Why is it that such a small proportion of firms with SharePoint don't use it for public facing websites?
In a recent survey by BrightStarr of SharePoint users only 7% of the businesses surveyed were using SharePoint for any public-facing websites. For large enterprises and organizations SharePoint, especially in its 2013 guise, is a highly capable website management platform. Its functionality and usability puts it in the top bracket of systems to use. For organizations that are already using SharePoint for systems such as Intranets there are savings to be had over other technologies, even open-source options. So why is it that such a small proportion of firms with SharePoint don't use it for public facing websites?
SharePoint websites don't look good
Often the reluctance stems from a perception that SharePoint websites don't and can't look good. This is likely driven from historical experiences of previous version of SharePoint, such as 2007, where SharePoint's design capabilities were limited. Or perhaps even from poor experiences with SharePoint Intranets that have had little in the way of investment in their interface design. If you don't think a SharePoint website can look good you probably aren't going to consider it. The reality is however that SharePoint 2013 really can make it look great. SharePoint Website Design does have some nuances in its execution, but as the BrightStarr website shows, SharePoint 2013 is not a restrictive factor when it comes to web design and you can have a beautiful, easy to navigate website built in SharePoint.
Design agencies don't like SharePoint websites
If you are a design/digital agency that has just won the contract to rebuild an enterprise website and you are not SharePoint web designer or you don't have any SharePoint specific skills in-house, you are unlikely to want to design and build the website in SharePoint. With the concentration of SharePoint technical and UX skills being in specialist consultancies like BrightStarr, general digital design agencies simply don't have the skills and knowledge. General digital and design agencies are not going to want to lose profit margin and control/influence in the project and therefore could actively discourage their clients from using SharePoint as a platform for a public website. This advice may even go against the enterprise client's best interest – because it's not in the agency's own best interest.
The knowledge and skills around SharePoint cannot be redistributed at the press of a button, but there are ways around finding the right skills. If the enterprises themselves make using SharePoint as the website technical platform mandatory in the tender stage then only agencies that have, or are prepared to find, the skills to design and build the site will tender. For those agencies that want to undertake the website UI design work but don't have understanding and execution skills in SharePoint as a website platform, they can turn to specialists like BrightStarr to partner with. Bringing together a creative agency that has been working with a client for some time, with the specialist SharePoint skills that organizations like BrightStarr have to offer is a great solution for the client.
SharePoint websites cannot be optimized for search
Along with the fallacy that SharePoint websites cannot look good, the other untruth that is often raised in these discussions is SharePoint's ability to support search engine optimization (SEO). Older versions of SharePoint were often quite code to content heavy which isn't great, and the specifics of some of the on-page optimization ground work wasn't always straightforward. SharePoint 2013 again changes the balance and shows Microsoft's commitment to SharePoint as a website platform. Not only is code cleaner, but they have made it much easier to do the on-page optimization work, such as managing meta elements.
What is also very relevant in discussions about website search engine optimization is the fact that your ranking in Google and Bing results is much less about the on-page factors than it used to be. The on-page factors, as they are known, relate to your website, content, code and SharePoint webdesign. Off-page factors refer to how your website is linked to other content on the Internet. It is these off-page factors, such as links from other websites and mentions on social media, that continue to grow in importance in determining search rankings, and they are entirely independent of what technology your website is built on. Out of the many on-page factors that are considered by search engines, search marketers agree that quality and depth of content is the key element now; again making technical platform choice even less relevant in SEO.
Reasons to choose a SharePoint based website
It therefore seems that the lack of use of the SharePoint 2013 platform for public facing websites is more to do with misconceptions and holding on to historical experiences rather than looking at the reality of today's SharePoint technology. SharePoint can offer much more than other technical platforms in delivering a feature-rich, high-quality, attractively designed, public-facing website.
SharePoint's power to manage large amounts of data in a way that makes it easy to find can be used for customer self-help systems and knowledge bases. SharePoint allows you to create workflows that can make life easier for customers and crucially save your business money. In the 24/7 world why not use the power of SharePoint to add self-service functions to your public facing website? Global businesses also need to have a unified face, but localized content; SharePoint is powerful enough to give you the ability to control and delegate in the combinations you need. There is also the efficiency saving of using the same technology so your team only need to know one technology, reducing training and making them more efficient as they work in the same technology across uses. So the question is, 'what's stopping you now?'