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SharePoint megamenus and intranet navigation with modern intranets

ClearBox Consulting > Office 365  > SharePoint megamenus and intranet navigation with modern intranets
SharePoint horizontal menus.

SharePoint megamenus and intranet navigation with modern intranets

Since February / March 2019, SharePoint Online has offered a ‘megamenu’ option for modern sites. Megamenus offer a large panel menu, rather than a long drop-down menu.

Pros and cons of SharePoint megamenus

With SharePoint menus you can:

Add megamenus to hub or communication sites

Add up to three levels of navigation into a megamenu (but it’s two in practice)

Offer a persistent ‘intranet wide’ megamenu via the top links bar across associated team sites and communication sites

Trust the megamenu to display well on wide and narrow desktop screens, and as a ‘side pane’ (within hamburger menu) on mobile

Link to any page / site / URL

The limitations are:

Megamenus are not available for site-specific menus in team sites

Second level ‘headings’ can be clickable but don’t have to be (possibly creates inconsistent experience)

Team site and communication site owners must associate their site to the appropriate hub site by hand to get the persistent top links bar

A true ‘intranet wide’ menu will only persist across sub-sites created inside the hub site or sites associated with it (an unlikely situation for medium and larger organisations)

The top links bar is hard to spot on mobile (the site specific menu us easy enough)

Megamenus are visually and functionally very simple (plain, unstyled; only hyperlinks)

Inconsistently linking to external resources may create a confused menu design

Top link bar items must be added by hand by the hub site owner

Two horizontal megamenus (1. Top link bar, and 2. Site-specific menu) is an unusual design pattern; perhaps the older drop-down style can still be useful for one

Menu links cannot be personalised or security trimmed – everyone sees the same menu items.

With megamenus, hub sites, and the (almost) persistent top link bar, you may be tempted to build your intranet home page, and even the ‘corporate intranet’, by hand. Consistent navigation can be provided by the top link bar so long as all sites within ‘the intranet’ are associated with the main hub site.

Smaller organisations may well build the foundations of their intranet from a hub site and several communication sites, but medium and larger organisations will continue to need custom coding to create true intranet-wide navigation, or an in-a-box intranet product to deploy home page and navigation structure.

The new megamenus are a welcome design addition, but will likely encourage the use of two horizontal menus – perhaps both using megamenus, which is an unusual design choice.

The top link bar and the site specific horizontal menus.
Figure 1: Two horizontal menus. The pointing-down arrow / chevron indicates drop-down menus.

Megamenus

Megamenus are new for SharePoint hub sites and communication sites (rolled out February and March 2019).

The other choice to a megamenu is a cascade menu, where each item flies out upon hover. Megamenus are better for discovery – the user gets to see at one glance what’s available, rather than having to point their mouse cursor at each and every option. Some people have called megamenus paddle menus.

SharePoint megamenus work well on different screen sizes. On big screens, the megamenu will try to fill horizontal space; on smaller screens the megamenu will look more vertical. Be aware of this when designing your menus: you don’t want items to fall off the bottom of the screen for people using smaller laptops.

Megamenus become long side-menus within the hamburger menu when using the SharePoint app, or viewing in a mobile browser.

Large megamenu on a wide desktop screen.
Figure 2: Megamenu on a wide screen.
A big megamenu responding to a narrow browser window.
Figure 3: Same megamenu on a narrower screen.

When using the SharePoint app, or viewing in a mobile browser, users will see a ‘hamburger’ menu and the megamenus will appear as a long menu that comes out from the side (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Megamenus in the SharePoint app appear as a long list in a slide-out pane.

The top link bar, created and managed within a hub site, will appear across all sites associated with it (see figure 5). So if you associate a communication site or team site with a hub site, then it will have two rows of navigation. The second row will be the site-specific megamenu, just for that particular site.

(Team sites only have a left-hand menu, and so cannot use a site-specific megamenu.)

The top link bar will even appear within the Microsoft Teams app if you put a SharePoint page into a tab.

Remember that SharePoint menus cannot be personalised or security trimmed; in other words, everybody sees the same menu items regardless of their identity, location, or permissions / security settings. Fully-featured in-a-box intranet products for SharePoint could add such functionality, or custom coding would be needed.

SharePoint horizonatl menus.
Figure 5: SharePoint’s two horizontal menus, and a small megamenu example.

Setting up megamenus

If you have menu editing permissions, you’ll always see the little ‘Edit’ link on the far-right of the horizontal menu. Click ‘Edit’ and the edit pane slides open on the left side.

To create a new menu item, you must already have the URL (web address) of the page or landing page you wish to link to. So, first, open a new tab in your browser and surf to the right page. Copy the link from the address bar.

Adding a menu item.
Figure 6: Hovering the cursor within ‘Job bands’ brings up the ‘plus’ icon.

To add a new item, hover your mouse curser until you see the ‘+’ icon where you want to start.

A tiny menu for pastinhg in the link.
Figure 7: Be ready with the URL of the page you wish to link to.
A tiny menu for moving actual menu items.
Figure 8: The ellipsis icon (in blue here) shows the item menu, allow you to move the item.

To define the hierarchy of menu items, use the little ellipsis (three dots) menu to the right of a menu item and select either ‘Promote sub link’ or ‘Make sub link’. Note that if you delete a heading that contains sub-items, the sub-items will be deleted with it. With a little experimentation in your demo site, you’ll soon get the hang of it, even if drag and drop functionality is sadly not provided.

Megamenus offer three levels of hierarchy, but as the first level is the megamenu item itself it’s really just two levels.

A large megemenu example, with four columns and six menu-sections.
Figure 9: A megamenu. Note that in this example, ‘Benefits’ is not clickable, but all the other headings are clickable, yet there’s no visible difference. It’s up to you to decide whether to make all headings consistently clickable.

Using the top link bar

The top link bar can only be designed within a hub site. The top link bar menu can be shown on all team sub-sites within the hub site, and on associated communication sites and team sites. It is up to the communication site or team site manager to choose to associate their site with a particular hub site, and inherit the top link bar. Tweet me if you’d like help with this.

In a modern SharePoint environment, the majority of sites will be created as individual sites, rather than sub-sites in a hierarchy (the ‘classic’ approach). As inheriting the top link bar is not automatic, each site is an island adrift in the SharePoint ocean unless someone takes action.

As every link in the top link bar menu has to be added manually by the hub site owner, it’s up to you and your governance as to how to design a consistent, or even a ‘global’, intranet menu.

Top link bar limitations

Microsoft does not yet provide the ability to configure SharePoint-wide navigation, meaning it is hard to create the kind of global menu bar typical of most intranets. The only way to have a top-level menu that is visible across all sites is if every site is associated with the same hub. Only bespoke design or an in-a-box intranet product deployed atop SharePoint can bring consistency to the chaordic nature of larger SharePoint environments.

Internal Communications people might think of ‘the intranet’ as ‘the corporate portal’, and so will see this limitation as a significant barrier to hand-building the intranet. Of course, other people can be more interested in the digital places where work gets done, namely, team sites.

Before you build, check out our ‘good practice’ guidance for SharePoint menus.

More

Microsoft’s step by step guide to changing navigation menus for SharePoint Online, 2019, 2016, 2013, 2010, and then general guidance for planning navigation on SharePoint.

If you want your intranet to have a cohesive feel with consistent navigation, talk to us about doing a few of days of user research so you can build menus that meet people’s needs and expectations. We can do research anywhere in the world.

If it looks like the standard megamenus won’t meet your needs, then you probably need an intranet-in-box product. See our comprehensive reviews of the options.

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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