Our guide to improving your intranet user experience

By Samantha McCabe
May 21, 2021
6 min read

Your intranet plays a big part in your company’s harmony—even if it feels a little invisible.

In fact, the best intranet might feel like it’s barely there, because things are running so smoothly. That might be down to something called the UX behind your intranet, which will help you create a seamless experience for employees and act as a crucial piece of your internal comms puzzle.

Intrigued? Read on for a beginner’s guide to intranet user experience and how you can use its principles to enhance your intranet and better reach your employees. This blog is based off an April 2021 webinar, presented by IC team members Alfie Penfold, Raquel Munuera, and Cameron Eldred.

Wait, what is UX?

UX stands for “user experience.” (And yes, we know the acronym isn’t UE as it should be, but as Cameron says, this is way cooler.) User experience is not just limited to one page on your intranet or your website—it’s the entire experience a user has with a product, a company, or a service.

Put simply, user experience is defined by how easy or difficult it is to interact with the user interface, or all the buttons, entry fields, navigation tools, and more on a given webpage.

We follow Google’s rule of thumb here, which is that for a user to have a good experience, the product needs to be four things: usable, equitable, enjoyable, and useful. Are your user’s needs being served? Do you know what your user’s needs even are? We’ll explore these questions and more in the rest of this blog.

Here’s where your intranet comes in

Your intranet should a key piece of what we call your “channel mix,” or the combination of channels through which you get information to your audience. At IC, one of our key mantras is giving your employees a single source of truth. You need one place where employees can go to find everything they need or at least links to that information. That is your intranet.

(Psst: we have a free tool that includes a quiz and checklist to help you determine whether you have an existing single source of truth, establish one if you don’t, and then walk you through how to maintain it.)

Of Google’s four pillars of user experience, the final one is especially crucial for your intranet—it needs to be truly useful, otherwise, your employees won’t touch it. Bonus: a great intranet platform will disseminate information effectively, increase employee engagement, and decrease turnover.

Think of your intranet home page as the hub of your intranet, the first thing employees see when they log on. If that’s not on-point, the user experience has soured from the start, and employees will be discouraged from delving in further and checking it regularly.

The most common mistake that an organization makes in constructing their intranet is approaching it strictly visually, without a bigger picture or overarching goal in mind.

“It’s all about understanding the purpose of your intranet, and why you have this system,” said Alfie, IC communications expert and member of our panel on UX and intranets. “Some people use it more as a document repository. Some people use it as a way to get news out to their audiences. Some people use it as a way of connecting employees, and have more of a social intranet.” All of those are fine—and your intranet may do all those things and more. But understanding which is the most important purpose for your organization will help you determine how you lay things out, what content is prioritized on your site, and more.

Involve key stakeholders and collect feedback while building and maintaining your intranet

At the end of the day, your intranet is a business tool that will be used by lots of people from across your organization. So it’s important to consult a range of stakeholders in the process of building it. Ask members of the leadership team, HR experts, your IT staffers, and more to give you their feedback, and we promise your intranet will be better—by everyone’s standards—for it.

One of the ways that we suggest you collect feedback from prospective users of your intranet is called a “card-sorting exercise.” Get your participants to write what they would expect to see on your intranet on cards, and pin them to a whiteboard or wall (this can be a virtual exercise, too, of course). By looking at the results from a variety of people, you can begin to identify key themes and even surprising suggestions, giving you an idea of what users’ expectations are and how to align them with your company’s priorities.

Once you have launched your intranet, asking your users to participate in a survey or even a targeted focus group is a great way to get a read on whether your efforts have been effective. It’s almost impossible to get a read on what your users are thinking without asking them—so ask them!

At the end of the day, this tool is for them, so why not ask them how they want to use it?

And finally, a good intranet software will have a statistics function that will allow you to see which pages are getting the most views. If you see a part of your intranet that is very popular or a page getting tons of views, you can adjust your strategy accordingly.

“One of the most valuable stats that you can look at for your intranet to improve it is missed searches,” explained Cameron. “Because you can go into your stats and see what people were looking for that they didn’t find.”

Some more handy tips to improve your intranet experience 

Images are great at engaging employees—but they need to say something to get noticed. That’s because people are growing so acclimatized to seeing visual ads that they will gloss over them, a phenomenon called “banner blindness.” Introducing branding clarity to all company messaging can help indicate that a message is important and work-related, not just a stock image.

And in terms of links and menus, everything needs to have what Cameron calls a “strong information scent.” A lot of companies will try to make a cute pun or a play on their brand, but that may not be clear to everyone, especially new employees. Let’s say you have a section for human resources forms—call it exactly that!

Cool digital features aren’t always best. For example, a menu you must hover over to display actually requires lots of mouse precision and might be frustrating and difficult to use for some employees. Keeping little accessibility tips like this in mind can help make your intranet technologically equitable for everyone.

Great software could help you take the next step 

We wouldn’t be speaking with such confidence about how to design an effective intranet if we didn’t have our own great product to talk about. If your organization is looking to make the leap to intranet software, our intranet might be worth looking into. It was built to act as that crucial single source of truth and a hub for internal communications. Book a demo now to see our intranet platform in action.

And of course, a thriving intranet is just one piece of an effective internal comms picture. Learn more about how you can build a great communications strategy from the ground up with our collection of blog posts.

By Samantha McCabe