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Intranet Management

Creating effective intranet navigation – tips, strategies & best practices

Effective intranet navigation is a navigation system that’s well-organized, intuitive, user-friendly, and aligned with the needs of employees.

9 minute read
Coworkers Working On Laptop

Have you ever found yourself lost browsing around your company’s intranet trying to find specific information or files? You’re not alone—47% of employees find it difficult to use their intranet. Navigating an intranet that feels like a maze can seriously hinder employees’ productivity, engagement, and collaboration within the company.

Thankfully, this doesn’t have to be the case. When you streamline the way information is organized and accessed within your intranet, your employees are more likely to stay engaged with company resources, contribute to discussions, and collaborate effectively with their colleagues. In this article, we cover everything you need to know about intranet navigation:

What is intranet navigation?

Intranet navigation refers to the system or structure within an organization’s intranet that allows users to move between different sections, pages, and resources. Intranet navigation doesn’t solely consist of top-level navigation or menus. It also encompasses other elements, such as utility navigation, in-page navigation, and search functionality

Effective intranet navigation plays a crucial role in allowing users hassle-free access to pages, tools, and apps which helps to enhance employee productivity, engagement, and collaboration.

Understanding employee needs and behaviors

Designing an intranet navigation system isn’t just about organizing information—it’s about creating an experience that meets the needs and preferences of the people who will be using it day in and day out.

Imagine you’re the head chef of a restaurant and you’re designing a new menu. Would you just throw together a bunch of random dishes without considering what your customers like to eat? Of course not! You’d want to know popular foods and flavors, dietary preferences, and dining habits so you could craft a menu that caters to their tastes.

The same principle applies to intranet navigation. By understanding the needs, preferences, and behaviors of your employees, you can create a navigation system that’s intuitive, efficient, and tailored to their workflow. 

But how do you go about gathering this valuable insight? There are two approaches you can use when understanding your employees’ needs and behaviors: gathering feedback and addressing common pain points.

Gathering feedback

Conducting user research involves talking to employees, observing their interactions with the current intranet, and gathering feedback on what works well and what could be improved. This could take the form of interviews, surveys, or focus groups, depending on the size and structure of your organization.

Addressing pain points

It’s essential to identify common pain points that employees encounter when navigating the intranet. Are they struggling to find important documents? Are they frustrated by slow load times or confusing menu structures? By pinpointing these pain points, you can prioritize improvements that will have the most significant impact on user experience.

The 6 steps to creating effective intranet navigation

When creating intranet navigation, we recommend several important steps to ensure that the navigation system is intuitive, user-friendly, and aligned with the needs of employees:

1. Define objectives and user needs

Collaborating With Coworkers

As mentioned earlier, start by defining the objectives of the intranet and understanding the needs of employees. Conduct user research, surveys, and interviews to gather insights into user preferences, pain points, and behaviors.

2. Content audit

Conduct a content audit to evaluate all existing content on your intranet (as well as other content repositories) and assess its quality, relevance, and alignment with organizational goals and employee needs. A content audit is a great way to help you determine what parts of your current structure can be improved.

3. Card sorting

You may want to run card sorting exercises, which is a process that involves participants grouping and labeling content items into categories that make the most sense to them. The goal is to understand how your employees organize information, which helps your company create intuitive navigation structures and an information architecture (IA) that aligns with your employees’ needs and company goals.

4. Information architecture (IA) planning

Information architecture (IA) is the organization of content that allows users to understand where they are and where the information they want is located. Simply put, it is often thought of as the blueprint of an intranet.

Develop an IA plan that outlines the structure and organization of content within the intranet based on your content audit and card sorting. An IA plan typically involves identifying main categories, subcategories, and content types, as well as defining the relationships between them.

5. Navigation design

Design the navigation menu and interface elements of the intranet. Ensure that the navigation is clear, consistent, and intuitive, with logical groupings and hierarchical organization, and apply user-friendly labels and terminology (we expand more on these best practices here).

6. Intranet task testing

You can evaluate the effectiveness of the intranet navigation by using task testing. This is an optional step, but an ideal best practice. During task testing, participants are asked to complete predefined tasks, such as finding information or performing actions, within a mockup of a site’s draft navigation. Their interactions and experiences are observed and recorded to identify any usability issues, obstacles, or areas for improvement.

Content Migration

If you’re moving existing content from legacy intranet systems or other sources over to a new intranet platform, it’s important to have a content migration plan. The goal of content migration is to ensure that valuable information and resources are well-organized, relevant, and easily accessible to users in the new intranet environment.

Step-by-step guide to an effective information architecture

Learn how to implement the right structure, navigation, and usability for your intranet.

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Intranet Information Architecture White Paper, Cover

8 best practices for effective intranet navigation

Now that you have the blueprint for creating effective intranet navigation, let’s go over the 8 best practices that will transform your intranet into a well-oiled machine.

1. Organize your content

Think of your intranet as a virtual library—it should be organized into logical categories or sections based on common themes or topics. Consider the hierarchy of information and group related content together to create a cohesive structure. Avoid overwhelming users with too many categories—aim for a balance between breadth and depth that reflects the diversity of information available.

2. Create intuitive navigation menus

Simple IA

Your navigation menus are the signposts that guide users through the intranet landscape. Keep them simple and streamlined with ideally seven to nine top-level menu items to avoid overwhelming users. Use descriptive and familiar language for menu labels, and prioritize the most important sections or pages for easy access.

3. Apply interactive design

Incorporate interactive elements such as dropdown menus, accordions, or mega-menus to streamline navigation and conserve screen space. These interactive features allow users to access subcategories or additional options without leaving the current page.

You can also use breadcrumbs or side navigation menus, which help users understand their current location within the intranet hierarchy.

Additionally, adding quick links allows access to frequently used tools, applications, or resources. These shortcuts can save users time and effort by allowing them to navigate directly to commonly accessed areas of the intranet.

4. Label navigation elements

The labels you choose for navigation menus and links play a crucial role in guiding users through your intranet. Use descriptive and easily understandable labels that accurately represent the content they lead to. Avoid generic terms or ambiguous language that may confuse users.

5. Prioritize information

Not all content is created equal, so it’s essential to prioritize information based on its importance and relevance to users. Identify key tasks, resources, or frequently accessed content and give them prominent placement within your navigation structure. 

You can add visual indicators, such as icons, colors, or badges, to draw attention to critical items and make them stand out.

6. Implement search functionality

TF Search

While a well-organized navigation structure is essential, search functionality is the safety net that catches users when they can’t find what they need through navigation alone. Incorporate a search bar prominently within your intranet interface and ensure that it delivers relevant results quickly and accurately. 

You can integrate features, such as autocomplete suggestions, filters, and advanced search options, to enhance the search experience further.

7. Optimize navigation for mobile experience

Departments Mobile

It’s crucial to ensure that your intranet navigation is optimized for mobile use given that 80% of today’s workforce is deskless, relying on mobile devices to stay in touch. 

Ensure that you have a mobile app version of your intranet or responsive design with navigation menus and layouts that adapt to different screen sizes and orientations. Consider implementing mobile-friendly navigation patterns, such as collapsible menus or swipe gestures to accommodate touch-based interactions. It’s best to use an intranet that has a fully-featured mobile app.

8. Consider accessibility

Accessibility is an essential aspect of user experience, ensuring that your intranet navigation is usable by individuals with disabilities or diverse needs. Follow accessibility best practices, such as providing descriptive alt text for images, ensuring proper contrast for text and background elements, and enabling keyboard navigation for users who cannot use a mouse.

The art of mastering intranet navigation

Navigating the digital landscape of an intranet can sometimes feel like embarking on a treasure hunt without a map. If you implement the strategies and best practices outlined in this guide though, you can create a digital workplace environment that allows employees to navigate with ease, access the information they need, and contribute to organizational success.

Key takeaways

  • Understanding employee needs and behaviors is essential for designing intranet navigation that meets users’ expectations and effectively supports their workflows.
  • Creating effective intranet navigation involves defining objectives and user needs, conducting a content audit, card sorting, IA planning, navigation design, and task testing.
  • By following the best practices for effective intranet navigation, you’ll ensure your intranet navigation is user-friendly and efficient.

Want to take your intranet navigation to the next level? Say goodbye to lost documents and wasted time, and hello to a streamlined intranet experience with the step-by-step guide to an effective information architecture. This expert guide offers actionable strategies and invaluable insights to help you create effective IA and intranet navigation for your organization.