A good SharePoint WCM architecture takes business savvy

SharePoint 2013 has a number of new WCM features, but be selective: A well-designed WCM system should scale and flex to meet the business' needs.

Web content publishing has been commonplace for at least 15 years, so it can be easy to forget the importance of

an effective Web content management strategy for SharePoint. But the initial decisions regarding SharePoint WCM are critical because it can be surprisingly difficult to change your approach midstream.

When formulating a Web content management strategy, companies often make two major mistakes. The first is underestimating the need for scalability. A system that works well for publishing a few hundred documents won’t necessarily scale to allow for the easy publishing of thousands of documents. Instead, it’s better to assume that the system will eventually have to accommodate a huge number of documents.

The other major mistake is basing a WCM strategy on software features rather than existing business processes. The IT department is responsible for using technology to solve business problems.

With that philosophy in mind, a good Web content management system should align with existing workflows and processes as opposed to requiring people to change the way they do things in order to publish content.

When it comes to using SharePoint as a Web content management system, the best approach is to understand how the business currently handles content (or how it would like to) and then align the current process with various SharePoint features. Workflows work especially well for automating business processes. Of course, it is always possible that SharePoint might not be able to accommodate every requirement. In these situations, you may be able to make use of third-party Web parts or recruit a developer to write some custom code.

Getting started with SharePoint WCM

Before you can configure SharePoint for Web content management, you need to answer some questions about content architecture, use and processes. Some of the more important questions include the following:

  • Who will author content?
  • Where will the content be published?
  • What should the published content look like?
  • Who will have access to published content?
  • Do existing documents need to be published or only newly authored material?
  • Will the published content need to be made available in multiple languages?
  • Will the published content be viewed on a variety of device types?
  • Does authored content need to go through an approval process prior to being published?

Once these and any other pressing questions have been answered, define a basic site architecture. A common approach is to create an authoring site collection and a publishing site collection. At first, it might seem like overkill to build two separate site collections, but remember the goal of long-term scalability. Creating purpose-specific site collections enables future growth for the authoring and publishing processes.

Imagine, for instance, that it becomes necessary to publish documents in different languages. If you have dedicated a site collection to the authoring process, you could have subsets within it: a site for creating English documents, a site for authoring French documents and so on.

Authoring content in one site collection and publishing it in another involves cross-site publishing, which uses lists and libraries to enable content to be shared among collections. The content is saved to a list or library that has been shared as a catalog, thereby allowing the content to be reused in another site collection.

If users with a variety of device types will access your content, you can take advantage of SharePoint’s Device Channels feature. The idea behind this tool is that a publishing site can be linked to a collection of master pages, page layouts and style sheets that render the content available for various device types.

If you are planning to support multiple device types, make use of image renditions. Image renditions allow images to be automatically resized or formatted based on device type. This keeps content authors from having to provide multiple versions of the same image.

As you can see, SharePoint has a number of great Web content management features, but the key to using these features effectively is taking the time to understand your organization’s content publishing needs. Once you have, pick the feature set that will best accommodate those needs while allowing for future growth.

Next Steps

SharePoint 2013 WCM enables enterprise content search

Create a public-facing website in SharePoint Online

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This was first published in July 2014

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