This is the third article in the SharePoint Online planning guide for Office 365 for enterprises. This article discusses how you can plan content for your SharePoint Online sites.
In this article
Who should read this article?
You should read this article if you are a site collection administrator, a site owner, or someone who is otherwise responsible for planning the content on sites for SharePoint Online for Microsoft Office 365 for enterprises. This article will guide you through some of the key considerations involved in planning the structure and content for your sites.
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What kind of content will you have on sites?
It is a good idea for site owners to do some planning about the content that will reside on these sites. The goal for this content planning is to determine:
- What kinds of content types you might want to create
- What kinds of metadata (site columns) you want to associate with content types
- What kinds of terms sets you want to create and what Managed Metadata columns you want to associate with content types
- What kinds of information management policies you want to configure for content types
- What kinds of lists or libraries you want to create on sites to organize content
Your organization may want to conduct this type of planning in a centralized way (especially for content types). In many cases you will need to coordinate closely with the site collection administrator for your site collection, as well as the SharePoint Online Service Administrator, as the decisions that emerge from your content planning may require these individuals to configure specific features in SharePoint Online Administration, or at the site collection level.
Do you need to define content types?
Content types enable site users to quickly create specialized kinds of content by using the New Item or New Document command in a list or library. Content types are useful because they provide site owners a way to ensure that content is consistent across sites. Content types also make it possible for a single list or library to contain multiple item types or document types. Site owners can pre-configure specific details about the content when they set up content types for a site, list, or library.
Site owners can define content types for list items, documents, or folders. In SharePoint Online for Office 365 for enterprises, the settings for a content type can specify:
- The columns (metadata) that you want to assign to items of this type (including Managed Metadata columns).
- The custom New, Edit, and Display forms to use with this content type.
- The workflows that are available for items of this content type.
- The custom solutions or features that are associated with items of this content type.
- The information management policies that are associated with items of this content type.
- The Document Information Panel, that displays in compatible Microsoft Office programs for items of this content type.
- The document template for new items of this type (document content types only).
You may find it useful to define content types for some of your content if your content meets any of the following criteria:
|If this is true:
||Content types may be useful to you in the following ways:
|You have specific types of documents that have a standardized format or purpose and you want them to be consistent across your organization.
||Configure site content types for these types of documents at the top-level site in your site collection so that they are available for use across all subsites. This way, all users in your organization will be creating these documents in consistent ways.
|You have specific templates people must use for specific kinds of documents.
||Add these document templates to the relevant content types so that all new documents created from the content type will use the template.
|There is a standard set of information you like to track for specific types of documents or items.
||Add columns to your content type to track this information. If any of the information is especially vital, you can designate those columns as required. You can also provide default values for specific columns when you configure the content type.
|There is a defined business process for how specific types of documents are always handled or reviewed.
||Consider configuring workflows for specific content types. You can use workflows to manage business processes like document review or approval.
After you identify content for which you might want to define content types, you should think about where you want to define content types. If you define site content types at the top-level site in your site collection, they will be broadly available for reuse in lists and libraries in all subsites of the top-level site. Individual site owners can also define site content types for their sites, although these content types will be available for use in lists and libraries only on that site and any sites under it. Additionally, you can share content types across SharePoint Online site collections by designating a specific site as a hub for content type publishing. Content type publishing helps organizations manage content and metadata consistently across their sites because content types can be created and updated centrally, and updates can be published to multiple subscribing site collections.
When planning content types, you might find it helpful to create a spreadsheet or table that captures the information you want to include when you define your content types. For example, you could start by creating something basic like the table below, and then adapting it to include whatever additional information you might find useful to track, such as the sites or teams who will be using the content types:
|New Content Type
||Parent content type
||Information Management Policies
|Specify the name of the content type you want to create.
||Specify the parent content type from which it will be created
||List the new or existing column you want to add to the content type.
||Specify whether there will be a document template associated with the content type.
||Specify whether there will be any workflows associated with the content type.
||Specify what information management policies might apply to this content type.
For more information about working with content types, see the Content Types topics in SharePoint Online Help.
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What types of document libraries or lists do you want to create?
In addition to thinking about content types, you may want to think about the other kinds of information that will be stored on sites, or the kinds of tasks that people in your organization would like to use sites to manage. This will help you plan the different kinds of lists or libraries that you might want to add to sites to get started.
You do not need to build out all of the lists or libraries that you might eventually need right away. Site owners will add and delete new lists and libraries over time, as business needs change. But planning how you want to customize the content on your sites can help ensure that sites are immediately useful to users.
SharePoint Online includes lists and libraries that are useful for a range of business purposes, from document storage and management, to project management and tracking, to communication. You can use any or all of these elements on a single site, or you can cluster specific kinds of lists and libraries on different sites to sites with specialized functional purposes, such as document management or project management.
|If you want to use sites to do this:
||You might want to create one of these:
|Store, manage, and collaborate on documents or files
- Asset Library
- Data Connection Library
- Document Library
- Form Library
- Report Library
- Slide Library
- Wiki Page Library
- Picture Library
- Announcements list
- Contacts list
- Discussion Board
- Links list
|Track projects, information, issues, or opinions
- Links list
- Issue Tracking list
- Project Tasks list
- Status List
|Define specialized lists (for example, if you want to recreate lists you currently maintain in Excel, and share them in a centralized way)
- Custom List
- Custom List in Datasheet View
- Import Spreadsheet
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How will your users find and access content?
Devote some time to planning how site users will find and use the content on your SharePoint Online sites. This kind of planning will help you make decisions about how to configure both navigation and search for the Team Site and its subsites.
What sites do you want to include in your global navigation?
To plan your navigation, you might find it helpful to create a diagram of the sites in your site hierarchy. If you already created a diagram while planning sites, then you can start with that diagram and modify it. Include all of the subsites of your Team Site. You might also want to include any important lists or libraries that exist on Team Site and its subsites. This will help you identify at a glance the important destinations that site users might want to find if they are starting from the home page of your top-level site.
On SharePoint sites, the top link bar provides what is known as global navigation. This top link bar appears at the top of all pages in the site, below the site title.
By default, each site uses its own, unique top link bar, but you can decide to allow sites to inherit the top link bar from the parent site so that the navigation experience is consistent across all sites. You can configure what sites appear on the top link bar. You can also customize the top link bar to include links to any other URL that you want, in case you want to integrate links to external resources into the navigation of your site. If you want to add, remove, or rearrange the links in a top link bar, use the Top Link Bar page in Site Settings for the site.
Think about how a user will find content from the home page of your top-level site. If you have many subsites in your site collection, you may not want to expose all of them on the top link bar because this could be overwhelming for site users. But you also don’t want to make important sites or content undiscoverable. Use your site hierarchy diagram to identify the key sites you want to expose in your global navigation.
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How will people navigate within sites?
In addition to the top link bar, sites also display navigation elements on the left side of the page. These navigation elements include the Quick Launch and the tree view.
Typically, the Quick Launch displays links that are specific to the current site, and it can be used to highlight the content that is most important.
As with the top link bar, you can customize the Quick Launch to add or remove links to the lists and libraries on the site. You can also group links under custom headings. If you choose to have all subsites inherit the global navigation, then it will be important for Site Owners to customize the navigation on the Quick Launch, as it will be the primary way users will find content within a site once they arrive on it. If you opt not to have subsites inherit global navigation from the top-level site, then users will be able to use both the top link bar and the Quick Launch on a subsite to find the content within it.
Tree view navigation displays site content such as lists, libraries, and sites below the current site in a hierarchical manner. It is common for tree view navigation to appear on the left of each page in a site. By default, tree view navigation is turned off.
If you want to display your site content in a hierarchical way, you can display the tree view for users of your site. To enable the tree view for a site, use the Tree view page in Site Settings for the site.
For more information about configuring navigation, see the Navigation topics in SharePoint Online Help.
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How will users navigate within lists or libraries?
If you plan to create use the Managed Metadata features available in SharePoint Online to create term sets, which site contributors can use to tag content with managed terms, you will have additional options for enhancing the discoverability of content on sites. You can configure metadata navigation to make it easier for users to find content in large lists and libraries. Metadata navigation enables users to dynamically filter and find content in lists and libraries by using a navigation hierarchy tree control to apply different metadata-based filters to the view. Key Filters can be used in combination with the navigation hierarchy to refine the list of items that are displayed.
For more information about configuring metadata navigation or working with Managed Metadata, see the Managed Metadata topics in SharePoint Online Help.
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What should you think about when planning search?
Your users are more likely to want to use SharePoint Online when they can easily find the information they need.
How content becomes available in search
The search service is scheduled to crawl SharePoint Online content every five minutes. After an item is added to a SharePoint Online site, there will be a period of time before it is indexed and returned in search results. This amount of time varies based on current user activities. Tasks like site migration, upgrade, and maintenance increase the load on the indexing pipeline. New content items should typically display in search results within an hour
Improving search results
There are a variety of things you can do as a site owner to improve the user search experience. Some of the content management features discussed in this article, such as content types and managed metadata, can help make content more discoverable to search. You can also perform specific search-related configurations to improve search, such as setting up search scopes, and configuring keywords, and Best Bets. You can also choose to remove specific sites or lists and libraries from search results so that content in these locations does not display in search results. This can be helpful if you want to remove sensitive content or obsolete content from search results.
Search scopes A search scope defines a subset of information in the search index. For example, if you have a site collection with many sites, you could set up a search scope for the Search box on sites that allows users to focus a search on a particular location or set of content.
Typically, search scopes encompass specific topics and content sources that are important and common to users in the organization. For example, you could create a search scope for all items related to a specific project or for all items related to a specific group in the organization such as Finance or Marketing. You can also create a search scope that includes several other scopes.
Keywords and Best Bets Another way you can help users find content is by using keywords and Best Bets. You can highlight important information in search results for site users by using keywords and Best Bets. When a user enters a pre-configured keyword term into the search box, Best Bets are marked by a yellow star and are displayed prominently at the top of the core search results page. Keywords can be used in queries from the Search box.
Keywords and Best Bets are stored in their own database tables, so they become effective immediately. By defining commonly-used search terms as keywords you can provide a standard glossary of names, processes, and concepts that are part of the "common knowledge" shared by members of an organization.
For example, you want to point newly hired employees to a site containing information about how to obtain training on tools and processes. You could define the keyword “training” or the names of your internal tools with the URL of the site that contains the information. Each time new employees search for the name of the tool or for “training” the correct Web site would appear as a Best Bet at the top of search results.
Controlling what content is searchable
If there are specific sites, lists, or libraries that contain content you want to exclude from search results you can do this by removing these locations from search. For more information about controlling what content is searchable, see the article Enable content to be searchable.
For more information about the other search features discussed here, see the Search articles in SharePoint Online Help.
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What do users need to do with content?
It is a good idea to incorporate specific questions about content use scenarios into the content planning process because these questions will help you determine how you might need to configure specific sites, lists, or libraries, and what specific features site users may need to use in conjunction with content.
It is also a good idea to review the Software requirements for Office 365 for enterprises so that you can anticipate whether specific individuals in your organization will encounter issues when working with SharePoint Online content based on the configuration of their local computers. For example, users must have Microsoft Office 2007 Service Pack 2 (SP2) or Microsoft Office 2010 installed on their computers to open or create documents on a SharePoint Online site.
|Questions to explore:
||Considerations for content configuration:
|Do you need to track versions of specific kinds of documents or list items?
- Consider enabling versioning on these list or libraries.
- Consider requiring that documents or items be checked out before they are modified
|Will site users need the ability to work or collaborate simultaneously on specific kinds of documents?
- Consider enabling co-authoring for relevant libraries, to facilitate collaboration.
|Do specific kinds of content need to be approved before they are broadly accessible?
- Consider enabling content approval for libraries, or using workflows to manage approval.
|Are certain kinds of documents subject to specific business processes or human workflows?
- Consider creating or configuring workflows for the content types that apply to these documents, or for the libraries in which these documents will reside.
|Will you be using lists to drive or manage processes?
- Consider creating or configuring list-based workflows for processes such as issue tracking and management.
|Will sites contain sensitive content that needs to be restricted from general access?
- Consider creating specific sites or libraries that are configured with unique permissions to store sensitive content.
- Consider item-level permission if there is minimal need to restrict access to content.
- Consider using audience targeting to display different content to different users.
- Consider whether specific lists or libraries need to be excluded from search indexing.
|Will users need to receive updates about content changes?
- Consider enabling RSS for key lists and libraries.
|Will users be publishing Microsoft Access databases on sites?
- You may need to ensure that Access Services is appropriately enabled and configured for your site.
|Will users be publishing Microsoft Excel workbooks on sites?
- You may need to ensure that Excel Services is appropriately enabled and configured for your site.
|Will users be publishing Microsoft Visio diagrams as Web drawings?
- You may need to ensure that Visio Services is appropriately enabled and configured for your site.
|Will users be creating form-based solutions?
- You may need to ensure that InfoPath Form Services is appropriately enabled and configured for your site.
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How will content be managed through its lifecycle?
As you plan the content for your sites, think about the lifecycle for this content. That is:
- How or why is this content most likely to be created? For example, will it be created to support formal deliverables, or will it be created in the course of day-to-day work and collaboration?
- How long will people need access to it?
- How much will it grow or change while it is in use?
- When will it no longer be actively needed?
- What needs to happen to it when it is no longer actively needed?
- Are there business or regulatory reasons why specific kinds of content might need to be retained beyond its period of active use?
Your answers to these questions will help you plan and monitor storage, and they will also help you plan for things you might need to implement in-place records management, such as expiration policies.
For more information, see the Records management and compliance topics in SharePoint Online Help.
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Previous article in this planning guide: Step 2: Plan sites and manage users
Next article in this planning guide: Step 4: Plan customizations and solutions
Main planning guide article: SharePoint Online planning guide for Office 365 for enterprises