Limitations of Managed Navigation in SharePoint 2013

When SharePoint 2013 came out, one of the most promising features was the Managed Navigation. Sometimes it’s also incorrectly referred as Managed Metadata Navigation.

In addition to many improvements in SharePoint 2013 WCM framework, Managed Navigation was promised to solve long standing SharePoint issue – Out of box cross-site collection global navigation. If you have been SharePoint veteran, you would know that structured navigation can’t span across multiple site collections and Managed metadata & centralized term store driven navigation can easily solve the cross-site collection issue since data are stored in centralized location instead of per site collection.

How to Configure Managed Navigation in SharePoint 2013

Configuring Managed Navigation in SharePoint 2013 is straightforward. You must meet following two per-requisites:

  • Enable Managed Metadata Service in the On-Premises farm, this is already enabled in SharePoint Online
  • Site collections must be configured to use Publishing framework.

To prepare term store for the Managed Navigation, you must enable term set to use for Managed Navigation. This will enable “Navigation” and “Term-Driven Pages” on the term set to set additional properties.

1_Managed Navigation

For each term in term set, you can specify Navigation Node Title, Navigation Hover Text, whether it’s visible in Global or Local Navigation, and Navigation Node Type and Navigation URLs.

2_Managed Navigation

After term set is prepared for Managed Navigation, you can enable Managed Navigation in the Site collection and specify which term set will be used for Site Collection Navigation. This step should conclude configuring Managed Navigation for given site collection.

3_Managed Navigation

4_Managed Navigation

Limitations of Managed Navigation in SharePoint 2013

As you can notice above, configuring Managed Navigation in SharePoint 2013 is straightforward and provides great no-code solution. With recent hatred for Full Trust Farm, Sandbox, or any kind of custom solutions, organizations are looking for no-code solutions and as I have mentioned earlier, Managed Navigation provided great promise to solve cross-site collection navigation. Many (including me) have tried to configure this navigation or used this approach without knowing its limitations and later decided to redesign with alternative, more-maintainable solution.

In this article, I will walk through some of the major limitations and why you must avoid this solution unless you are configuring Cross-Site Collection Navigation less than 10-15 site collections and deal with potential manual ongoing maintenance.

Limitation # 1 => 1:1 Relationship between Site Collection and Term Set

It is important to note that each term set can be associated with only one site collection at given time. In other words, it requires dedicated copy of term set for each site collection navigation. E.g. If you have 5 site collections, you must have 5 copies of same term set to use for 5 site collections navigation data.

If term set is already configured to use for Site Collection navigation and if you try to reuse same term set in another site collection, SharePoint will throw following warning and accepting it will disconnect term set from previous site collection before associating with current site collection: The selected term set is already used by another site:, Before proceeding, you should go to the navigation settings for the other site and deselect the term set.  If the other site is no longer accessible, you can continue and take over the term set. If you proceed, this will break the navigation settings for the other site — are you sure?

5_Managed Navigation

Limitation #2 => Managed Navigation can’t be secured or targeted to specific group

One of the great abilities of Structured Navigation was you can configure audience targeting or secure each menu item for specific audiences or SharePoint security groups. Unfortunately Managed Navigation can’t be secured or targeted to specific security group.

Limitation # 3 => Reusing Term Set for Managed Navigation requires lots of Manual Maintenance Overhead to Sync Global Navigation Menu Items

As we discussed earlier, you must have 1 term set for each site collection. If you have more than 1 site collection, you must have more than 1 term set dedicated to each site collection. To ensure, all the site collection uses same navigation menu items, there are two options available in SharePoint 2013 for replicating term sets. Regardless of which approach you may take, it will require manual maintenance of reconfiguring term sets due to propagation issues of primary term set to secondary term sets.

  • Reuse the first term set to create secondary term sets – If you plan to use reuse approach, as it name suggests, it copies primary term set terms to secondary term set and any subsequent changes in the primary term set won’t reflect in the secondary term set. To resolve this issue, every time there is change in primary term set, you must delete secondary term set and recreate & reconnect from site collection.
  • Create secondary set of term sets by pinning the primary term set – Although you can’t pin term sets, you can create secondary term set dependent on primary term set by pinning terms including children. Idea behind this option is any changes in primary term set including adding, removing, or modifying terms should propagate changes to the secondary term set. As always with majority of Microsoft technologies, there are always gotchas. Pinning will propagate adding new item, remove item, change title from primary term set to secondary term sets but doesn’t propagate URL or any other properties changes to secondary term sets. To resolve this issue, you must remove terms from secondary term sets and re-pin them including children.

As you can imagine from both approaches above (reuse or pin), it would work great if you have small number of static site collections. If you have large number of site collections, any changes in the primary term set terms including URLs will require recreating or reconfiguring term sets.

Please note that if you are still leaning towards this option and maintenance of term sets wouldn’t be an issue, I would prefer the second option because it would require repining only terms with children and wouldn’t require recreating term set and reconnecting from site collection navigation screen. I must add here that Microsoft ever fixes this pinning propagation issue in future release of product, many of us wouldn’t mind using this option even though it requires manual configuration of dedicated term set for each site collection.

To configure the second approach, you must start with creating new term set for secondary site collection. In our example, we will create second term set for HR site collection. For each parent term in term set, you can configure secondary term set by adding primary term set terms using “Pin Term with Children” option. You must use this option for each parent term in primary term set. In addition, you must configure secondary term set to use for Managed Navigation.

6_Managed Navigation

7_Managed Navigation

8_Managed Navigation

After configuring secondary term set, you can visit HR site collection and configure it to use HR term set. As long as all the site collection term set terms are synced, you should have working global cross-site collection navigation.

9_Managed Navigation

10_Managed Navigation

Limitation # 4 => Managed Navigation doesn’t apply to Sub Sites automatically

This is another one of those mind-boggling limitations of Managed Navigation. If you have enabled Managed Navigation at the site collection and while creating sub sites, if you are planning to inherit parent navigation, Managed Navigation doesn’t apply to sub sites automatically. To resolve this peculiar issue, you must open Navigation page from sub site settings page and click “OK” for to take in effect. Again, this is one of those gotchas Microsoft failed to pass through QA and UAT stage.

As discussed above, Managed Navigation does the great job of resolving long standing SharePoint Cross-Site collection Global Navigation issue but requires lots of manual maintenance and specific disciplined guidelines to work it correctly. This might be great alternative to expensive custom solutions. As with most of features in SharePoint 2013, there are tradeoffs and if no-code, out of box approach is your cup of tea and as long as you are aware of limitations, feel free to use this approach. I have just used this approach for one of the recent SharePoint Online intranet I had configured but warned our customer to redesign/reconsider this approach if they ever have more than 10-15 site collections.

Additional Resources

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12 Responses to Limitations of Managed Navigation in SharePoint 2013

  1. Rahul Bhalla says:

    Really nice article….

  2. westerdaled says:

    Good article. One thing I have found annoying is you can’t do have the MMS column as a lookup column which I am having to deal with at the moment. Currently, I am thinking I treat the
    Say I had a lookup list
    Title, MMS1, MMS2, could make Tile have the same value as MMS1 using a workflow but this sound like hard work. .

  3. Pingback: Metadata driven Navigation | @SPSamer

  4. bas15 says:

    The article may need to be updated as of now, the features are different.
    Reuse-Terms are also gets updated when the source is changed. The only difference between reuse and pinned terms is that you wont be able to modify any pinned terms ie. pinned terms are read-only and reused terms can be modified anywhere. Please update the article. Otherwise great suggestions. I Also verified this.

  5. I’d like to see how it’s done all the way – how do I control what shows up when I click the metadata term. How do I associate pages to the metadata? Just tagging it isn’t enough but as I uderstand it search web part is needed to put the puzzle together?

  6. Struggling with this for a client. I think I might end up building a custom solution with JSOM 😦 Not happy about it.

  7. Good article. FYI: Powershell can help you if you choose option 2 – ◾Create secondary set of term sets by pinning the primary term set.

  8. Really nice article! Included all the options with thorough details! Thanks for Sharing!

  9. Thank you so much! This article was extremely helpful. I’m setting up my company’s intranet on SharePoint 2013 online and was running into all of these issues you mentioned. Really well done and informative.

  10. It is really helpful. Thank you.

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