SharePoint Online, a component of Microsoft’s Office 365 suite, provides subscribing organisations with public-facing website functionality. This type of SharePoint public-facing website lacks the full feature set of SharePoint, but is perfectly adequate for websites with basic functionality (not necessarily small or low-traffic sites).
We were recently approached to deliver 2 such websites for a client (N.B. as an educational organisation they were eligible for the A2 Office 365 Plan, meaning their SharePoint Online website licensing and hosting was completely free)
Both of the SharePoint Online websites can be viewed here:
In this blog post we will give a brief overview of the two websites, exploring:
- SharePoint Online Website Author Requirements (content management and analytics)
- SharePoint Online Website Visitor Requirements (user experience and accessibility)
- SharePoint Online Website Features Leveraged (blog site, list apps and library apps)
SharePoint Online Website Author Requirements
A public-facing website can have all the design and functionality in the world thrown at it, but if the content is not relevant or up-to-date then it is unlikely to have a lasting effect. For that reason, the key requirements from a website author’s perspective were easy content management and the ability to analyse site performance.
As the organisation’s marketing team have no internal IT support, it was crucial that the content of both sites could be managed by non-technical authors. The content on the websites, which needs regular updating, includes:
- Rich text, including videos embedded from YouTube and other sources
- Links to other pages and external sites
- Documents (particularly Word and PDF)
SharePoint Online websites allow videos to be surfaced directly from YouTube using the ‘Embed’ tool
In addition to creating and editing pages independently of IT, the website authors also need to be able to optimise the site for search engines (SEO) without having to edit code.
SharePoint Online websites allow SEO properties to be changed through a modal in the ribbon
Finally, website authors need to track the performance of the websites using Google Analytics. As the code snippet for Google Analytics (the code that allows authors to track websites) can change without notice, website authors also require a way to update this without going into HTML.
The SharePoint Online ‘Web Analytics App’ (freely available) allows authors to change Google Analytics snippets without touching code
SharePoint Online Website Visitor Requirements
Website visitors need a simple, modern look and feel that helped them easily find the content they needed, whilst conveying the organisation’s existing brand guidelines.
SharePoint Online themes provide the whole website a consistent look and feel whilst custom CSS can be used to enhance specific page elements
As well as looking good, it is also important that the websites meet accessibility standards (specifically being AA compliant). Whilst underlying elements of Office 365 may compromise accessibility, additional code is able to meet the rigorous standards.
SharePoint Online Website Features Leveraged
As I mentioned in the introduction, the SharePoint Online public-facing website lacks the full feature set of SharePoint. Nethertheless, it provides more than enough functionality for many website projects. Here we will look at three areas of functionality in particular; the blog site, list apps and library apps.
The SharePoint Online blog site enables content authors to publish rich text blogs from either the browser or Word. Once published, blogs are automatically categorised and made available to website visitors. The latest blogs are surfaced on the homepage and visitors can choose to follow via RSS, comment with a Facebook account and share content via email.
Publishing a new blog through a rich text editor, as viewed by a website author
A new blog post, as viewed by a website visitor
List Apps enable content to be stored, as the name suggests, in lists, and then surfaced on various website pages via ‘app parts’. Adding new content to lists is done through simple forms, meaning that pages with these ‘app parts’ can be updated without the use of code.
Adding a new FAQ through a form, as viewed by a website author
A list of FAQs, surfaced through an ‘app part’, as viewed by a website visitor
Similarly to list apps, library apps allow content in document format to be stored in libraries and then surfaced on pages via ‘app parts’, once again avoiding the need for editing in HTML.
Adding a document by dragging-and-dropping into a library, as viewed by a website author
A list of downloadable documents, as viewed by a website visitor
As you can see, despite the functional limitations of SharePoint Online public-facing websites, they can be more than capable of delivering an impressive authoring and visiting experience. In particular, they can:
- Streamline content management, reducing dependency on IT
- Be easily optimised for search engine performance
- Integrate industry standard analytics
- and finally, provide an engaging (and accessible) user experience to website visitors