In this article, we are going to look at various high value and engaging use cases that can be made possible with SharePoint Online vertical sections. Vertical sections offer a great way to segregate and promote content on both SharePoint homepages as well as other SharePoint pages in Office 365 – in particular news posts and general pages.
Although everything outlined below could be done with a standard horizontal section, vertical sections provide a more engaging and logical way to segregate content and really help drive engagement across your SharePoint Online Intranet.
SharePoint Homepage Uses
When we talk about SharePoint homepages we are really talking about the landing page of a SharePoint site. These SharePoint homepages could be the main landing page, the main page of a communication site, or even a team’s SharePoint Online site.
Homepages on intranets and the new home sites on Office 365 can leverage the vertical section for a number of uses. In many Intranet products, the right-hand rail can be used to group related content together or to help separate a homepage in logical elements. You can see that this is what Microsoft did on their new homepage design example with the right-hand rail being used for content promotion and as a personalized content section.
You can do this yourself as it is an effective way to provide some additional structure to your Intranet homepage. The vertical section can also be made more visually appealing because you can apply a colour gradient to it based on your theme which can make it stand out even more.
So, what type of content would work? There are three main ways to use vertical sections on your SharePoint homepage.
SharePoint Online Targeted Content
In large organizations, it is common to target content to users based on an attribute – typically location, job role or skills. Using a Vertical Section allows you to separate out content that is targeted to the current user, while at the same time target the same page’s content to everyone else using a combination of structure and audience targeting in Office 365.
For example, consider the concept of global vs local content. The main part of the SharePoint homepage would be content that is global and available to everyone but you can use a Vertical Section to show local content or content that is targeted to your location.
This is a great way to manage user needs, and with a vertical section, this content is nicely grouped together which makes it much easier for users to quickly scan the content and see what is relevant.
SharePoint Online Personal or ‘My’ Content
Personal content, sometimes referred to as ‘My …’ content is essentially content that is specific to a user. Microsoft has recently introduced a number of web parts that can help with this purpose, including a Personal Calendar, Personal Contacts, Personal Email, Personal Tasks as well as others that can show what you have been working on such as the Recent Documents or Followed Sites.
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Personal or My Content can be a great addition to any Intranet homepage because it can become a launchpad into other applications and work areas within Office 365. The vertical section also allows you to group this content nicely on the right-hand side with some light branding to separate it from the other content.
Getting users to find an Intranet homepage useful can be challenging given all of the different audiences but showing relevant content to users is very powerful and very easy to do. The example above shows how this looks on a SharePoint homepage and the example below shows the various Web Parts that you can use.
SharePoint Online Actionable or Transactional Content
The last example is the concept of actionable content located in a vertical section. Think of actionable content as any content that users can interact or engage with, such as filling in a form, clicking to launch to a different tool, sharing it socially, or performing a common task. This approach helps structure your Intranet content in a way that makes it clear to your end users what kind of content is available where.
If you have a Popular Links or Quick Links section on your Intranet, we recommend that you ensure there isn’t too much overlap between these links and your transactional content. In many cases, most Quick Links are transactional content (HR Self Service, Travel Request, Expenses, and so forth), so make sure that these are not the same links you have in the Vertical Section.
SharePoint Pages & News Posts
Not only Vertical Sections can be used to structure content on a SharePoint homepage, but also they can be used on other SharePoint pages such as News Pages.
So, what can you do with Vertical Sections on these SharePoint pages?
Provide context and consistency on SharePoint Pages
One thing that is missing in the out-of-the-box SharePoint pages on SharePoint Online is additional context when viewing a page.
Many out-of-the-box Intranet products frequently have an information panel on the right-hand side that can now be easily achieved on SharePoint Online. For example, you can show additional information, such as the metadata of the SharePoint pages ( if you use metadata to target content), other contacts, a call to action or related content, all of which can help people navigate across to other sections of your intranet.
Now, what type of context can you provide on your pages to help users better understand the SharePoint pages and provide improved navigation? Here are some examples:
- Contacts: In many cases, the page author might not necessarily want to be the contact person for the page content. For example, imagine a page that contains employee benefits information and you want to provide a list of people that your employees can talk to. Having a People Web Part with a title of ‘Page Contacts’, ‘Related Contacts’ or just ‘Contacts’ is a great way to provide this information.
- Metadata: Metadata can help provide context, search and organize your content through roll-ups. Using a Page Properties Web Part, you can now show metadata on pages that help provide more context. For example, if you are posting news articles targeted to a location, it’s a good idea to put that metadata on the page so users understand this.
- Related Links: The ability to navigate from one page to another with related content is an incredibly useful way to promote content within your Intranet and help your users find what they need. Microsoft is introducing a capability called ‘Recommendations’ that uses the graph to provide links to other content. However, you can also manually create links to ensure that you link to the exact related content you want.
Reduce the width of content pages
The actual content area in a full-width section is quite wide and can be difficult to read. If you go to any news site, you will see that the paragraph width is never as wide as standard SharePoint pages and the reason for this is that a narrower content area is easier to read.
A Vertical Section can be a good way to make that paragraph size shrink a little since it will take up 25% of the page space. If you combine this with some web parts for context and consistency as written above, then the page has both structure and improved readability. You could do this by simply changing the column formatting on a section, but the vertical section capability makes this easier (you only need to do this once per page). You could also add a background color for a visual structure.
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