You have the best of intentions when building and launching a new Microsoft SharePoint Site. You envision how much easier everyone's life will be now that they can finally find what they need. You thoughtfully gather everyone's input and engage the right stakeholders. You build the necessary libraries, break these out into logical sub-folders and grant access to your team. And then, you get back to your day job.
Time passes. Other users create their own sub-folders, brand new libraries labeled with their first name, and upload their documents. Maybe they create a sub-site that only they and two other team members know about. Yes, you built them a Marketing site, but they need their own team sub-site and now users have started uploading documents to both sites.
More time goes by and suddenly nobody is sure where to store files, where to find files, which folder or site holds the latest version of that Marketing asset. They are tired of looking around and clicking through folders, so they start storing things on their hard drive again.
You ask why they didn't use what you already built – they say it didn't have the folders they needed and they didn't want to bother you. Only after asking around, you discover that people are grumbling that SharePoint Search just doesn't work and the navigation is broken.
This scenario gets played out more times than you might imagine.
SharePoint has always been "just" accessible enough to spiral out of control if development guidelines are not clear. Proper planning goes a long way, which goes beyond deciding how many Sites and Libraries to build at the onset.
Bottom line: you need to plan for growth. Set up a regular cadence around stakeholder usability by assigning a Site Owner to regularly monitor, audit and then meet with the users at least once a month.
Let's discuss one specific area that we have observed where team SharePoint sites get out of control very quickly: the use of folders.
Here are a few best practices for using SharePoint Folders:
Maximize Employee Productivity: Employees burn quite a bit of time clicking through folders within folders hoping to find documents. They have no visibility into the folders, so they click down through all the layers and then they start over again. All too common scenarios are sharing the incorrect version of a deliverable with a client or wasting hours updating the wrong file. Too much clicking without proper discovery leads to frustration and eventual abandonment of the platform.
- Maximize Employee Productivity: Employees burn quite a bit of time clicking through folders within folders hoping to find documents. They have no visibility into the folders, so they click down through all the layers and then they start over again. All too common scenarios are sharing the incorrect version of a deliverable with a client or wasting hours updating the wrong file. Too much clicking without proper discovery leads to frustration and eventual abandonment of the platform.
- Enable Quick Search Results: SharePoint loves metadata, and when applied properly, so will your users. Metadata (categorical terms to define data) vastly improve upon SharePoint's out of the box search results. SharePoint isn't concerned with folder names, it's looking for metadata: File names, titles, dates, authors and other metadata columns you create like 'Department' or 'Status'.
- Create Accessible Library Views: There's no need to abandon folders altogether, but limit folders to 2 levels deep and use
in conjunction with Library columns. Add 2 columns, for example, 'Category' and 'Sub-Category'. All of the folder names one level
deep go into the Category column, all folder names two levels deep go in the Sub-Category column.
Create two views: one with folders and one without. The view without folders will allow your team to quickly sort and filter by Category and Sub-Category – no clicking through folders required. They can also easily create their own views based on the Categories pertinent to their role – regardless of what folder the files are actually sitting in.
The view with the folders will allow users to drag and drop their documents into the appropriate sub-folder – and by following the next step – all files will be automatically tagged with its metadata.
As a final step here, go into your Library Settings, configure the 'Column default value settings'. This will tag documents upon upload to all of the folders. It can take a couple of hours to set up, but it will save your users time as they upload documents later. Here's a great tutorial from the SharePoint Community: http://sharepoint-community.net/profiles/blogs/how-to-set-default-column-values-on-a-document-in-sharepoint.
Limit URL Lengths: As much as SharePoint loves metadata, it hates long URL's. Deep folder structures and long file names have adverse effects when trying to share links directly to files, or when trying to add those links to your link lists.
The URL is built off of the URL of the site + the name of the Library + the name of the folder(s) + the name of the file. SharePoint can only handle 255 characters.
If you try to share a URL longer than that, SharePoint cuts it off at 255 characters, taking the user that clicked on the link to somewhere higher in the Library hierarchy – maybe 2 folders up from the document where they're not supposed to be.
Keep in mind that SharePoint usually adds extra characters to a URL, if for instance, a document is set to open in the browser, SharePoint tacks on about another 50 characters to make that happen.
To prevent this, cap the folder structure at 2 levels deep. Ask your users to keep file names concise, short and sweet. Use the built-in versioning capability to prevent users from saving files with 'v1' and 'v2' appended to the file names. Educate your users that SharePoint already knows what date the file was last edited and by whom, no need to add initials and dates to the end of the file.
The added bonus is that good, English-readable file names also improve search results. This really boils down to education and communication.
So, go to your Microsoft SharePoint today, see where your growth has taken you, and put a plan in place.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 425 749 7471 for a no-obligation consultation from one of our optimization experts.