Configuring SharePoint 2013 Navigation to Span Site Collections

One of the key limitations in SharePoint 2010 is flexibility in the navigation structure to span multiple site collections.  This isn’t possible without significant custom development in SharePoint 2010 and is one of the more exciting features in SharePoint 2013. 

Here is a typical intranet hierarchy in terms of site collection layout:

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In SharePoint 2010, the challenge for users is that once they go to a site in Department 1 Site Collection they lose the context back up to the main Communications Site Collection.  Breadcrumb trails also start fresh the moment you switch collections as well.

So can we fix this in SharePoint 2013?   This article shows some some steps to help explore the new managed navigation features in SharePoint 2013.

Here is are two site collections that I created in my Office 2013 preview environment:

  • PublishingDemo3
  • CollaborationDemo

When I created the PublishingDemo3 Collection, I selected the Publishing Portal Site Collection template and for the CollaborationDemo I selected the Team Site Site Collection template.

 

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We want this to work with a navigation structure that works like this:

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From a navigation perspective, we would want the navigation to provide a seamless drill down from the communications intranet into our collaboration sites.  So let’s see if we can create this in SharePoint 2013.

Creating the Sites

So in each collection, let’s create our site hierarchy.  We need three sites in our Publishing Site Collection and two sites in our Collaboration Site Collection.  To create a new site, go to Site Contents under the Settings menu and create a new site:

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When we create the collaboration sites, there is a navigation setting that allows you to show the sub-site in the parent navigation – let’s turn that on for now for each of our new sub-sites:

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Note that this is only available in the Collaboration Site Collection, not in the Publishing Collection.

So now that we have created our sub-sites, let’s see what the default navigation looks like in SharePoint 2013.  In our Publishing Site Collection, there is no tree on the left hand navigation and by default the navigation is set to Managed Navigation (more on this later).  There is also no breadcrumb available:

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The only way to navigate to our sub sites is through the settings menu under Site Contents.

In our Collaboration Site Collection, the default behavior is to display a left hand navigation with lists, document libraries, etc. and then to have sub-sites underneath the Subsites menu item and are listed on the top navigation bar:

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There is no breadcrumb trail in this template by default either.

Another interesting note – by default, the logo link goes only to the home page of the current site – it doesn’t go to the top of the collection.

 

Integrating the Navigation

For our integrated navigation, these are the requirements we want ideally:

  • Clicking on the left hand logo or “Home” in the left hand navigation should go to the top of the Publishing Site Collection, even if we are in a collaboration site (e.g. to our single “home page”)
  • The top navigation should have a constant set of global links.
  • The left hand navigation should show the parent site (even if that’s in another site collection), items within the site and then sub-sites.

Challenges with Changing the “Home” Page

By default, the home page logo points to the home page of the current site.  So for example, in our Finance Home Page site, clicking on the logo links to the Finance Home Page, not the top level page.

You can change the logo graphic, but there is no option to change the URL!

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It seems crazy that in order to change this behavior you would need a custom master page, but this seems to be the case…

Managed Navigation

We want to have a different top navigation and have it static while providing a dynamic left hand navigation.

For the top navigation, let’s always have it be:

  • Home Page
  • Finance Home Page
  • HR Home Page
  • IT Home Page

We can do this easily in our Publishing Site Collection by switching to Structural Navigation for the global navigation:

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But the challenge is what if we want to have a different arbitrary navigation for our global navigation.  For example, lets imagine that we want to have our collaboration site home page on the global navigation.  We can do that by using managed navigation, but here is the key problem:  there is only ONE navigation term set for a site that is shared across both the left navigation and global navigation.  You can have a managed navigation hierarchy for both global navigation and left hand navigation, but they both point to the same navigation hierarchy. 

When you create a navigation term, the only option you have is to show or hide a term in either the left or global navigation.  So you have to create a navigation tree that combines both terms and show and hide them to have different navigation trees.

I created a custom navigation term set that looks like this:

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We can set this to be our navigation for our Publishing Site Collection under the navigation settings:

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Now our left and top navigation are both driven by the term set.  For each term, we have selected the URL to our sites including the collaboration site home page.

Let’s now add our news and events page to our site.  When we create these pages, SharePoint 2013 automatically adds these to our term set and they show up in both the global and left navigation:

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If you delete these pages, SharePoint 2013 will also delete these from the navigation term set automatically.

We can hide the pages in our global navigation – click on “Edit Links” and click on the hide button to hide the link.

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NOTE: If you click on X to delete the link, it removes it from the term set entirely and it will disappear entirely on both left and global navigation menus.

So we now have a left hand navigation that shows pages and a global navigation that just shows sites.  In both cases, we can link to our collaboration site.

Creating Pages One Level Down

We can create a page and move it down one level in our hierarchy.  Here is a page we created called Finance News and let’s move it under Finance within the hierarchy.  If you click on Edit Links you can drag the link under Finance:

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Clicking on Finance News takes you to the newly created page and the left hand navigation works as expected – it shows an updated navigation drilled down one level down:

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Note that our page is actually physically still located in the main publishing site – it didn’t create it physically within the finance site.  All the pages you create are put in the same top publishing site even though the navigation shows the hierarchy as if these pages are located in separate sites.

 

Drilling into the Publishing Sub-Sites

Recall that we created 3 sub-sites for HR, IT and Finance.  What does the navigation experience look like when we drill into these sites?  Here is what our HR site looks like:

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What happens if we create a page physically in this site?  Well, SharePoint 2013 actually forces the issue – if you are using managed navigation, it will create the page physically at the top site instead of if in our HR site, even though we are in the HR site.  You can see this if you click on Add Page:

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If we go around the default behavior, we can force SharePoint 2013 to create a physical page in one of our sub sites but it won’t show up in the navigation unless you explicitly link to it.  I created these pages physically by going into the Pages library of the Finance site:

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The only page that shows up in the navigation is our default because we explicitly linked to it, but none of the other pages show up dynamically.

Why is this a problem?  One word: Security!  If we want to create a secure site, its hard to secure these pages by their level in the hierarchy because they are physically all kept at the top level.

Drilling into our Collaboration Sites

Let’s look now at the navigation experience in our Collaboration Sites.  Here is what it looks like by default:

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So can we reflect that our IT Collaboration Sites are part of a bigger hierarchy that links back into our Publishing Sites?

The first thing to notice is that Managed Navigation is not available in Site Settings – this is because it is a Publishing feature and not available in Collaboration sites.  However, we could add in some global navigation links and left hand navigation links to mimic our Publishing sites.

Another feature available is the ability to change the link order.  Here is my global navigation changed to reflect the same global navigation in our Publishing Site Collection:

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If we click on one of our collaboration sites, it works as expected and our revised global navigation shows up in the sub-sites:

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Turning on Managed Navigation in Collaboration Sites

Our collaboration site navigation doesn’t mimic the Publishing Site Collection exactly.  For example, the navigation only supports one level in the navigation where our Publishing Sites have multiple levels because they are driven from the term store.  It’s also hard to maintain – if someone decides to change the Global Navigation in our Publishing Site Collection, it won’t reflect automatically in our Collaboration Sites.

How about we turn on the same managed navigation feature in our Collaboration Site?  That way we can use the same term store to drive our navigation across both Publishing and Collaboration Site Collections.  At least for our global navigation, that might be a better solution than manually trying to imitate the Publishing Site Collection’s global navigation.  We can leave our left hand navigation to be collaboration centric and display the lists, document libraries, and other content items that are in typical collaboration sites.

If we go into Site Collection Settings –> Site Collection Features, we can activate the SharePoint Server Publishing Infrastructure feature:

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Re-Using the Existing Navigation Term Set

Once you activate this feature, you can now turn on Managed Navigation for the Global Navigation and select the same term set.  However, you will receive this error when you select the same term set as your Publishing Site Collection:

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If you click OK, your Collaboration Site has now taken over the term set and if you click on one of the links, you get this error in our Publishing Site:

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We can address this challenge by creating a new term set and pinning existing terms (instead of selecting Create Term select Pin Term with Children to re-use the existing terms) from the global navigation to our new term set.  This still means we have two navigation term sets, but by reusing the existing terms, we get the benefit of re-usability at least for each term:

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SharePoint 2013 will allow you now to point to your new Term Set which then re-uses terms from the original Global Navigation term set.

Challenges with Managed Navigation in Collaboration Sites

Managed navigation only allows links to pages, so you cannot link to a document library directly in a collaboration site.  If you try you will get this error:

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Another problem is that URLs will only work across site collections if they are absolute.  By default the URL when you add a page in a publishing site will be relative, so they don’t show up in the Collaboration Site.  SharePoint 2013 automatically removes the links from the navigation instead of generating an error.

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The top navigation is the original Publishing Site Collection navigation, the second one is our Collaboration Site Collection.  The Finance News link doesn’t show up because it is a relative page URL that was created when we created that page.  The Collaboration Site Collection cannot find the page so it doesn’t display the link.

I created a page in the Collaboration Site Collection (because we turned on Publishing, we can now create pages in Collaboration Sites) and put an absolute URL in the navigation  and it works in both Publishing and Collaboration Site Collections:

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Sort Order in Navigation

One other minor issue – if you notice in the above pictures, the sort order of the links is different.  That’s because in the Collaboration term set, our sort sort is set to default (which is alphabetical) and in the Publishing Site Collection its custom (it defaults to the order in which you create the links).  We can change either term set to default or custom and reorder the term so they are consistently ordered:

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Once we have re-ordered the terms consistently, our finished global navigation is the same on both Publishing and Collaboration Sites:

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4 Responses to “Configuring SharePoint 2013 Navigation to Span Site Collections”

  1. [...] Configuring SharePoint 2013 Navigation to Span Site Collections [...]

  2. Awesome post thanks for putting this together.

    There is an issue with Re-Using the Existing Navigation Term Set across site collections. Even with duplicating the term sets, when the term is reused in a site collection it adds the managed path in the new site collection.

    First navigation
    Term Set http://site/sales

    Nested Site collection navigation
    Term Set 2 http://site/sales/sales

    Any clever ideas to get around this?

  3. First, thank you for this detailed article.

    I am trying to create a global menu like you have in this article. Is there really any benefit in creating a global menu in this way? It seems to me to be more time consuming and doesn’t work as you would expect it.

    Our intranet has 1 publishing site collection and the rest are collaboration site collections. It’s unforunate that you have to duplicate the “global navigation” term set for each site collection. Is there anyway to create a global menu without using the managed metadata service (outside of hardcoding in the master page)?

  4. [...] Configuring SharePoint 2013 Navigation to Span Site Collections | Microsoft Strategy Dispells some of the myths around the new navigation features in SharePoint 2013 [...]

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