Building proper navigation in SharePoint Online has always been somewhat of a matzo ball for organizations. While the tools existed, there were limitations that prevented users from creating something consistent. I blogged about 4 different ways to create drop-down menu in SharePoint, but if you had sites spread over multiple sites collections – good luck with that! You could not build common navigation (easily) that would be consistent throughout the whole tenant.
That is until now. With the introduction of Hub Sites – you can now easily cherry pick the site collections you want to fall under the common navigation and build something consistent that was never possible before.
So with this post, I would like to summarize the available types of navigation and explain what’s available to you as a user. And if you read this post till the end, there is a small bonus as well :-)
Site Navigation (Local Navigation)
Let’s start with the simple stuff first. If you are at the site level and need to create navigation related to that particular site – Quick Launch is your best friend! If you have a Team Site (with or without an Office 365 Group), it is a navigation on the left side of the site. While you can use it to link to just about anything, including other sites, the best practice is to link to web parts and content/pages related to the site you are on. For example, if you are on the HR site, it would be nice to link to different lists and libraries that reside on the HR site.
The idea behind Quick Launch navigation is so that users can access anything related to this site within one click.
Example of Quick Launch (Local Site Navigation) in SharePoint Online Team Site
In contrast, if you have a Communication Site, the Quick Launch is on the top of the page. Communication Site is a special template that I explained here. While on a Team Site, we have Quick Launch (on the left) and Top Navigation (on the top), with Communication Site we only have one navigation on the top. Communication Site does not have Top Navigation. Instead, Quick Launch is moved from left to the top.
Example of Quick Launch (Local Site Navigation) in SharePoint Online Communication Site
Site Collection Navigation (Global Navigation)
If you are building navigation to various subsites all located in the same site collection, then look up :-) . Top Link Bar is something you will need to use. The best part about Top Link Bar is that it can be inherited within the same site collection. That means that you would build navigation once at the root of your site collection (your top-level site) and it will propagate down to subsites below.
The idea behind Top Link Bar (I also call it Global) Navigation is that users can access any site in the same site collection with just one click.
You can read more about Top Link Bar Navigation here (Option 2).
Example of Top Link Bar (Site Collection Navigation) in SharePoint Online
NOTE: Site Collection Navigation option only exists on sites not connected to Office 365 Groups (classic sites or modern team sites without a Group).
Hub Site (Tenant) Navigation
As I described previously, with modern SharePoint, you will never have stuff all in a single site collection. Between Office 365 Groups and Communication Sites, you will embrace the benefits of a flat architecture. So the Top Link Bar method described above does not work anymore. That is where Hub Sites come to the rescue. Hub Sites allow to combine all those disparate sites and site collections and bring them all under one umbrella navigation.
Example of Hub Site (Tenant) Navigation
And I thought I would also share with you a screenshot that shows all three types of navigation on the same site.
NOTE: You can only achieve all three on the same site if you use a Team Site not connected to an Office 365 Group. Sites connected to an Office 365 Group lose Site Collection (Top) Navigation option
Bonus: “Personal” Navigation
The 3 types of navigation above were all manmade. Meaning – someone has to create and maintain it on a regular basis. But what if you do not have it or it does not contain the links/sites you need? No sweat! SharePoint Home page to the rescue! I blogged about it a while back. I call it “Facebook for SharePoint sites”. It shows you all the sites you follow and access on a regular basis. So it is different for everyone. Really depends on the user’s activities within SharePoint. The more you use SharePoint, the more relevant it will be. If you follow sites, you will always see them on that page. And oh yeah, you can also do a global search from there as well!
In case you want to see all types of navigation in action, check out this video.