For my first blog post of 2015, I’ve compiled a list of New Year’s resolutions for SharePoint Power Users. These are my favorite tips and best practices to improve user experiences for SharePoint sites. They are in no particular order but they are all designed to improve the user experience for power user designers and/or end users of SharePoint sites.
1: Resolve to make your web part titles link to meaningful places.
I learned this little trick about a year ago and I can’t believe it took me so long to figure out how awesome it is! Many SharePoint web parts come with a default hyperlink for the web part Title. For example, if you add a document library web part to a page, the title of the web part links to the default view for that library. Content editor web parts, on the other hand, do not have a default title URL. If you want the title of your web part to link to the default view of your list, you don’t need to make any changes. But, what if your web part is designed to display a sub-set of your list or library? In that case, your users are not going to expect to see a full view of the library when they click on the title; they will probably expect to see an expanded list using the same filter criteria you used in the web part view. This is where this tip helps (or if you have multiple web parts with different views of the same list or library). To change where the title points to, edit the web part properties and look for the Title URL in the Advanced properties group. Replace the default link with a link to your desired list view and now your web part title goes to a place that makes sense to the user!
I had one client tell me that her users thought it was confusing that some web part titles were hyperlinks and others were not (i.e. Content Editors). I’m not sure why the following approach turned out to be less confusing, but you want to add a hyperlink experience to the title of a web part but not actually have the link go anywhere by putting a # character in the Title URL.
2: Resolve to have meaningful descriptions for your web parts.
Have you ever noticed that when you hover over the title of a web part you see the title of the web part followed by some text that may or not be relevant? Call this a “Sue Hanley pet peeve,” but it drives me crazy when SharePoint site creators do not edit the default descriptions for web part titles, especially the one for Content Editors, which makes no sense once you have actually added content to the web part!
Here’s how to get meaningful descriptions in those hover messages:
- First, you can add a description to your list or library before you create a web part to show it on your page. If you do this, the default description for the hover message will be [Web Part Title]:[Whatever you put in the description].
- Second, you can edit the default description in the web part itself and add text such as: 5 most recently updated documents. In other words, give the users a clue about what you are displaying in the web part and/or tell them where the hyperlink in the title goes to. For example, sometimes, I will put the following in a description: 5 most recently updated documents. Click the title to see all documents.
To edit the hover message, change the text in the Description field in the Advanced section of the web part properties as shown in the image.
3: Resolve to place all of your custom Site Columns and Content Types in groups that sort at the top.
When you create a custom Site Column or Content Type and don’t specify a custom group, SharePoint places your columns or content types in a group called “Custom.” Resolve to never let this happen again! The first time you create a custom Site Column or Content Type, create a meaningful custom group name and start the name of the group with a period! For example, you could create your first custom column or content type and place it in a group that you call .My Site Columns or .My Content Types. Then, subsequent custom columns and content types can go in that existing group. Why the period? Because then your custom groups – no matter how many you add – will always sort to the top of the list of columns or content types when you want to use them! This simple trick impacts only people who create sites, but it can save tons of time. (I’ve been known to re-group custom columns when I get assigned to work on a site that someone else has created because it makes me nuts to have to scroll forever to check to see if there are any re-usable custom columns or content types.)
4: Resolve to make it easy for users of Community Sites to create Alerts on new discussion items with a custom Alert link.
When SharePoint 2013 first came out, I was a big fan of the Community Site template. I still am, but less so now that the integration between Yammer and SharePoint has matured and not so much for Office 365 solutions. I have clients that are seeing amazing conversations happening in their community sites and getting a lot of value from their incredibly user-friendly discussion lists, but these are mostly folks that are 100% on prem (or are waiting for Microsoft to complete the journey to more comprehensively integrate Yammer and SharePoint). One of the most confusing aspects of the default Community Site is that users don’t understand that Following the site will not automatically send them an Alert every time a new item is added to a discussion list. Getting an alert on the discussion list in a Community Site requires looking at the Discussion List from Site Contents so that you can get to the ribbon. This is a multi-step process that is virtually impossible to get users to do. Instead, you can make it much easier for end users by creating a Get and Alert button or link on your Community Site home page. To create this link, use the following steps:
- Navigate to the list view of the Discussion List via Site Contents
- Click the LIST tab in the ribbon and then click Manage My Alerts from the Alert Me dropdown.
- Click Add Alert.
- Select Discussions List and then click Next.
- Grab the URL for the page you are now on.
- Use this URL in a button or a hyperlink on the home page of your site. This URL will be customized for each user and they will be able to select the frequency for the alert to suit their needs.
5: Resolve to find a use for this awesome trick to deep link to a specific page of a PowerPoint presentation from a hyperlink.
One of my clients this past year described a scenario that he sees all the time: “Every project has one or two slides or images that basically tell the ‘story’ of the project in a single view. Sometimes, the story can be told with a single image. Other times, however, the ‘main story’ image is a single page of a PowerPoint deck – but not necessarily the first page.” What he wanted to be able to do was to create a hyperlink to a specific page in a PowerPoint deck that is published in a SharePoint site. Turns out, achieving this goal is not as easy as you think – because the standard way to go directly to a slide in a deck (for example: http://www.website.com/filename.ppt#4 would go to slide 4 of the deck called filename.ppt) doesn’t work for a slide deck published on a SharePoint site.
Fortunately, Anders Munck in Denmark created a wonderful blog post in June 2014 that describes exactly how to embed a specific PowerPoint slide in a SharePoint 2013 page that can be used to create a “deep link” to a specific page as well. It’s a pretty nifty trick!
I hope you can use these tips/resolutions – especially tips 1-3, which I hope will eradicate some of my most annoying pet peeves on SharePoint sites!