Navigation in SharePoint Online

Easy to use navigation is essential for a great user experience – it helps users find necessary information quickly and easily, saving time for more important tasks.

SharePoint Online provides three out-of-the-box options for building navigation: site navigation, hub navigation and global navigation.

Site navigation

Screenshot SharePoint site navigation

This navigation is also called local navigation as it allows users to explore the content of a specific site.

Until recently, site navigation functioned differently on team sites and communication sites. On team sites, navigation was always a vertical menu located on the left and on communication sites it was a horizontal bar located under the site name and logo. However, with the most recent updates, site admins now have the power to change the look and feel of navigation on both types of sites, and even turn off site navigation entirely.

On team sites, you can choose if the menu should be displayed horizontally or vertically as well as choose a cascading or mega menu style. Choosing the menu style, cascading or mega menu, will affect both the site menu and the hub menu.

Screenshot SharePoint team site config menu

On communication sites, the navigation menu is always horizontal but there is a similar option to choose the menu style.

Screenshot SharePoint Communication site navigation config menu

There are pros and cons configuring similar navigation menus for communication sites and team sites. On one hand vertical menus help keep a clear distinction between team sites and communication sites and users can understand the type and purpose of a site at glance. On the other hand, horizontal menus add consistency to your SharePoint environment and leave more real estate on the page for content. Whichever option you chose, make sure you consistently apply it to all sites.

Hub navigation

Hub navigation, as follows from the name, helps users navigate between sites that are associated with one hub. The hub navigation menu appears at the very top of the page above the site logo and name.

Screenshot SharePoint hub menu

The benefit of using hub navigation is its easy configuration and maintenance. It can be configured once and automatically updated on all associated sites.

Global navigation

The SharePoint app bar is a menu on the left side of the screen that enables global navigation across the SharePoint environment. This is a new navigation tool that is automatically enabled with the ‘Home site’ feature.

Screenshot SharePoint app bar menu

The app bar lets you configure navigation between sites that belong to different hubs, which is essential for large portals. In addition, the global bar adds personalised content such as ‘My sites’, ‘My news’ and ‘My files’, which can’t be removed.

Best practice

All three types are configurable, meaning that you can choose how to structure it, what labels to use and what links to add. While you can use it to link to just about anything, including documents and external websites, the best practice is

  • A site menu should only include links to the pages of the related site.
  • A hub menu should only include links to the home pages and content pages of sites associated with the hub.
  • A global menu can include links to the home pages and content pages of any SharePoint site.

The table below indicates the accepted methods of navigation for common scenarios.

Table comparing types of navigation and scenarios

Menu items should also be logically grouped. Site, hub and global menus allow you to arrange items in three levels and add non-clickable headings and clickable links. The style of menus can’t be customised, but SharePoint automatically applies default styles to show the hierarchy of menu items.

Limited real estate on the navigation bar means you need to apply the principle of progressive disclosure. This approach suggests that you group your content into logical categories and provide a limited set of choices for users to allow them to explore each content category to learn more.

Using these three options to configure effective navigation will help your users quickly and efficiently browse for necessary information and documents, no matter how large your SharePoint environment.

To learn more about best practice for creating good navigation make sure to check out our blog about ‘Building an effective navigation.