Summary: Intranet navigation is a key part of successfully building or redesigning an intranet. Here’s a four-step plan to get your organization set up for success.
Navigation refers to the way users access content on an online site such as an intranet. More formally, it’s referred to as information architecture or the organization and labeling of the site’s content.
Well-designed navigation means that users can easily access the content they want without hurdles. That’s your goal.
Think of navigation as the closet organizer of your intranet: to get a closet that makes sense for the clothes I have (i.e. my content), I need to assess my items and group them into categories (e.g. hanging shirts, folded clothes), then build my organizer based on those categories. If I’ve done it right, everything will have a pretty obvious ‘home’ and anything new that I bring into my closet will fit into one of my categories. That sounds like a fabulous closet – or intranet!
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To get your ‘intranet organizer’ in place, follow these steps.
1. Assess Intranet Content and Purge
Going back to the closet organizer analogy, it would be pointless for me to nicely organize clothes that I need to get rid of. Similarly, avoid Intranet Hoarding Syndrome (IHS), and keep only relevant and useful content on your intranet.
Get content managers who are experts in each area of the intranet to help assess the content. Ideally, they are part of your project team and are invested in seeing the intranet succeed. Eliminate or archive content that’s past its prime, combine content which naturally fits together, and identifies gaps where you need to add content. Yep, just like you would with your wardrobe.
2. Get Users to Build Navigation
The people who are going to be looking through the closet, uh accessing the intranet, are the best ones to help organize it. So involve your future users in creating your navigation using a very basic but effective process called card sorting. If you’re curious, Card Sorting – The Beginner’s Guide provides great background reading.
Get some small index cards (i.e. recipe cards) and write an item of sample content (e.g. Expense Form, Benefits Guide, Branding Guidelines) on each. Your project team probably has a good sense of possible intranet categories; for each possible category, try to come up with about 5-10 representative sample content cards, then add a few more for good measure.
Now get users involved! Put a call out for volunteers, ask managers to send staff, or just invite people. Regardless of the method you use, be sure to:
- aim for a roughly representative group of staff (i.e. departments, experience, technical skills)
- have a minimum of five staff involved
- hold individual sessions if you can, to encourage people to speak more freely
- get participants to group the sample content (i.e. create categories) in ways that would make sense for them to locate content on their intranet; bonus – ask staff to provide a label for their new categories
- reward staff in some way – free food, coffee card, or recognition
3. Test Navigation for Accuracy
After putting your users through the above exercise, you’ll have several variations of user-created intranet categories. Work through these categories with your project team and:
- determine which categories should be part of the main navigation and which categories would make more sense as sub-categories in a Mega Menu
- assess how well the proposed groupings capture current intranet content
- assess how well the proposed groupings will work for projected future intranet content and/or expansion
Finalize the categories with your team so you have a reasonable number (typically a maximum of seven), and tweak the category names so they’re simple and descriptive.
Now it’s on to round two of card sorting. Repeat the card sorting process with a different group of representative staff, but this time flip it around: lay out the categories in front of the user, give them the stack of content cards, and ask them to place the cards in the categories where they would expect to find the information if they were browsing the intranet.
Hopefully there aren’t many surprises in your closed category sorting. But if there are, it’s an opportunity to correct the navigation prior to launching the intranet. Score!
4. Finesse the Navigational Details
By now you should have the main categories of your intranet. These will typically be placed along the top of your intranet as the main navigation, arranged with the most-to-least used categories from left to right.
Most intranets have more content than would be logical to place in just main categories. That’s where the magic of Mega Menus comes in, allowing you to create multiple groupings (i.e. sub-categories) under each main category. For example, you might have a main category of Human Resources, with sub-categories of Benefits, Careers, and Wellness. Items under those sub-categories can be listed, allowing users to go directly to the content they want without having to first land on the HR home page. Make things more efficient for your users and they’ll quickly understand the advantages of using the intranet.
Summary: Great Navigation is Better for Everyone
Hopefully, by now the closet organizer analogy makes sense. Building a well-organized intranet means you’ll not only have a rather obvious place to put each piece of content but that users will also be able to locate that content. Does this seem like a lot of work? Yes, it does. However, putting in the up-front time means that your intranet will be easier to maintain, and users will have more success in finding content and being engaged with the intranet. So yes, it’s worth it.
As for keeping your ‘closet’ well-maintained and organized after building it, that’s a post for next time. Got any tips for creating great navigation? Share with us in the comments!