Any website that has contains more than a few pages, by default uses some kind of structure to organize such content. Most websites use relations within the content to group content in to an easy to follow structure so that a website visitor can easily notice related content. These content arrangements are what experts refer to as website hierarchies.
There are two types of website hierarchies; flat hierarchy and deep hierarchy. A flat hierarchy has a home page that sits right at the top. Under the home page, there are the main categories after which are the sub-categories. It does not go so deep downwards in the hierarchy.
The deep hierarchy, on the other hand, also starts with a home page right at the top. However, unlike the flat hierarchy, it only has a few categories under the home page. Then, each category has a number of sub-categories. Under each sub-category, there are a few sub-categories, under which there may be more sub-categories. As the name suggests, this hierarchy goes deep and is normally very confusing for the website visitor.
A website developed under the simple flat hierarchy arrangement has quite a number of advantages over one founded on the deep hierarchy. A website visitor can actually notice quickly how difficult a website is to use by simply looking at its navigation menu.
Advantages of Flat Hierarchy over Deep Hierarchy
1. Discoverable Content
A website structured on the flat hierarchy has more discoverable content because its content is not hidden by multiple other layers. With deep hierarchy structure, website visitors use a lot of time trying to get to the information that they need, making the website cumbersome to use.
2. No Overlapping Content
Flat hierarchy website structure ensures that the categories outlined are specific, and that they are not overlapping. This makes it easy for a website visitor to understand the content and how it relates to each other. In deep hierarchy structures, categories tend to be more generic, meaning that chances of some categories’ concepts overlapping are very high. This makes it more confusing to use.
So, should one go with flat hierarchy arrangement as opposed to the deep one? Well, there is no right answer to that question. It all depends on the kind of content you want to place on your website and how easy to distinguish your content is. Overuse of either structure will most likely backfire.
However, flat hierarchies are better if you have very distinct and recognizable categories, the reason being that people do not have to click through many levels. On the other hand, if the website has too many categories, it is not logical to show them all too early in the structure as it will confuse the visitor. In such a case, it is easier to guide the visitor through carefully tailored category pages grouped well based on specific topics.
The bottom line though is that you should carry out keen usability tests, analysis and examine search logs or try Paradox, or suite of saas seo tools so that you can identify the best way to improve your website hierarchy to avoid losing business.