Optimizing Your Website for Collaboration and Interactivity

Most people who have used SharePoint have done so through their office intranet. But SharePoint also has the ability to be a content management system for building external websites, and its permissions make it easy to assign roles to different people depending on who is in charge of particular sections of the website.

This allows for seamless contributions by multiple authors within an organization, who may each have been assigned to different sections of the website. Here are a few features SharePoint has that will help you set up a new company website from scratch or move your existing content to a new website.

1. Easy-to-use content editing tools look like other Microsoft Office products

As long as you or your employees are familiar with Microsoft Word and other Microsoft Office products, they will be familiar with the text editing tools in SharePoint. And getting people to edit sections of website content is much easier if you don’t need to train them to navigate a completely unfamiliar interface:

A nice feature of SharePoint is that you have the ability to click on the Edit Source button and change the html code directly, rather than only working with the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) shown on the page. This enables end users who are comfortable with html coding to choose this option to make formatting changes on the page, while still allowing those who prefer WYSIWYG to avoid dealing with html code.

The Page editing toolbar contains functions that are a bit different than those in Microsoft Word (because you are editing a web page rather than Word document), but it still contains a similar look:

People can try out different page layouts with the click of a button, and go back to the original page layout simply by selecting it or exiting without saving the page.

These tools make it easy for anyone to manage your website and its content.

2. The look and feel of your website can be customized easily using templates

Just like Microsoft PowerPoint has different templates users can choose and then customize, so does SharePoint. SharePoint’s site menu enables users to change the look and layout of the website without having to know anything about html or code.

For example, if you’re creating a website for a sushi restaurant, choose the Sushi Black design, or start with a basic template and then use your own image in the background. The templates are generic enough that you’ve probably unknowingly visited a number of websites that use SharePoint.

SharePoint can be as customized as you want: if you want to start simple by using the built-in design templates and then eventually add more features, that’s completely up to you and your end users’ level of comfort.

3. SharePoint social plugins, App Parts and Web Parts can be added to customize your website

Anyone who owns a smartphone knows that most software and hardware are now built around apps. Apps (applications) enable customizability by adding features to a base framework. For example, if you own an iPhone, you know that when you purchased it, there were standard apps on your phone, such as your camera, photos, messages, calendar, notes, and mail. And you could go to the App Store to get additional apps such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so forth. SharePoint is set up in a similar way because you can choose to insert social plugins, App Parts, and Web Parts, simply by clicking on the appropriate button from the Insert tab:

Social plugins can be purchased from the SharePoint Store after clicking on the Social Plugins button. Many of these are free, although some will have a cost listed in their description. For example, one freely available plugin is OneBit Survey Master, developed by OneBit Software Ltd, which lets you create surveys, questionnaires, polls, and feedback forms to put on the website and then analyze and publish the results to your website. These are great for product reviews, feedback forms, and so forth.

Plugins, like apps, are usually created by non-Microsoft developers or companies. OneBit Software, for example, is not a Microsoft company, but it has created an app available through the SharePoint Store that can be used with Microsoft’s product. Apps for iPhone work in a similar way: some of the apps in Apple’s App Store are made by Apple, but most are not. This customizability through third-party apps is what many people see as the future for not only mobile devices but also websites, and SharePoint is set up to allow you to do this. 

In addition to social plugins, SharePoint users can also add App Parts and Web Parts to their pages. SharePoint’s built-in App Parts mostly consist of document lists and picture libraries, but along with Web Parts, they can be customized by developers and added as options for your page. For example, you can add a Web Part called Recently Changed Items to your page, which will display a list of any documents or pages in your site that have recently been updated.

There are, of course, terms that SharePoint users will have to become familiar with, even if they are already used to Microsoft products. For example, SharePoint uses the term site  to refer to each main section within an overall website, and you can also add subsites and pages to each site. Since most people think of the word siteas referring to the entire website, this can be confusing. However, it is a key method of how SharePoint is able to divide the overall website into sections that can be managed by different users with unique permissions, and once users are familiar with the basic terms, it becomes clearer whether to add a new site or a new page and how to structure pages using a hierarchy. 

The points above were just a highlight of how SharePoint can be used for your company website. For more information, check out Microsoft’s Getting Started with SharePoint 2013  or contact us and we’d be happy to help set up your website or train your employees how to use it.