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For SharePoint Online – Discover the features in SharePoint Online that help organize sites, information and audiences

Introduction

When you start creating sites in your new SharePoint Online environment, it is important to understand the features available to help your users navigate the sites they have access to.

This post highlights the key methods you can use to make your users get access to the information they need as soon as possible

1. Planning Audiences

When creating sites, our first question will likely be: WHO has access to WHAT?

Each site has two basic audiences you should consider immediately:

  • Who will be reading this?
  • Who will be writing this?

Where the answer to both questions is the same – we will probably create a collaboration style site using the “Team Site” template.

When the answer to both questions is different – the most common scenario – we will need to evaluate the purpose of the site further. If the predominant function of the site is to “publish content” to an audience, you’ll want to use the “Communications site” template.

All other sites will likely be a combination of both templates across multiple small sites grouped together. You may also find it useful to separate organizational/department teams into multiple sites – so that the site’s purpose does not try to cater to too many different audiences/functions.

In our next step, we will look at how these separate sites (and audiences) can be grouped together.

Tips

  • Identifying the “Site Owner” is important – but can be done at a later date. During the early stages of your SharePoint implementation, I’d recommend the IT/Project team retain Ownership permissions.

 

2. Grouping Sites

Once you understand your audiences/sites we can starting providing methods

Before we look at that, it is important to highlight a core SharePoint concept – Security trimming.

Security trimming is an underlying feature that prevents users from “stumbling across” content they should not have access to. Simply put, that if a user does not have access to a site/document/content in SharePoint, they won’t even know it exists.

Security trimming may sound a little restricting, but it works great with the “Hub site” feature. Hub sites act as a “parent” site to a group of “child” sites – so they can share navigational & search capabilities. This is where security trimming allows to show relevant content to a group of users – pre-determined by their level of access to the child site content.

 

SP Hierachy

RED USER – can see Site 1, so the “HUB SITE” search will return results from Site 1

BLUE USER – can see Site 1 & 2, so the “HUB SITE” search will return results from Site 1 and Site 2

GREEN USER – can see Site 1 & 3, so the “HUB SITE” search will return results from Site 1 and Site 3

 

3. Defining Feature Governance

SharePoint Online has a wealth of features & functionality – including some “classic” SharePoint features retained for the sake of backward-compatibility.

It is best to categorize these features as early as possible. The following categories may help:

  1. Basic Functionality
    • Required for all sites
  2. Advanced Functionality
    • To be implemented/evaluated on a selected group of sites
  3. Hidden Functionality
    • Features that have no obvious requirement
    • Features that present no immediate value

It is important to focus on the features that will offer the most benefit to your sites/audiences (based on their requirements) and then use governance, training & admin tools to hide irrelevant topics.

You can always “turn on” features in SharePoint at a later date – but “turning off” features after-the-fact is much harder & labor-intensive. This way we can stay focussed on the most useful features for the audience at any given time – and add additional functionality to their site as their knowledge/familiarity of SharePoint grows.

Tips

  • Categorizing features in this way is not permanent – so make sure you re-evaluate the categories periodically
  • Using the “Site Usage” analysis features in each site can help guide you to areas in each site that require additional governance or functionality.

 

Advanced Topics:

  1. Assigning Hub sites with PowerShell
    1. If you have a PowerShell Guru at your disposal, you can try using cmdlets to help speed up the process
  2. Creating Sites with PowerShell
  3. Using Office 365 groups for permissions within SharePoint