Saturday, September 15, 2012

Top 5 SharePoint Features You Never Knew Existed

The title of this article is slightly misleading as the chances are you knew about these SharePoint features all along, but you've either ignored them or not known how to implement them. Some of the most ignored features in SharePoint are the extremely useful and effective but are 'low-tech' so don't get as many articles written about them, but use them and you will see the benefits.
1 - Description Fields
Description fields are everywhere in SharePoint - creating a list or library, creating a column, creating a group they appear everywhere. Because they appear so frequently and they have no impact on what you are trying to create (you list will always be created even if you don't put a description) it is easy to ignore them when they are perhaps the most powerful SharePoint feature out there. They are so powerful as it provides you with a space to speak to your users and tell them directly what is expected of them or how to use a feature. Often we can create lists, libraries or columns that make perfect sense to us and others on the project team but to the user they cannot understand when or why they are to use them. This stops the user from engaging the product and they soon lose interest in SharePoint. By using the description field we can give users clear guidance on what is expected from them and they type of information we require. Once user know what is expected of them and why they quickly buy in to the system and want to keep on using it.
2 - Meeting Workspaces
The check box to create a meeting workspace is at the bottom of the event creation form in the calendar, but how many of us actually use them? The answer is not a lot of people. This is disappointing as Meeting Workspaces are a great way to provide users with a focal point for regular, and ad-hoc meetings. The different formats allow you to account for small meetings to more complex meetings or conferences that may span multiple days. Preconfigured lists and libraries make it easy to store documents, create tasks, store agendas and even manage attendees. If you have a regularly scheduled meeting it is easy to move from meeting to meeting and view previous thoughts comments and decisions. Deployed within a matter of seconds and ready to work with almost instantly the meeting workspace will change the way you conduct and manage meetings.
3 - Search Keywords
Search is a powerful tool in SharePoint, but the search is only as good as the information put in. We can help search by using metadata and scopes to target search queries, but what if the terms your users use to search are not the same as the approved corporate terminology. This is where search keywords come in. Search keywords allow you to take a search term and associated related search keywords with it. For example users looking to find information on taking time off might search the corporate intranet for Annual Leave, another user might use Holidays and another user might time off, three separate terms that all mean the same thing. Search Keywords allows you to link these terms together so that each user gets the same result. This also links into my next forgotten feature - best bets.
4 - Best Bets
When it comes to searching users often search for the same thing again and again, this is often repeated across the organisation. Information on pensions, holidays and training is often searched for and we can predict the exact page or document the user is looking for. To improve search we can link certain search terms to pages or documents that are relevant, so that when a user search using the keyword the document or page appears at the top of the search screen as a best bet.
5 -Site Usage Reports
SharePoint has built in analytics reporting that can tell us how many users looked at the site, our top pages and search queries. This information can help us gauge how popular our site is, this is useful if you are about to conduct a site redesign or implement new functionality as you can track how it has impacted on visitor numbers. The search information also provides us on details on what users are searching for, what they then opened and our top search queries. Based on this information we might decide to make some parts of our site more prominent as users are searching for them most often, this can also feed into our Best Bets and Search Keywords feature.
There are many more underused features in SharePoint that are not covered here. Most of them work exceptionally well they have just been poorly promoted by SharePoint or they cover a very specific area of interest that not all projects need to use. I've tried in this article to cover the features that everyone can use in their SharePoint site but might now.

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