Intranet information architectures

An examination of the information architecures for 13 leading intranets provides some clues, tips, and lessons for crafting an effective intranet information architecture (IA).
In light of my article last month, Reinventing intranet information architecture, I though it might be of help to show and compare the major parent categories or channels of some leading intranets. In all, 13 leading intranets were examined.

Download Information Architecture for Intranets Whitepaper (2012)

When I say parent categories, I mean the major categories or sections (in taxonomy terms, often referred to as 'parents') that host or provide access to the bulk of the information or content on a given intranet -- and represent the major or global navigation for the site or portal.
Most of these intranet home pages of course have more than just parent category links and often have other tertiary or navigation links that are not in fact 'parents', but rather are support links that might include the following:

  • Search
  • Site Map
  • Feedback
  • Help
  • Contact Us
  • Directory (Phonebook)
  • Login

An examination of the top level parent categories of these 13 leading intranets reveals the following:

  • The average number of parent categories: 6
  • The intranet with the smallest number of categories: 4
  • The intranet with the highest number: 9
  • The most common parent: News (6x)
  • The 2nd most common parent: About ___ (4x)
  • The number of HR sections actually called 'HR': 1 (Google)
  • The number of HR categories that use the word 'Employee' (as in Employee services): 6
  • The number that have a dedicated category to 'Products' and/or 'Services': 3
  • The number that have a dedicated category to 'Customers': 2

Of note, most of the examined intranets do not have consolidated sections for products and services, and/or customers. Most leave that information to division or business unit silos. Of course, employee users despise content that organized by business structure or heirarchy and most organizations should know better. Some, like Sodexo, understand this and give this information the royal treatment by breaking down their product lines and customers by group with individual parent categories (Corporate, Government, Health Care, Laundry, and Schools).

I have to say, that I find some of the labels and IAs to be rather unintuitive, and real 'head scratchers'. However, I'm not an employee at any of the companies and those organizations are not organizing content for me, but rather for employees. The lesson is this: what is good or intuitive at one company, is not necessarily so at another.

In no particular order here are the top levels (2nd level) or parent categories of the 13 leading intranets that were examined:

Google (6 parent categories):
  • My Office
  • Survival kit
  • Internal News
  • HR
  • Company info
  • Communications

HP (6 parent categories):
  • Job Tools & Resources
  • Benefits, Careers & Policies
  • Organizations & Locations
  • Business Performance
  • Indexes
  • Help

Cisco (6 categories):
  • About Cisco
  • Employee Services
  • Learning & Development
  • Support & Tools
  • Products & Industry
  • Security Information

Microsoft (5 categories):
  • News
  • Campus
  • Employee
  • Services
  • About Microsoft

British Airways (7 parent categories):
  • News
  • Travel
  • Our airline
  • Company procedures
  • Business info
  • BA & Me
  • Off Duty

Bank of America (6 categories):
  • My Work
  • Sales & Marketing
  • Collaboration
  • SAP Portfolio
  • Employee Services
  • Managers Services

SAP (6 categories):
  • Our Company
  • News
  • Tools & Support
  • Benefits & Pay
  • Career & Learning
  • My Division

Perkins Eastman (5 categories):
  • About Perkins Eastman
  • Design & Drawing Resources
  • Project Resources
  • Communities
  • Company Resources

McDonald’s (5 categories):
  • McD Today
  • My Page
  • My McD Site
  • Company Index
  • Site Finder

SimCorp (8 categories):
  • Topics
  • News
  • Project sites
  • Corporate
  • Customers
  • Departments
  • Management
  • Employee

Ericsson (8 categories):
  • Workplace
  • News & Events
  • Sales & Marketing
  • Products & Services
  • Projects
  • Support
  • Unit Info
  • Employee Info

Sodexo USA (9 categories):
  • Campus
  • Canada
  • Corporate
  • Government
  • Health Care
  • Laundry
  • Schools
  • Spirit Cruises

Atomic Energy of Canada (7 categories):
  • About AECL
  • News
  • How Do I?
  • Employee Central
  • Organization
  • Processes
  • Customers
Please note that each of these organizations may or may not be in the process of updating their information architecture (IA), or have recently updated their IA and therefore the categories represented above are representative of the IA at the time the respective companies chose to make the information public.

The ultimate goal of the intranet manager, architect and consultant is to create an ‘intuitive’ IA – information categories and navigation paths that are intuitive or easily understood at a glance.’ Of course the principal challenge of any information architect is that what works at Google or Microsoft, doesn't necessarily work at your organization. The keys to success are understanding the corporate culture and how your employees work, relate to each other, and the nomenclature used to categorize and seek out information.

Download Information Architecture for Intranets Whitepaper (2012)

For help with your intranet information architecture please see our Intranet Blueprint service or contact us directly.


Toby Ward, a former journalist and prominent writer and speaker on intranets and intranet planning, is the President of Prescient Digital Media. To learn how to undertake effective intranet planning, or to get our free intranet white paper, Finding ROI, please contact us directly.


Learn more and specific tips for crafting your intranet information architecture:

Reinventing intranet information architecture
Information Architecture - the science of site layout
Smell the intranet scent
Pick a Card (sort), any card