The enterprise intranet can be an important focal point of internal communications and collaboration–but many companies have not optimized this network to make it easy for employees to find needed information, Sue Hanley, consultant and president of Susan Hanley LLC, said in a session at Microsoft Ignite in Orlando on Wednesday.

“People say, ‘I can’t find anything,’ or ‘I find too much, I can’t figure out what I need,’ or ‘What I need is like finding a needle in a haystack,'” Hanley said.

Here are five key questions to answer when it comes to your intranet, and ways to improve your system.

1. Who are your users?

Business and IT leaders must consider the different users of the intranet, Hanley said. Questions to ask include:

  • Who are your users?
  • What are they looking for?
  • What language makes sense to them, and what is technical jargon that only makes sense within your industry?
  • How do they find information?
  • What design hierarchies do they respond to, and what confuses them?
  • What do they want to learn?
  • What do they want to do?

You can think about these questions as a user story, Hanley said: For example, “As an employee, I want to find learning resources, such as leadership oriented content publications that I have access to as an employee.” This will help you understand what the user’s top tasks in the intranet might be.

SEE: Essential IT Forms (Tech Pro Research)

2. What is the story?

Think about if you can offer this information using images, which users tend to respond better to than lots of text, Hanley said. However, images selected must make sense. “If I see an image, in order for that to be really helpful as a navigational element, it has to tell me a story that connects to my content,” Hanley added.

You can find free, high-resolution images at the following sites, Hanley said:

3. Where?

Where can you put a link in your intranet content? Anywhere but “here,” Hanley said. Users often do not read all of the content on the intranet–rather, they scan it. Hyperlinking helpful words and phrases is more useful than linking to the words “click here.”

“There are all kinds of other ways to direct people using the visual cue of where the hyperlink goes,” Hanley said.

4. Why?

Why does our content need to be here? IT leaders must seek out redundant, outdated content on the intranet, Hanley said. “Look for content that isn’t useful anymore,” she added. “The best thing you can do is get rid of it, because if you don’t, search will find it, and your users are just going to be frustrated.”

However, just because content is older does not mean it isn’t useful, Hanley said. “You need a plan to look at your content on a regular basis,” she added. “It will improve intranet content and search results.”

Other basic rules still apply to intranet content, Hanley said:

  • Don’t overwhelm your readers with too much information on one page
  • Promote frequently needed content, and make it easy to find
  • Make your text scannable
  • Break content into chunks
  • Practice safe bullets–make sure bullet points have the same construction and length, and don’t overuse them or put too much information in them

5. When?

The time to improve your intranet is now, Hanley said. Create content for your visitors, tell your story with relevant images, change “click here” links, prune your information garden, and keep information short and chunky.