Reaching Content Faster: Best Practices for Improved Navigation
An intranet is a business tool, so the navigation of the site should be designed in a way that maximizes employee efficiency. Many users navigate a site by clicking. These employees can be more productive if the site's designer uses best practices to redesign the navigational intranet tools. The primary tools I will discuss in this article are: breadcrumbs, quick links, and call-outs.
In a large intranet, it could be easy for a user to get lost. The user could dig so deep into the site that they become disoriented in the sites bowels. This is problematic not just for allowing a user an alternate way to ‘go back’ (without using the browser's back button, which may or may not work) but also so they know the path to return to a specific area of the intranet in the future. The solution for both of these problems is to effectively employ breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs are a string of information representing the hyperlinked navigational path that a user took to reach the current page. Breadcrumbs are typically at the top of the page underneath the intranet header. The breadcrumbs contain a hyperlink to each of the preceding pages. An example would be the following:
Home -> About us -> Leadership team -> Executive Board -> John Smith profile
Breadcrumbs should appear throughout the site to assist users in their navigation. It is also surprising how many users are not aware that it has become standard practice to link the intranet’s logo found in the top left of the banner to the home page. For these users, the addition of “Home” on the breadcrumb string will be a welcome addition. Once properly engaged, users will greatly appreciate the enhanced functionality.
A quick link tool allows the user faster access to the areas that they visit on a regular basis. This tool permits the user to bypass the hierarchical navigational structure of the intranet and gain instant access to a specific page or document. This could save substantial time and energy especially considering that these specific pages are frequently accessed. The quick links bar should at a minimum be accessible on the home page, but could also appear on inner pages to bring the user to popular pages within that section.
Ideally, the quick links bar would be advanced enough to offer appropriate links based on the specific user’s needs. As such, a user in the Toronto office may see different links than a user in Seattle. The links may also change based on job function, level of management or any other factor that is relevant to the company. Advanced intranets also allow users to customize the links to their own needs by allowing the user to add new links or remove existing links. This encourages the employees to use the intranet as a launch platform for all of their other activities.
Some information requires extra attention. Perhaps the information is a short-term desired behavior (e.g. “Fill out the employee satisfaction survey by August 1”), or that of a time-sensitive update (e.g. “Listen to the CEO’s update"). In either case, these actions require the immediate attention of the employees and as such as denoted as “Call to actions” or “call-outs”. Proper use of call-outs can allow employees to perform the desired actions with ease. However, these call-outs need to be designed in such a way that they receive additional notice but not to the point of detracting from existing content. These elements can be powerful tools however, if abused their effectiveness will quickly deteriorate.