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Intranet menu guidance

ClearBox Consulting > Information Architecture  > Intranet menu guidance
Old beaten up sandwich menu.

If you’re about to start using megamenus in SharePoint or if you know you need to revamp your intranet navigation in any way, then please consider these ‘good practice’ tips.

We can no longer pop things into a main menu just because a stakeholder asks us to. Navigation should be based on user research to ensure that the intranet is truly helpful.

Purpose

Menus should not perfectly ape the structure of your intranet nor organisation. The purpose of menus is to show people what is available, to get them started and help them follow the information scent that seems best. So menu items can and should link to the most needed and used resources around your intranet, even if they’re very deep within your architecture.

Expectations and research tools

Menus should offer what people expect to find within them. You’re likely to have four or five separate menus, and what each contains needs to make thematic sense – not to you or the content owners, but to end users. Only user research (often card sorting) and menu testing (often tree testing) will show you what people expect – you cannot simply ask people what they want.

A menu to be tested inside Tree Test.
Tree test results showing people’s behaviour.

If people expect your Cycle to Work programme to be in ‘People’ or ‘Wellbeing’, don’t put it in ‘HR’ just because the owner of the programme works in HR. You can put a link in multiple places across your menus, and while you shouldn’t do this often, doing it with one ambiguous item might be helpful.

By relying on research results, you avoid the endless debates about ‘what people need’ with senior stakeholders. (Although, menus are usually really easy to amend so it might be a great idea to put links in temporarily to help promote a campaign and satisfy important stakeholders.)

Simple, internal links

People generally expect links to lead them to a page. While intranet pages often link to documents (and explicitly say so), do not link to documents from your main navigation / megamenus. Nobody expects Wikipedia to be made up of PDFs and Word documents, and the same goes for your intranet. Menus are used for quick navigation, not opening documents.

Intranet menus should help people get around your intranet, so don’t link to external websites on the internet unless it’s vital to do so (and you can explicitly say so). Linking to common applications could be very useful, so long as you explicitly show that it’s the app, and not a page about the app.

Inconsistent clickability

You can put a clickable or non-clickable sub-heading into a megamenu, but there is no visible difference between the two in SharePoint (the end user has to hover their cursor to find out). For the sake of consistency and user experience (UX) do one or the other, never both.

Double trouble

When using SharePoint, you’ll notice that it’s possible to make use of two horizontal menus in the header. The top one can be persistent across multiple sites, and the second one is site-specific only. While two horizontal menus might not be bizarre, it’s also possible to make them both use megamenus, which is an odd design choice.

SharePoint horizontal menus.

When using two horizontal menus, it’s important not to repeat menu items. Governance is needed to guide what is suitable for the persistent intranet-wide menu. But a site owner could inadvertently (or purposefully) duplicate intranet-wide items into their site-specific menu.

Wedge Black

I support Sam Marshall in everything we do online, and I assist clients that are considering redeveloping or replacing their intranet platform. I worked in global and regional organisations as the intranet manager as part of the comms team, before becoming an intranet consultant. I'm the founder of the Intranet Now annual conference. I’ve tweeted about intranets and comms for ten years now.

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