Building public facing websites on SharePoint 2013 – Part 1

Yesterday I had the great opportunity to present at the Perth leg of SharePoint Saturday for 2013. Overall the event was a resounding success – the turnout was reasonable considering it was the day of the state election and while the numbers may have fluctuated across the entire day, a number of sessions were well attended in all of the time slots. I had roughly 25 in my session which didn’t reach the great heights of my user group session on Harnessing Client-Side Technologies to Enhance your SharePoint Site however seemed a decent turnout considering there were 2 other quality sessions on at the same time and the overall numbers would have been less than the many which attend the monthly UG sessions.

After having some success with my previous session linked above I decided to follow the same presentation format – half an hour dedicated to slides and theory and another half hour dedicated to demonstrations. At the end of the day I probably whipped through the slides a little quicker than I expected which guaranteed I had enough time to finish off the 4 demo’s I had hoped to get through.

This post will run through the background to each slide shown below, then part 2 will give a run through of the steps and comments associated with each demonstration performed.

Building public facing websites on SharePoint 2013

The cover slide gave me an opportunity to thank everyone for supporting SharePoint Saturday in Perth and particularly choosing my session for the time slot – it’s definitely something I appreciate and is worth repeating in this post. I covered off a little bit about myself and explained my public facing website journey on SharePoint starting at Tourism on the now infamous westernaustralia.com website and various partner sites to my more recent experiences at the Department of Training and Workforce Development on various departmental and TAFE institution web sites – the most recent being developed on SharePoint 2013.

Agenda

There were 2 main things I wanted to get out of my session – firstly I wanted to generate some excitement on the possibilities that existed around building public facing websites on SharePoint 2013 but also transfer some knowledge around the key areas which are often neglected when building an internet facing site. I wanted to cover off how each version of the platform performed in each area then explore the new and exciting features which exist for web content management on SharePoint 2013, backed up by a number of demonstrations on my favourite features.

Branding & UX

Most people think branding SharePoint is all about slicing and dicing images into Master Pages and Page Layouts – and while this is a large part of it, there are a number of other factors which should be considered for a successful site. Implementing Custom Error Pages is one factor which is often forgotten about and can make the difference between your site looking professional or incomplete. The client-side and search experience is another area which can transform your site from something which looks good to something which performs great.

Search Engine Optimisation

SEO is often neglected or considered as an afterthought once the website has already gone live and traffic is not up to expectations – it is a crucial factor to consider to maximise the number of visitors to your public facing site. The topic is worthy enough of a presentation of its own however I have a 3-part blog series on Search Engine Optimisation for SharePoint Sites and Ian McNeice has written a great global SEO strategy book which cover the details. The main takeaway from this slide was that effective SEO requires a 3-phased approach – identify the keywords and phrases which are most effective to optimise for, optimise your site for those keywords and phrases and finally think outside the box for ways in which you can drive traffic to your site – rating well in the search engines in merely one component to an overall strategy.

Performance Optimisation

If SEO is all about bringing people to your site then Performance Optimisation is all about keeping them there. There are some great statistics and studies on the web which link bounce rates to page performance so it is most definitely an important factor to consider when building a site. There is a common misperception that SharePoint is inherently slow but that’s not a theory I subscribe to – a poorly developed and optimised site will perform badly on any platform – it’s just that SharePoint is easy to blame. Again this is another area in which an entire presentation could be dedicated and while I have another 3-part series on Performance Optimising SharePoint Sites the main takeaway was that while there are a number of generic and SharePoint-specific tasks you can target to optimise a site, there are also a number of great free tools available to benchmark and measure the performance of your pages including webpagetest.org, ySlow and Google Page Speed.

Accessibility

From a couple of topics which are often neglected or postponed to one which is often discarded completely. While it’s understandable how accessibility sometimes falls by the wayside due to its at-times difficult and time consuming implementation on SharePoint it’s interesting to note the time often dedicated to cross-browser compatibility for browsers with a lower percentage of use compared to the numbers that would benefit from an accessible site. This is particularly important for WA Government Organisations who have a mandate to ensure all websites are WCAG 2.0 compliant by the end of 2013. Vision Australia has written a great whitepaper on Achieving Accessibility in SharePoint 2010 which should be read for more information.

SharePoint 2007

So how does each version of SharePoint fare in these areas? Before I start it’s important to point out that any discussion on Licensing is generic and ballpark – I’m no licensing expert and the numbers have been taken in US dollars and at the time they were relevant – see the hyperlinks for the source.

Licensing: MOSS was fairly expensive to host public facing sites. At roughly 40k per internet server plus external connector licenses and with best practice guidance recommending a staging server with content deployment to production you can quickly see how even with a small web farm of 2 front end web servers and an application server how costs would add up.

Branding: Nothing to write home about here – we had ASP.NET 2.0 Master Pages and Page Layouts but that’s about it. Guidance was low in the early days, the starter master pages had yet to become mainstream. Custom Error Pages (other than 404) were particularly difficult to implement. jQuery had yet to take hold which left us with the AJAX toolkit and UpdatePanels which unfortunately required a number of manual web.config modifications to get working. MOSS for internet sites required an enterprise license, so at least we had enterprise search.

SEO: Practically non-existent. Even targeting the most basic of generic techniques generally required custom development.

Accessibility: If SEO was bad then accessibility was worse. View source of a MOSS-hosted site and you’ll see table hell – I pity anyone who had the task of getting MOSS 2007 accessible.

SharePoint 2010

Things were a little better in 2010, this is generally how it measured up:

Licensing: While we were no worse of in 2010, we weren’t really much better off either. Enterprise internet servers were still around the 40k ballpark although the external connectors were a bit cheaper. We did have the ability to purchase Standard licenses for internet sites which would be about 25% of the price – however there were a few caveats which often meant this wasn’t feasible, particularly the inability to host multiple domains on the server.

Branding: The Master Page and Page Layout story was the same, however there was far more information available plus the starter master pages had become widely used. jQuery had taken off and there were a number of blog posts regarding how to include it in SharePoint and a number of plugins which could be leveraged, and if you were still stuck with the AJAX toolkit then at least it was supported out of the box. We had the option of using FAST search for internet sites (for an additional license cost) which gave some flexibility around search. The custom error page story was much better – far easier to implement across the board compared to SharePoint 2007.

SEO: Unfortunately much the same – custom development was still required.

Accessibility: Thankfully much better – SharePoint 2010 launched with the goal to being WCAG 2.0 AA compliant and while it didn’t quite get there, the HTML rendered was much cleaner (aside from the tables generated by web part zones) and there was guidance around making 2010 completely compliant via the whitepaper I’ve mentioned above.

SharePoint 2013

Definitely the best of the bunch which is no surprise considering I dedicated an entire presentation to it.

Licensing: While there may be no official licensing details available, a number of sources suggest that the licensing for 2013 will be far more affordable. No longer do we need internet server licenses – an enterprise license with internal CALs will suffice. FAST search is now also inbuilt rather than being an additional licensing requirement.

Branding: Has changed completely in 2013. While we can still use the tried and true method of Master Pages and Page Layouts in our VS solutions, we now have the Design Manager which puts the power into the Designer’s hand and removes the need to have SharePoint developers implementing branding. There is also webdav support to connect to the master page gallery directly with an ability to edit linked HTML files which will automatically update the associated master page. A custom 404 page is provisioned and editable straight out of the box in 2013 and the other error pages are just as easy to implement as 2010.

SEO: Finally the platform has treated SEO with the respect it deserves – a number of generic SEO requirements being available straight out of the box.

Accessibility: The HTML markup is cleaner again, web part zones no longer rendering out tables. I’m unsure if 2013 is completely WCAG 2.0 compliant however if it is not, it would definitely take less effort to ensure that it was.

New Features for WCM in SP2013

A large number of new features exist for web content management in SharePoint 2013 however these are the ones I believe will be the most useful for building public facing sites.

Pasting content directly from word: Previously the experience of pasting content directly from word was a painful one – embedded styles would remain and cause certain pages to look completely different from the rest of the site’s style. This new ability will remove the need to use notepad as a go-between when pasting content from word to SharePoint.

Image renditions: This feature is getting a lot of airplay currently over the web and for good reason – it’s a great new feature. Essentially allowing you to upload one larger image and create different ‘renditions’ of the image at different dimensions, this feature will be great for mobile versions of websites which will allow a smaller file-sized image to be downloaded for rendering. Requires the BLOB cache to be enabled.

Cross-site publishing: Another highly useful feature in SP2013. Allows content to be published from one site collection to another. Many practical uses include separating editing/publishing environments, variations and particularly relevant for myself and government departments who host multiple sites – being able to share content between them while maintaining the individual branding of each department’s site.

Managed navigation / friendly URLs: My favourite feature of the lot – managed navigation is a step away from the structured navigation we’ve grown accustomed to. Allows you to define a taxonomy hierarchy which will drive navigation. Most importantly it allows you to implement friendly URLs which users have been crying out for for some time but also allows you to decouple structure from navigation ensuring you no longer have to create numerous sub-sites just to position a particular page at a given URL.

Search driven content: Used significantly for the purposes of cross-site publishing, it also has other uses including amalgamating content. Similar in theory to the content query web part however uses search as its content source – necessary if you want your friendly URLs to be rendered via the query. The best part is that XSL is no longer required to style the output – we can now use HTML and JavaScript via Display Templates.

Design Manager + Device-specific targeting: While I mentioned the Design Manager previously, another great feature is device-specific targeting. This allows you to use the same pages and content but recognise the device accessing it so you can use different master pages and styles to render that content – highly valuable for mobile sites.

SEO features: Some search engine optimisation techniques are now available out of the box which is fantastic news for those building public facing websites on SharePoint 2013.

WCM Feature Demos

Refer to Building public facing websites on SharePoint 2013 – Part 2 for a run through of the demonstrations which were performed in this session and some of the comments surrounding them.

Questions? Comments? More info..

While no questions were asked on the day it probably had as much to do with the session running its full hour and lunch having already been served rather than the presentation being so comprehensive that no questions were necessary! If anyone has any questions or comments feel free to leave them on this post or get in touch with me directly.

Thanks for listening

And thanks for reading! It was a pleasure being able to present this session on such a great day at such a well organised event, Brian Farnhill and the team did a great job putting everything together, the sponsors came on board to offer a great venue, food and prizes for the day and I look forward to being a part of it sometime again in the future.

Share Conference 2012 Wrap up

Late last month I was fortunate enough to attend Share 2012 in Melbourne. I went in with mixed expectations with my initial impressions being that the presenters were a mix of well known international personalities, business leaders and vendors with the topics having a focus towards social SharePoint and business-relevant concepts around successful implementations. At the end of the 3 days I have to say my expectations were easily exceeded. The conference was professionally run and the majority of sessions I attended were well delivered on relevant topics with a scattering of world-class presentations thrown into the mix. The number of valuable takeaways from the conference was impressive.

I’ve attended a few conferences in the past, most being large scale Microsoft run Tech-Eds or low-key single day events. Surprisingly, at the end of the day I felt that I got more out of my 3 days at Share than I had at any other conference I’ve experienced. There were certainly areas for improvement with the social networking night events lacking in comparison (possibly a factor of the comparatively low price or lack of major Microsoft backing/subsidising) but overall from a quality and value standpoint the conference was top-notch.

A previous bugbear of mine when attending conferences was that the sessions I really wanted to see always seemed to clash and at other times I had no particular interest in any of the topics available to select from. Thankfully Share managed to avoid this with the major international ‘headliners’ rarely if ever clashing and a clear delineation between session tracks which meant that almost always there was a clear choice for me. Whether this was down to the fact that the conference had less sessions to schedule compared to other major conferences or whether it was all down to the planning I’m not sure, but it was certainly appreciated.

Rather than turning this post into a gushing review of the conference I want it to be more about the sessions I attended and the takeaways I got from each one. If you ever have the chance to watch a webcast or view these sessions at another event I’d highly recommend it.

Opening Keynote Presentation: Deliver SharePoint Success – Achieve Organisational Buy-In to Transform Your Enterprise

Dux Raymond Sy, Innovative-e, Inc. (USA)

I’ve always wanted to see Dux in action. My only exposure to him in the past has been over twitter with a constant stream of tweets, but the feedback and aura he seems to have made it worth it alone. I wasn’t disappointed. This session was a great start and set the tone for a great couple of days – plus a little Gangnam style never goes astray.

Key takeaways:

  • The 5 steps to achieve Organisational buy-in
  1. Gain executive engagement
  2. Educate & engage the business
  3. Assess enterprise readiness
  4. Establish SharePoint roadmap
  5. Promote sustainable adoption

Keynote Presentation: How eBay Built One Integrated Social Network to Increase Adoption on Collaboration With SharePoint!

Ramin Mobasseri, eBay Inc. (USA)

This one was a really interesting presentation to see how a major company like eBay was leveraging social and building upon SharePoint. The insights were great and inspiring, identifying how much can be achieved by integrating other networks into a SharePoint hub.

Key takeaways:

  • Develop a world-class intranet and don’t be afraid to integrate multiple tools

IM – Bridging the Gap Between the Technology and the Business

Megan Skapin, Santos Ltd

This session was a bit of a surprise packet and an excellent case study into how a major organisation implemented their information management strategy on SharePoint. Megan came across as someone who has gained so much experience from the process and had so many valuable insights into the lessons learnt throughout.

Key takeaways:

  • Executive buy-in is critical for success
  • Identify technology champions to promote the system internally
  • Start small, manage scope and continually add value in phased roll outs

Managing Demand, Responding to Change and Sustaining Adoption

Andrew Jolly, OBS

Continuing the theme of how to successfully implement a SharePoint solution, this session was another which helped ram home some of the key concepts and themes that were being delivered at this conference. It was good to get an insight from someone in a similar consulting situation as our company.

Key takeaways:

  • Changing perceptions, setting expectations and educating users is a major key to success
  • Don’t fear change, ensure that the system is able to change to meet business needs

Achieving Accessibility in SharePoint

Neil King, Vision Australia

Accessibility is a personal interest of mine and this was one of the sessions I was most looking forward to. Unfortunately, having previously read the white paper in which this presentation was largely based upon, it didn’t offer too many new insights – but the benefits were there for the crowd which hadn’t delved too deeply into accessibility, and the greater the awareness is amongst business the better.

Key takeaways:

  • Accessibility is achievable in SharePoint 2010 with appropriate customisation and governance

Other takeaways:

Aligning SharePoint to the Business – Why It’s Important

Garth Luke, AvePoint, Inc. (USA)

I loved this presentation. I was curious to see how it would pan out considering we at Ignia are AvePoint partners, plus I’ve had some exposure to Garth via twitter. Overall the content was thorough, expansive and well delivered – I really have no idea how it all fit in to one session.

Key takeaways:

  • Understand the business vision and goals – map the technology to the business
  • Ensure compliance and governance is in place
  • Build a structure, process and change management methodology to sustain growth

Leveraging the Power of Social Media, Without Using the F-Word

Josh Sewell, Velrada

While I’m already a convert to the Benefits of Harnessing Social in SharePoint for the Enterprise, I thought I’d come along to this one to support a fellow Perth-based consultant. It was good to see another consultant peddling a similar message, the more it’s heard around Perth the sooner organisations will start embracing social in a big way.

Key takeaways:

  • For social to be a success, in needs both organisational buy-in and the right organisational culture
  • Measuring the benefits of social will be a key to future social success

Discussion Session 2: How to Best Develop Requirements for SharePoint Projects

Dux Raymond Sy, Innovative-e, Inc. (USA)

This was a bit of a different type of session and based on the track I attended could be deemed to be a success. The discussion-based way of delivering the concepts worked well, and while I don’t think it was particularly better than if it was done as a presentation or workshop, it added value in terms of getting attendees talking to each other and networking.

Show Me the Money – A Practical Framework for SharePoint Metrics

Susan Hanley, Susan Hanley LLC (USA)

Somewhat sheepishly I must admit that this was my first introduction to Susan as a presenter or even as a ‘SharePoint personality’. What an eye opener – brilliant presenter, absolute gun on the topic and clearly world-class. I enjoyed this session immensely and if I was having any doubts about attending the closing keynote later in the day this session put that to rest.

Key takeaways:

  • Identify the business objectives, stakeholders, the metrics and how to collect them
  • Metrics should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound)
  • Have a baseline and a target
  • Metrics should be used to optimise and improve the process

Other takeaways:

Microsoft Purchase Yammer: What Does This Mean to My Social Strategy?

Ramin Mobasseri, eBay Inc. (USA)

I attended this session because I wanted a little bit of an insight into what Yammer was, how it was being integrated into SharePoint and the story moving forward. It only touched on these things briefly – the session was decent, however with the other social sessions across the conference and the keynote session Ramin presented the previous day, it may have been overkill for me.

Key takeaways:

  • Yammer will only grow and be more widely adopted moving forward
  • Reinforcement that part of the reason for the Yammer acquisition was to gain insight into their rapid release cycles

Deliver Project Management on Your Terms With SharePoint

Dux Raymond Sy, Innovative-e, Inc. (USA)

What can I say, Dux is a gun. Little did I know that his keynote from the day before was just a warm up for what I considered to be one of the most valuable sessions of the conference. In terms of inspiring and educating the audience about project management on SharePoint it was top-notch. If you have any desire to pursue SharePoint as a project management tool, give this session a watch as a starting point.

Key takeaways:

  • Too much project management is dealt with in emails and file systems – SharePoint can help alleviate this issue
  • You can start small or with Project Server reach Enterprise levels
  • Using familiar tools will help adoption and ultimately success

Other takeaways:

A webcast of this session has found its way onto the net, take a look

A Brave New Hybrid World – What SharePoint 2013 Really Means to You

Dan Holme, Intelliem (USA)

Just when I thought the conference had peaked, up stepped Dan. This was my other highlight session of Share 2012 and one which inspired me to come back to my client and fight the good fight. Dan came across as a world-class presenter with a consistent message which was highly relevant to me right now.

Key takeaways:

  • SharePoint 2010 is essentially based on 2006 trends – 2013 bridges that gap
  • There will forever be a push to the cloud, but on-premise is not dead yet
  • Gone is the 3-year product release cycle, the cloud will be up-to-date and on-premise will catch up in stages
  • Don’t wait for SP1 – RTM quality is very high, Microsoft is now catering for a larger client audience and therefore has to mitigate initial take-up pain
  • Migrate from 2007 to 2013 – skip 2010

Other takeaways:

  • Dan has released a blog series regarding why you should migrate from 2007 to 2013 if you’re in that position: read parts 1 and 2

Closing Keynote Presentation: SharePoint Governance – Love It or Hate It – You Can’t Live Without It!

Susan Hanley, Susan Hanley LLC (USA)

It was a great way to end the 2nd day of Share with yet another fantastic presentation in a row – 3 of the best to bring the whole thing to a close. Governance has always been an interest of mine and it’s an area I tend to throw myself into significantly in the near future, so this closing keynote was perfectly timed.

Key takeaways:

  • Governance requires planning and commitment
  • Start with something worth governing, empower a team, have the right conversations
  • Align governance around business goals and policies
  • The final output should be limited – no big documents!
  • Incorporate governance into training – governance does not replace training

Other takeaways:

Workshop 2: The Practical SharePoint Business Analyst and Information Architect

Ruven Gotz, Senior SharePoint Consultant & Microsoft MVP (Canada)

The third day of the conference was based around 2 parallel workshops which, at a guess, were attended by 15-20% of the conference crowd. The others definitely missed out – the workshop was a highlight of the conference and definitely delivered as much if not more value than the 2 days of sessions combined.

The only downside was limited time, but Ruven did a great job condensing a full days worth of content (maybe even 2!) into the 5 hours or so we had to absorb it. As a bonus he introduced the audience to a couple of tools (one which I’ve had exposure to before) and gave us a copy of his book Practical SharePoint 2010 Information Architecture which will definitely be on my reading list.

Tools:

  • Mind mapping – xmind has a free version to use
  • Wire framing – Balsamiq is a great and relatively inexpensive option (one I can personally recommend)

So overall the conference in my opinion was a complete success. Not only was it hosted in one of my favourite cities in the world, it was a highly valuable 3 days of business-relevant content with a high number of practical takeaways. If you ever get the opportunity to attend one of these conferences I’d highly recommend it, and hope that I’ll get the opportunity to attend again in the future.