Managing global navigation in SharePoint online

Options to manage global navigation in SharePoint online keeps getting better and better. We have come a long way from custom apps, using managed metadata navigation to hub navigation & the shiny SharePoint app bar.

SharePoint app bar:

SharePoint app bar brings together global navigation and user personalized resources (Sites, News & Files) to every Modern site in your tenant. Personalized content in the app bar is powered by Microsoft Graph. This new feature can be temporarily disabled if you need more time to prepare for this change. It cannot be delayed until Oct 31, 2021 but not totally disabled.Here are the 4 sections that come with app bar. All of them come together, individual options cannot be disabled. App bar cannot be managed at individual site level.

  • Global navigation – This is the only configurable part of the app bar. Will explain in detail on how to best configure this in next sections of this article. If Global navigation is not configured, this by default will link to SharePoint start page. (/layouts/sharepoint.aspx)
  • Sites – Frequent & Following sites powered by Graph.
  • News – News articles available to the user. Powered by Graph.
  • My Files – Recent files accessed by user. Powered by Graph.

Why we need Global navigation in app bar?

There is no out of the box solution available in SharePoint that address Global navigation until the hub navigation model was released. But the downside of that model is navigation will not flow through all the sites unless the site is hooked up to the hub. This is a major gap that the new app bar fills. Navigation setup on app bar will be available on every Modern SharePoint site including Groups/Teams connected SharePoint sites.

Now that we have determined that app bar helps even if you have already have hub navigation setup, let’s get to the implementation part. If your root site is not a modern site, you can easily create a new Communication site and swap it with your Classic root site. Here is a Microsoft article that explains how to Modernize root site.

For the sake of this blog, let us assume your root site is Modern and you are all set.

Customize Global navigation in app bar:
  • Setup home site if you have not done already.  Home site is key for customizing Global navigation. If home site is not setup in your tenant, first link in app bar is defaulted to SharePoint start page. (/layouts/sharepoint.aspx).  Here is an article from Microsoft on how to set a home site.

Bonus: Home site comes with ton of other benefits. My favorite is the search scope which is all the sites in SharePoint. If you set your Intranet site as home site, search in your Intranet home brings back results from all over SharePoint. That is huge! Home site is also a pre requisite for Microsoft Viva Connections, which was recently announced in Spring 2021 Ignite

  • After setting up your home site. Ideally if you set your root site as your Intranet and set it as your home site, it will simplify things. So, after you got your home site setup, you should see Global navigation option under settings.
  • You will have the option to turn Global navigation on/off and also set logo & title.

  • Next step will be picking the navigation source. Home site navigation / Hub or Global navigation.

For home sites that are also setup as Hub sites, there are 2 navigation sources to pick from

  • Hub site navigation
  • Home site navigation

For home sites that are not hub sites, only option is Home site navigation.

 Out of the all the possibilities available with hub and home site navigation, the best combination I have decided to use is as:

  • Set Home site as Hub. Use hub navigation to add links to all important sites.
  • Use Home site navigation as source for app bar
  • Hide the site navigation on Home site using one of the 2 options
    • Go to Setting then Change the look, then Navigation and toggle the Display site navigation to Hide
    • Go to Setting, then Change the look, then Header and choose Extended
  • Add Enterprise wide useful resources to Home site navigation.

By following this approach, Global navigation in app bar includes only Enterprise wide relevant links (HR policies, Company Values etc) and is available in every Modern SharePoint site. Hub navigation can still include links to important sites but there is clear separation between Enterprise resources and handy site links, without repetition. This approach makes me feel good about Global navigation in SharePoint! (for the first time :P)

Some Images used in this blog are from Microsoft. Reference: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/sharepoint/sharepoint-app-bar