One of the less well known features of Office 365 and SharePoint Online is the ability to quickly create a public facing website. Users with Office 365 Enterprise accounts can create simple brochure or marketing sites accessible by anyone on the web. They offer a quick 'out of the box' means of creating a public presence, and whilst not for everyone, a very useful feature of SharePoint Online that many people aren't aware of.
SharePoint 2013 brought with it lots of new features to this component. Here are our top five:
1. Device Channels
SharePoint 2013 allows specific pages to be targeted at specific mobile devices. This is very useful for Intranet and Extranet systems but an absolute must for modern public facing websites. Using device channels, different pages can be displayed to different users depending on the hardware they are using. An iPad user will see one version, a smartphone user another and a desktop user another. Each version is optimized to the device in question giving the user the best possible experience.
2. Image Renditions
The new Image Rendition capability is also geared for users visiting your website from mobile devices. It allows a single image to be held in multiple sizes or 'multiple renditions.' A specific rendition can then be served on a particular page, for example an image with a small file size can be used on a page intended for mobile visitors.
3. Search Engine Optimisation
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a huge part of any public facing website and SharePoint 2013 offers a number of improved features in this respect. These include the ability to have SharePoint generate an XML sitemap, support for meta robots, meta description and keyword values and <title> tags. All are expected of public facing websites and it is great to see Microsoft supporting them.
4. Content by Search
SharePoint 2010 only offered a publishing page model where individual pages had to be authored, approved and published each time a change was required. SharePoint 2013 supplements this functionality with an ability to surface content using the SharePoint search engine. This powerful new feature then allows indexed content to be displayed using specific templates, perfect for lists of data, catalogues or product lists. Content by Search is available to any SharePoint implementation, website or other, and is a really great new addition to the 2013 release.
5. Human readable URLs
In previous versions of SharePoint URLs normally included the string '/pages' and ended in '.aspx.' Microsoft has pre-empted an emerging trend for simplifying URLs (increasingly browsers and search engines are showing only fragments of full URLs) by allowing these elements to be omitted. Not only does this make navigating a site easier for users but many believe search engines favour sites with simpler, human readable, URL structures.
Upgrading your website
A quick note for those users who have recently upgraded to the latest version of Office 365. Microsoft details here how your public facing website is to be updated. The good news is you aren't forced to upgrade any existing website and can view both the old and the new versions in parallel. This is a nice bit of flexibility from Microsoft, recognising that not everyone has the time or resources to deal with an upgrade just because the tools themselves are ready.
Building more complex websites in SharePoint
It is important to note that the out of the box website functionality of SharePoint Online isn't for everyone. The results can be fairly basic (in terms of interaction and support for rich content) and offer none of the custom functionality many of our clients have come to expect. They are however a great option for those needing a simple brochure style site that they can quickly get up and running.
SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 are still the right tool for more complex websites and requirements, its just the implementation details that differ. Here at BrightStarr we pride ourselves on being able to create beautiful, functional and usable websites using the latest SharePoint features. See here for more information on our many website projects. Even our own site is powered by SharePoint 2013. Whatever your requirements, SharePoint has it covered. Get in touch to find out how our experts can help you.