CHAPTER 4 Basic Customization Using Only a Browser
As discussed in Chapter 2, there are three approaches you can take when customizing SharePoint Online. In this chapter, we’ll be focusing on the easiest of those approaches: customizing SharePoint Online using only your web browser. The other two approaches—customizing it with SharePoint Designer and customizing it with Visual Studio—will be covered in Chapters 5 and 7, respectively.
Before proceeding further, it’s important to understand that customization using only a browser is the least flexible approach. You’re limited to only what you do through the SharePoint Online web interface. However, it’s also the easiest approach to master and can cover a fairly broad set of scenarios without the need for more advanced tools or skills.
In this chapter we’ll cover the following topics:
• When to Use the Browser
• Customizing Your Site’s Look and Feel
• Customizing Site Structure and Pages
• Publishing-Enabled Sites
• Customizing the Simple Public-Facing Website
Note Remember to ensure you have the correct permissions on an object (site, list, page, and so on) before attempting to customize it.
When to Use the Browser
SharePoint Designer and Visual Studio are both powerful tools for customizing SharePoint Online. So when does it make sense to stick with using only a browser? Here are a couple of questions that can help you decide.
How Broad Are the Customizations?
Browser-based customizations are best suited for smaller, one-time, ad hoc scenarios. For example, you want to change the theme of a single subsite in your site collection. That’s a simple, one-time customization that can easily be made in a browser. There’s no compelling reason to pull out SharePoint Designer or Visual Studio for such a simple change.
But what if you have 30 subsites in your site collection, and you want to create an instance of the same custom list in every one of them? You could do it using only the browser, but it would be a painfully tedious (and error-prone) process. In that case, using Visual Studio to create and deploy a custom list definition would probably make a lot more sense.
Who Will be Doing the Work?
As with many things in SharePoint, the skillset of the person (or people) doing the work is a big factor when choosing an approach. Anyone with the appropriate permissions and some basic training can customize SharePoint Online using a browser. No technical background or development skills are required.
Using SharePoint Designer or Visual Studio, on the other hand, requires a more technical skillset and some deeper knowledge about SharePoint as a platform.
Customizing Your Site’s Look and Feel
Let’s begin by talking about how to customize the look and feel of your SharePoint Online site. Everything we do in this section will be done from the Site Settings page (Figure 4-1), which can be accessed by clicking the Site Settings link on the Site Actions menu. In particular, we’ll be focusing on the Look and Feel section of that page.
Note This section assumes you’re customizing an internal site, not the simple public-facing website you get with SharePoint Online. Customization of the public-facing site is discussed later in this chapter. Also, if you’re working in a publishing-enabled site, see the “Publishing-Enabled Sites” section near the end of this chapter.
Figure 4-1. The Site Settings page in a SharePoint Online site
Title, Description, and Icon
The first link in the Look and Feel section lets you customize your site’s title, description, and icon. When you click that link, you’ll be presented with the page shown in Figure 4-2.
Figure 4-2. The Title, Description, and Icon page
If you’re working in a subsite rather than in the top-level site (site collection), there’s an additional Web Site Address field at the bottom of the page (see Figure 4-3). This additional field lets you change the last part of the URL for the site (for example, from “Human Resources” to “HR”).
Figure 4-3. Web Site Address field on Title, Description, and Icon page
To change your site’s title, type a new title in the Title field. The site title is displayed in the upper- left part of the page and is the first link in the breadcrumb navigation trail. The site in Figure 4-2 is titled “Portal.”
To change your site’s description, type your desired description in the Description field. Note that even though the text to the left of the Description field says the description is displayed on the site home page, it may appear on other pages as well. For example, wiki pages in the Site Pages library will typically display the site description even if they’re not the site home page.
To change your site’s icon, enter the URL of a new icon in the URL field. Optionally, you can enter a description as well. The icon description isn’t visible on the page but can aid visually impaired users in navigating your site if that’s a requirement.
Also, even though the text to the left of the URL field mentions the “_layouts” directory, it’s not likely you’ll be referencing that directory because you don’t have access to deploy custom files to it in SharePoint Online. Instead, consider storing your icon in a document library on your site (like the Site Assets library) and referencing it there.
Figure 4-4 shows how the upper-left part of a page might look when all three of these elements are customized.
Figure 4-4. Site home page with custom title, description, and icon