6 Tips for Building Great Navigation Menus

By Doug Sabiston
February 22, 2016
4 min read
menu structure

Summary: 6 tips for building navigation menus from the correct way to label, structure, and format menus to security options.

Every intranet needs navigation menus to help users find their way around. While 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 to exist. However, not all menus are created equal. Building great navigation menus comes with experience, so here are 6 tips to help give your menu-building skills a boost.

1. Keep it Simple

Keep menus simple by focusing on tasks that are most important to your organization’s objectives and goals. Don’t attempt to mirror your entire information structure and cram as much as possible. While it’s easier said than done, 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

Create calls to action by starting menu item names with verbs instead of nouns. As an example, 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 vs. topic-basked navigation.

3. Choose Horizontal Over Vertical

Your intranet allows for top horizontal and side vertical navigation menus on any page, but just because you can have both doesn’t mean you should. 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, which brings me to my next point…

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 effectively 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 below the fold. Be sure to limit the number of items that can show. Your users probably don’t want to see a list of 10 upcoming birthdays or anniversaries in a dropdown any more than you do.

5. Know Your Audience

Know your audience by learning more about them and putting yourself in their shoes. What do they need? What do they want? Also, consider that everyone isn’t the same. Different age groups, job occupations, and departments may have different needs and desires. By keeping your menu structure focused on the user they will be more likely to use your intranet.

6. Make Use of Site & Page Access

Every site and page, such as Department Sites, has the option to apply view security to specific departments and employees. Use this feature to limit what different users can see in the navigation menu. This can help ensure the right information is available to the right people while omitting the rest. The benefit here is that you can keep your menu simple and more focused on user needs rather than offering a generic company-wide menu that isn’t applicable to everyone.

Want to build better navigation menus? See how Intranet Connections software makes it simple by booking a no-obligations demo!

By Doug Sabiston

Doug is a web developer, writer and photographer with a passion for everything digital. He graduated from Kwantlen Polytechnic University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology, specializing in Web and Mobile App Development, with an additional diploma in Journalism & Public Relations. Prior to Intranet Connections, Doug was a freelance web developer where he developed several web apps. Doug looks forward to growing in web & mobile development with the Intranet Connections team and in his spare time, he tends to his saltwater reef aquarium and temperamental cats.