding to go to work for himself.