By Cathy Dew
To tie together all your primary site collections, sometimes you have to roll your own navigation.
There are two ways to set up navigation in SharePoint. The first is “structural navigation,” where you find your way around based on the structural hierarchy of your SharePoint sites. The second is “managed navigation,” where you configure metadata term sets and use those to find the site collections, subsites, libraries, or documents that you need.
About the Pros and Cons of Structural and Managed Navigation
As you might expect, there are pros and cons to both of these navigation options. Structural navigation has the benefit of requiring relatively little extra configuration. When you build a SharePoint site, the structure of subsites, lists, and libraries are inherent in the very design of the site itself. If you don’t have time to worry about metadata—or if your site is simple enough that there wouldn’t be much benefit to using metadata tags and term sets—you might opt for structural navigation.
For more complex sites, though, structural navigation can quickly become confusing. Unless you know exactly where something is on a site—unless you built the site yourself—there’s a good deal of guesswork that goes into finding it. In other words, for your employees or users, structural navigation might lead to a lot of wasted time.
Implementing managed navigation for these more complex sites is certainly something worth considering. While there is an upfront time investment to creating a metadata taxonomy for your site, it’s an investment that can ultimately save time in the long run. Additionally, using managed navigation allows you to build user friendly URLs that are easier to remember, use and maintain. Therefore, with a managed navigation system in place, it’s far easier for your users to find the sites, pages or documents they need based on specific terms or keywords of interest.
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Implementing Managed Navigation: Global or Site Collection Specific?
The obvious benefit of building a Managed Navigation is using it for a Global Navigation across all your site collections. As you build out your SharePoint community, memorizing your hierarchy becomes a chore. By design SharePoint Site Collections do not share navigation since each site collection is independent of the others. Managed Navigation allows the build out of a single navigation structure and share / link that with all the site collections within your community. While the shared navigation approach does require some preplanning and setup, on-going changes are automatically pushed to the site collections with a link to the shared navigation. This keeps you from revisiting each site collection to keep your changes in-sync.
The other option is to tailor your managed navigation specifically for each site collection. This support article from Microsoft covers how you can do that. In all likelihood, the sites hosted on your site collection have distinct differences and could benefit from using managed navigation configurations terms and term sets that are specific and relevant to the subsites and content hosted on your site collection. That same navigation structure, then, might not apply to other sites in your site collection.
In other words, you would set up different managed navigation configurations for each site, creating a metadata taxonomy on each that is expressly relevant to the content on the page. Keeping sites with various types of content separate would help simplify the metadata tagging and navigation for each site. Since managed navigation is meant, at least in part, to provide simplicity and clarity that structural navigation lacks, there is certainly an argument to be made for site-by-site configurations.
With that said, you can still implement global managed navigation across an entire site collection (or even across multiple site collections) if you wish to do so. If you want to be able to control the design and display of your global navigation throughout your SharePoint hierarchy, this option might appeal to you.
Setting up a Global Managed Navigation System
If you think a global managed navigation system would help make life easier for you and your users, or if you just want to try it out to see what it’s like, click here. That link will take you to yet another Microsoft support article, which provides a step-by-step guide for how you can set up global managed navigation for one or more site collections.
The significant benefit of configuring managed navigation for all your site collections is that doing so is the only way to create a global navigation interface in SharePoint. If you choose to set up managed navigation across multiple site collections, you will have created a top-level search and organization interface that you can’t duplicate using any other feature in SharePoint. By default, navigation from one site collection to the next happens on what amounts to a structural basis. You must remember what site collection houses which sites, lists, and list items if you want to find those items. There is no default system you can use to search multiple site collections to find a particular subsite or document.
By using managed navigation to create a global navigation system that spans multiple site collections, you will be able to create this search system that just isn’t there by default. Of course, not all SharePoint intranets need anything even resembling this kind of top-level navigation. However, if you have multiple site collections, dozens of sites, hundreds of subsites, thousands of lists, and tens or hundreds of thousands of list items, then you might prefer a higher level of global navigation than SharePoint provides by default. Managed navigation is the way to get there.
Do you need help implementing a managed navigation system—either at the site level or the site collection level? 2Plus2 can help you build the configuration you need. Call us on 510-652-7700 or arrange a consultation.