Working with the SharePoint Navigation

Yes, the SharePoint navigation really can work for your needs

A commonly misunderstood component of SharePoint is the navigation. We are frequently asked in class about how to make changes to the navigation and when we cover it, people are really surprised and honestly, it is pretty anti-climatic! Here are a few things everyone should know about manipulating SharePoint navigation.

Please note this article is cross posted on nothingbutsharepoint.com.

Your best friend is Site Settings

Site Settings is the first thing to get to know for SharePoint navigation. It can also be a little confusing at first because based on the type of site you are using, different options will appear. Check out the screenshot below.

Navigation Settings

If you are working with a publishing site (for example a site created from the Publishing or Enterprise Wiki template) then when you go to Site Actions > Site Settings in your SharePoint 2010 site, you will see Navigation as an option under the Look and Feel column. If you working with a team site, you will see Quick Launch and Top link bar. But if you are working with a team site that is a child of a publishing site, well then you see Navigation.

Publishing gives you more options

One of the benefits of using the SharePoint publishing features is a more robust and centralized navigation system. The key thing to remember with publishing sites is that where you would traditionally create a folder for a type of content in your web site directory, such as a folder for About Us or Press Releases, in SharePoint you create a sub site. We want our end users to see a nice, unified site and not bother them with the finer details that your SharePoint site is actually a collection of nested sub sites under a parent site. The global navigation, also known as the Top Link Bar, is going to help provide that central navigation.

Team sites are meant for focused content and uses. The goal is not to string together a bunch of team sites to create a larger web site. Publishing handles this need instead. That is why the options differ between publishing sites and any team sites that are children versus team sites that stand alone.

Options for stand alone team sites

If publishing isn’t a part of your site hierarchy, then you can do the following with your team site navigation through Site Settings:

  • Add new links
  • Control the order of the links
  • Nest the links under a heading style structure (Quick Launch only)

Options for publishing sites and their children

Here is a list of things you can accomplish using Site Settings for publishing sites and their children sites, whether that child site is a publishing site or not:

  • Inherit the navigation system(s) used from the parent site
  • Automatically show newly added web pages and/or sub sites
  • Control the number of items to display
  • Sort items automatically or manually
  • Add headers, links and control the order
  • Selectively hide sites/pages/links

Looking at the options for publishing sites and their children

Here is a screenshot of the settings you will see when you click into Navigation from the Look and Feel section of Site Settings. Handy stuff has been highlighted in red. And yes, there is a lot of handy stuff here. 🙂

Navigation Options

Realistic examples of using the navigation settings

A lot of people turn to third party navigation solutions. Often it is because of a lack of understanding on how to use and apply what SharePoint navigation can do out of the box. Here are some application examples for several of the navigation settings:

  1. Display the same navigation items from the parent site – share a central navigation system across all your sub sites, thus creating the unified user experience and linking all your sites together under one navigation umbrella.
  2. Display the navigation items below the current site – break free of the shared navigation system for a one off site or to reset the navigation for a large network of sites. For example if the Human Resources section of your large Intranet needs it’s own navigation system, it can have a link back to Home but have it’s own HR navigation going across the top that is then shared for all the HR sites and pages.
  3. Option to Show Pages – every time a new product page, biography page, client information page, press release, etc. is added to the site the page will automatically be added to the navigation (likely in a drop down menu based on your structure). It is security trimmed so only users with access to the page will see the navigation item.
  4. Option to Show Sites – every time a new client management, project management, department (or the like) site is created it will automatically be added to the nav, and is security trimmed as well.
  5. Set the maximum number of dynamic items to show – stop run away navigation systems with too many options in the top level.
  6. Add a link – include a link to another web site, company resource or common tool. The formatting of this added link will match the rest of the SharePoint navigation system.
  7. Add a Heading – create your own drop downs in the navigation or nested structure in the Quick Launch. Many organizations have a smorgasbord of links they need to include to various affiliates, company tools or shared resources.
  8. Hide an item – Only 14 out of 15 client sites should be displayed to employees. Hide one off items based on need while not affecting how other content is auto added to SharePoint.

Creating drop down menus

Hands down the number one thing I get asked in regards to navigation is “can I have drop down menus?”. Yes, you can have drop down navigation in your SharePoint site and it is easy to do. You will have to have ability to edit your master page.

  1. Open your master page using SharePoint Designer or a tool of your choice.
  2. Switch to Code view.
  3. Open up the Find dialog (Ctrl + F or the Find menu) and search for <SharePoint:AspMenu. Go ahead and include the less than sign that way you only get the start of the navigation code tag in your search results. This should get you two results:
    <SharePoint:AspMenu ID="TopNavigationMenuV4" Runat="server" EnableViewState="false" DataSourceID="topSiteMap" AccessKey="<%$Resources:wss,navigation_accesskey%>" UseSimpleRendering="true" UseSeparateCss="false" Orientation="Horizontal" StaticDisplayLevels="2" MaximumDynamicDisplayLevels="1" SkipLinkText="" CssClass="s4-tn" />
    <SharePoint:AspMenu id="QuickLaunchMenu" runat="server" DataSourceId="QuickLaunchSiteMap" Orientation="Vertical" StaticDisplayLevels="2" ItemWrap="true" MaximumDynamicDisplayLevels="0" StaticSubMenuIndent="0" SkipLinkText="" CssClass="s4-die">
  4. Go to the first search result (double click the result to quickly jump there).
  5. If in SharePoint Designer, open up the Tag Properties pane (View > Task Panes > Tag Properties). There are all sorts of goodies here that you can play with and use to modify the navigation. I want you to focus on MaximumDynamicDisplayLevels. In addition to seeing it in the Tag Properties, it will show up in the code view as well.
  6. The value for MaximumDynamicDisplayLevels controls the number of drop down menus the navigation system displays. If the value is 0, no drop downs. If the value is 1, then one drop down menu. If you have 2 for the value then you get a drop down menu that in turn has a second level. Or another way to look at it, two fly out menus.
  7. Adjust this number to control how many drop down menus you have. Just don’t forget, you have to have content to show content! If you adjust this value and don’t get the expected drop down or fly out menus, they make sure there are pages and sites in place at those levels.

Still need more?

If these settings don’t meet your needs for SharePoint navigation, there are other options. I suggest you start with our Mega Menu series and use a custom list to control your SharePoint navigation.

This was originally posted on NothingButBranding.com in September 2012, which is a site that has since been closed.