Are lousy navigation menus killing your intranet?

Use these six tips to help your employees find their way around your internal hub, so they keep coming back for more.

Every intranet needs navigation menus to help users find their way around.

Although the Enterprise Search is best for scoping out specific items with keywords, navigation menus create a call to action by advertising important options that users may not otherwise know exist. However, not all menus are created equal.

Building great navigation menus comes with experience, so here are six tips to help give your menu-building skills a boost:

1. Keep it simple. Focus on tasks that are essential to your organization’s objectives. Don’t attempt to mirror your entire information structure by cramming in as much as possible. Categorize items logically and in easily recognizable patterns without letting your menu become a cluttered sea of text.

2. Create calls to action with verbs. Start menu item names with verbs instead of nouns. As examples, say “Send Form” instead of Forms, “Request Time Off” instead of Vacation Calendar, or “Register for Courses” instead of Courses. When your menus convey the potential for action, your users will be more likely to use them. This way of labeling menus is also known as task-based navigation versus topic-based navigation.

3. Choose horizontal over vertical. Your intranet allows for top horizontal and side vertical navigation menus on any page, but do not offer both. Top horizontal menus are typically favored over vertical menus. If you have to choose one, choose the horizontal. A vertical menu (sometimes called a “hamburger menu”) can take up valuable real estate and impede usability. Sometimes they can actually discourage users from using it altogether. To save space on your intranet but still create large menus, you can use mega menu navigation (see point No. 4).

4. Don’t be afraid of mega menus. Think of mega menus as a design canvas that can enhance your intranet’s usability. They can be used to sub-categorize related content into discreet vertical columns in a dropdown from the top horizontal menu. You can have up to three columns, but don’t overdo it. It’s tempting to add so much content that the dropdown sprawls bellow the fold. Limit the number of items that will appear. Your users don’t want a list of 10 upcoming birthdays or anniversaries in a dropdown any more than you do.

5. Know your audience. Learn more about them; put yourself in their shoes. What do they need? What do they want? Remember, everyone isn’t the same. Different age groups, job occupations, and departments will have different needs and desires. Focus your menu structure on the users, and they’ll be more likely to access your intranet’s offerings and features.

6. Make use of site and page access. Every site and page, such as Department Sites, offers the option to apply view security to specific departments and employees. Use it to limit what different users can see in the navigation menu. This can help ensure that the right information is available to the right people while omitting the rest. That way you can keep your menu simple and more focused on user needs rather than offering a generic companywide menu that doesn’t apply to everyone.

Do you have your own tips for building better menus? If so, please share them in the comments section.

A version of this article originally appeared on Intranet Connections.

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