Sharepoint CMS developer

December 2014

Using Microsoft SharePoint as a CMS for public websites


Let’s start with one statement: a previous version, SharePoint 2010, rarely was a good choice for a public website. There were several reasons for that including the licenses cost, complexity of a design implementation and a lack of 3rd party products and components. Yet there are dozens of really good websites that are based on SharePoint 2010 (and even SharePoint 2007) with really happy owners.

In this article, I am going to review main points you may want to consider, when making a decision on whether SharePoint 2013 is a good choice for your public website. I am going to review several positive changes and still existing considerations, so, hopefully, at the end you will have a good understanding on where SharePoint stands now in the public websites world and when it makes sense to choose SharePoint 2013 as a CMS.

Positive Changes

First, let’s take a look at positive changes in SharePoint 2013:

  1. Licenses cost – now with SharePoint 2013 all you need to build a public website is a proper SharePoint server license. Previously with SharePoint 2010 you would need an additional SharePoint Server for Internet Sites license that added up to the final licensing cost and made SharePoint not a cost effective solution in most cases. There are quite a lot of less expensive CMS systems on the market (including free products), but current SharePoint 2013 price looks quite attractive.
  2. Finally, a good story for a good UI design – a good CMS system should provide an easy way to implement a custom UI for a site (with clean HTML markup, convenient tools and popular javascript frameworks as well). Once again, in SharePoint 2010 it was a difficult task and in addition to the HTML specialist involved a SharePoint developer. SharePoint 2013 allows to create HTML templates in an editor of your choice and apply SharePoint elements without a knowledge of its internals.
  3. Hosting options to fit your needs (and your budget) – on premises, in the cloud with Office 365 (a good overview of Public Websites available with SharePoint Online: SharePoint Public Websites in Office 365), in the cloud with Azure (https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=38428), using a hosting provider. You can select an option fitting your needs and budget.
  4. Improvements in CMS features – as a good CMS SharePoint provides users tools for editing content and sites structure, managing information visibility and access permissions, providing search features and approval workflows, SEO capabilities and much more. Note: a good overview of new features are described in the article “The Top 30 New Reasons to Use SharePoint Server 2013 for Public-Facing Internet Sites”.
  5. Good development platform for customizations – development in SharePoint 2013 is much easier comparing with SharePoint 2010 (not mentioning SharePoint 2007). There is still a learning curve for SharePoint development, but it’s getting simpler and simpler with every new release. Most development activities for public websites do not require a deep knowledge of SharePoint functionality (a good .Net development skills would do the trick). That makes it easier to find a right provider for this work (which positively affects the cost of these services).

Areas for Improvement

With all the positive changes in SharePoint 2013, there are still areas for an improvement. A popularity of SharePoint as a CMS platform for public websites will greatly depend on future improvements in the following areas:

  1. New platform (especially Office 365) – SharePoint 2013 is a new platform, and some features still need to stabilize. It might take a couple of months, so if you need the result right here and right now, you might want to evaluate features you need before making a final decision on whether to use SharePoint 2013.
  2. SharePoint is not only a CMS platform – while by no means it’s a bad thing (just think about all the additional functionality you get with SharePoint in addition to CMS), you should understand that the SharePoint roadmap includes not only CMS features (document management, collaboration, search, workflows, BI and more). That means there is no clear vision of future CMS features that would become available as well as it is not clear how much efforts SharePoint team would put in them, comparing to other areas of the solution. You may take a look at the list of CMS systems at Microsoft Web Platform to see that Microsoft does not position SharePoint as a single CMS option for Windows world. If you are looking for the CMS platform, probably, one of the systems from the list above might be the right choice for you.
  3. Community for SharePoint as CMS is still growing – one of problems with public websites built with SharePoint is that there is not that much information available on the Web on that topic. Of course, there are guides from Microsoft, https://www.topsharepoint.com and other sites that do a great job, but that is not enough. There are much bigger communities for other leading CMS systems, which gives a high level of confidence that you won’t be alone if anything would go wrong with you website (or if you’ll just want to get recommendations or some guidance). Hopefully this would change over time and there would be stronger community for SharePoint as CMS (the overall SharePoint community is quite awesome right now).
  4. Weak support from integrators and components creators – in my opinion, this is the main point that might prevent SharePoint 2013 popularity as CMS. Every CMS heavily depends on external solutions providers to grow its popularity. The goal of a successful CMS is to create a convenient environment both from the technical platform and from the marketplace perspective. From a technical perspective SharePoint is a convenient platform for developers to base their products on (the same development techniques as with general .Net development, good tools support with Visual Studio 2012, patterns and guidance from Microsoft and partners). A marketplace part of the story is not that bright: Microsoft launched a marketplace for SharePoint apps, but the quantity and the quality of applications are far from perfect (not to mention that most of apps available are not CMS related). Outside of the Microsoft marketplace there is not much to see as well: right now the selection of companies capable to deliver a good quality SharePoint public website is not that wide.

The list of problems can be continued but I’d like to stop here and get back to the positive side. Microsoft put a lot of efforts, both technical and marketing, to make SharePoint 2013 a good choice for CMS for your public website. With Office 365 you can get a simple public website with no additional charges (which is really great) or you can select a standalone SharePoint deployment, either on premises or externally hosted, to go with a more powerful version (which is great as well).

In some scenarios, it makes a perfect sense to select SharePoint 2013 as CMS for a public website. and I am going to provide you with some guidance on when you might want to choose SharePoint.

When does it makes sense to use SharePoint 2013 as CMS?

So what would be the cases when SharePoint 2013 is a good choice for a public website?

My top list looks like the following:

  1. If you already have got SharePoint – if your existing SharePoint environment can be used for a public website hosting, you may consider using SharePoint as CMS. In this case you have already paid for licenses and it reduces the cost of implementing the site (as well it makes support and maintenance, trainings and user adoption easier).
  2. If you need a content-oriented site with no complex features – SharePoint 2013 is effective when building content for websites (i.e. defining sites’ structure, creating and managing pages’ content, supporting multiple languages and SEO). If you need any advanced site functionality, like eCommerce, social communities, forums you might consider using another system. Other CMS systems available on the market provide better support from 3rd party products to accomplish such scenarios. Of course, all these tasks can be accomplished with SharePoint as well, but the efforts required would be higher while the amount of providers capable of doing this work would be lower.
  3. If you need extranet functionality for your site – if you plan to add an extranet functionality to your site and allow users to log in and collaborate in dedicated areas, SharePoint might be a good choice for you. In this case your users can get all the advantages of SharePoint document management capabilities, communication tools and other features of the platform.
  4. If you plan to implement a custom solution in your site – SharePoint provides a wide variety of options for building and executing custom solutions. With a development experience similar to a regular .Net development, you can use SharePoint to build your solution on top of it.

I hope that this article helped you to better understand pros and cons of SharePoint 2013, when using it as CMS for public websites.