SharePoint Online Navigation: This is the Way

Many of our users are confused by the differences between global navigation, hub site navigation, and site navigation. If you’re feeling just as lost, PixelMill is here to show the way!

Three Types of SharePoint Navigation

The image below shows a site which includes all three levels of navigation.

  • Access the global navigation from the SharePoint app bar from every SharePoint site in your tenant, as long as you have a home site that is configured to show the global navigation. Clicking the home icon (which can be customized) will pop out a panel for the nav. (More on this in a bit!) The global navigation shows your home site’s site nav or your home site’s hub nav, depending on how you set things up.
  • The hub site navigation shows to the right of the app bar, just under the suite bar. The links in this navigation show for all the sites that are associated for a particular hub site.
  • The site navigation shows in the site header for communication sites or alternatively, in a left column for team sites, and it can be configured to show in a few different places in relation to the header. (More on that later, too!) These links show for all pages in that site.
Screenshot of a SharePoint site with the global, hub, and site nav areas highlighted.

Configuring Navigation

Now, let’s go through how you would configure each type of navigation. You can better determine what links should go where once you understand how they are configured.

Site Navigation (Horizontal)

For Communication Sites, the site navigation shows in the header. For Team Sites, you can now have it in the left column or in the header.

When you first create a site, SharePoint will populate basic links into the site navigation for you, such as a link to Documents or the Site Contents. You can click the “Edit” link to modify the site navigation. The pop-out panel allows you to create new links, edit existing links, and rearrange links. The links can also be grouped into a hierarchy of parent links and sub-navigation links.

Screenshot showing the editing interface for site navigation

These links can be audience targeted. That is, you can show certain links to specific SharePoint user profiles, groups, or Azure security groups. What might be counterintuitive is that you can create a link to any page, whether or not it is in this site. For better usability, we suggest that you limit links in the site navigation to pages or locations that are, well, within the site. Of course, there may be use cases where you will want to include a link that is external to the site, but think those through carefully.

Compare the screenshot above of the main intranet site with the screenshot below of our fake Human Resources site. The navigation for Human Resources is very specific to that site.

Screenshot highlighting the site navigation for the Human Resources site

Apart from configuring the links for a site, you can also change the style of dropdown. Go to Site Settings > Change the look > Navigation to change between a megamenu or a cascading menu.

Screenshot showing Settings, Change the Look, Navigation, for choosing Mega menu vs. Cascading menu format

Site Settings > Change the look > Header options impacts the layout of the header. This changes the position of the site navigation in relation to other parts of the header.

Screenshot showing Settings, Change the Look, Header, and different header layout settings.

Team Sites Site Navigation – Horizontal or Vertical

Team Sites by default put the site navigation in the left column. You can change this setting by going to Site Settings > Change the look > Navigation. Here, you’ll see the option to switch between horizontal or vertical navigation. If you choose horizontal, you can set the Mega menu vs. Cascading layout options.

Screenshot showing Site Settings > Change the Look > Navigation for a Team Site, where you can choose horizontal vs. vertical orientation

To edit vertical navigation, you click the Edit button to open the editing panel.

Screenshot showing Team Site vertical navigation with Edit button highlighted

Hub Site Navigation

Hub site navigation first requires that your sites are part of a hub (see Microsoft Docs to learn more about setting up a hub site and hub). The hub site navigation will show for all the sites that are in a hub. Editing a hub navigation bar must be done from the hub site, by the hub site owner. The hub site owner will see an “Edit” link which will open a panel for editing the hub navigation. Keep in mind that the hub navigation only shows for sites that are associated with the hub site, but any links can be added to the hub navigation, even if they are not part of the hub. If you’re going to add a link that is not part of the hub, users may be confused if the hub nav isn’t consistently showing.

Screenshot showing hub site edit button highlighted and the edit panel showing

In the screenshot above, you can see that you can edit the navigation for the hub nav. But the panel doesn’t contain the hub link and logo that make up the first link of the hub nav. To edit the first item of the menu, go to Site Settings > Hub site settings. Here, you can change the logo graphic for the hub site and change the label for the hub site nav. You can even hide the label and just have the logo showing.

Screenshot showing Site Settings > Hub site settings with options for editing the hub site's navigation link

Global Navigation

Global navigation rolled out with the SharePoint App bar in mid-2021, which appears on every site in your SharePoint tenant. The “home” link on the app bar points to SharePoint home, but you can configure it as global navigation instead. Since this navigation shows on every site in your SharePoint tenant, it’s called, no surprise, “global navigation.” The global navigation bar requires a SharePoint home site to be configured. It will replicate either the home site’s site navigation or the home site’s hub navigation.

Screenshot of Global Nav panel

You’ll need strategic, big-picture thought to decide what links should go in your global navigation bar. Do you want it to be the same as your main intranet’s site navigation? Or, is that too restrictive because it doesn’t show other site collections? Does the home site’s hub navigation work for the global navigation? Or, will you have to extend the hub nav to contain more links?

However you decide, here’s an overview of what you’ll need to do to get your Global Navigation set up:

  1. Set up a home site if you haven’t already and share it with everyone in your tenant (so that all your users can see the global nav links)
  2. From the home site, go to Settings > Global navigation and Enable it (see screenshot below)
  3. Add a logo image that will replace the home icon in the app bar (20×20 pixels PNG with a transparent background)
  4. Add the text you want to display at the top of the global navigation
  5. Choose if your global navigation should use the home site’s site navigation or hub navigation

Screenshot of Site Settings > Global navigation settings

Finding Your Way

Now that you understand the three types of SharePoint navigation and how they are configured, it’s time to determine what will work best for your organization. At PixelMill, we strongly recommend setting up a home site and the global nav. But should your global nav point to your home site’s site navigation or hub navigation? And if you aren’t already using hubs and hub navigation, should you? This is where we can’t tell you The One Way to do something, because it will completely depend on your organization’s site architecture, culture, and users! But if you were to chat with our business analysis team, you might get asked questions like these:

  • Do you have many sites that are not part of your main intranet that your global nav needs to surface?
  • Do you want your intranet to integrate in Teams through Viva Connections? (If yes, you’ll need to have a home site.)
  • Do you have role- or location-based audiences that will impact navigation?
  • Do you have multiple sites belonging to any particular departments that may need to be grouped into a hub?



For further reading, Microsoft has a great document with things to consider when setting your navigation. And of course, we’d love to help you answer these questions! Leverage our experience helping other companies and organizations set up or improve their digital workspaces by contacting us today.

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