Using SharePoint to design your website – Part 3 of 3

In the final blog post of this series, I will be discussing the ins and outs of actually building a website using SharePoint – the final decision to be made when thinking about using SharePoint for your website.

Using SharePoint to design a public-facing website

So you have decided that SharePoint is feature rich enough for your website, and have decided to use either SharePoint on Premise or Online; all you’ve got to do now is actually built it.

As I previously covered in the first post of this series, SharePoint has struggled to shake off the stigma of its conception as a corporate business tool and doesn’t have the popularity of blogging software such as WordPress; but this is no bad thing.

The extensive list of tools involved in creating an innovative and, more importantly, intuitive public-facing website is necessarily extensive. You just can’t get the functionality and high-level content management without using a platform such as SharePoint.

So what do you do?

Speaking to one of our Consultants, James Eccles, it became clear that there are three clear stages to the development of a public-facing website:

Aesthetics

Inevitably, the look of your website is a major consideration; and when using SharePoint, you will use the tool ‘SharePoint Designer’ to manually implement designs and functions onto your website. As it is such an extensive tool, it does need to be properly administrated.

List all of the requirements you want to feature on your website- your images, content and functionality needs. These can then be drawn up by a designer. Only once you have created these detailed plans- or ‘wireframes’- can you think about building a website that is aesthetically pleasing and functional.

Security

When companies first started using SharePoint, there was not enough security in place; this meant that the right ‘SharePoint nerds’ could effectively hack into your website and view all of the site content. It is unlikely that they would be able to actually do anything, as the permissions barrier would prevent them from tampering and altering information. However, should a customer accidentally stumble across the page, they would find a complete exposition of the website content-highly unprofessional!

To get around this situation, it’s important to consider and action the following:

  • Ensure that the developers working on your site are fully aware that simply hiding information behind a firewall can prevent hackers from accessing information
  • Ensure that you are fully aware of the range of permissions that are available to you, and consider the best way of implementing these by referring to the following info from Microsoft: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-sharepoint-services-help/permission-levels-and-permissions-HA010100149.aspx

The above tools, combined with a knowledgeable architect/web developer, should ensure that your website only displays the content that you want it to.

Additional Functionality

Implementing your designs is the final, and arguably the most important, step in creating a website.
Already use SharePoint for your intranets and extranets? Then leverage your staff’s existing knowledge of SharePoint to create your internet site. It uses exactly the same skill set that your existing .NET web developers and designers already have.

However, if you’re newer to SharePoint, it is recommended that you outsource the development of your website, as this will allow you to fully explore the ‘ins and outs’ of SharePoint Designer with regards to User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI). These two buzz words are everywhere at the moment and relate to how your website is viewed by the public (the ‘user’). Considerations such as:

  • How easy it is to navigate around your site
  • The internal consistency of your site:- User Interface should be consistent across all parts of the application, from navigation to colour to terminology.

You have also got to think about who will be editing and maintaining your site, and whether they have the relevant skills to build web parts, or html features or Javascript and of course, to use SharePoint designer. The users who will be maintaining your site may have varying skills, and SharePoint allows you to open up or restrict your design according to who will be working on it. So if you don’t need or want staff to be doing fancy things with Javascript, for example, then you can necessarily restrict this function in your design process.

Office 365 Website Offering

As part of their subscription to Office 365, customers have the opportunity to create one public-facing website using the new site designer tool. The intention of this tool is to create a simple and professional public-facing website that usurps the need for SharePoint designer. Users can use the ribbon tool bar to easily navigate and implement tools, functions and design elements to create a single, branded internet site.

For more information, take a look here and here.

Although it’s an innovative piece of integrated software, the Office 365 public-facing website will, inevitably, fall short when compared to those created using SharePoint Designer. It’s like pitching the lightweight boxer against a heavy weight- you know who will win!

In Conclusion

SharePoint Designer is the tool you need to become familiar with in order to start planning your SharePoint public-facing website. Its content management resources are too extensive to fit in one blog post, so take a look at Microsoft’s website for more information on the finer details:

In this post, I have tried to tackle the major considerations that need to be addressed when setting up and implementing your SharePoint public-facing site. The triad of Aesthetics, Security and Functionality are all equally important factors, and when correctly implemented, they can create some really outstanding sites.

Have a look at some great examples on Ferrari, Home Made Simple, Pringles