In a previous article we went over the mechanics of the new Vertical Sections capability in SharePoint Online. In this article we are going to look at various high value and engaging use cases that can be made possible with vertical sections.

Vertical sections offers a great way to segregate and promote content on both home pages as well as other page types 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 Intranet.

Intranet Home Page Uses

When we talk about Home Pages we are really talking about the landing page of a SharePoint site. These home pages could be the main landing page on SharePoint Home Site, the main page of a communication site or even a team site.

Home pages 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 home page in logical elements. You can see that this is what Microsoft did on their new home page design example with the right hand rail being used essentially as a content promotion and personalized content section.

You can also do this yourself as it is an effective way to provide some additional structure to your Intranet home page. 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 the Vertical Sections on your home page.

Targeted Content

In large organizations it is common to target content to users based on an attribute – typically location, job role or maybe even skills. Using a Vertical Section you can separate out content that is targeted to the current user whereas the rest of the page content can be targeted to everyone 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 home page would be content that is global and available to everyone but you can use a Vertical Section to show local content. For example, content that is targeted to your location. Not only is this a great way to manage user needs but 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.

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 other Web Parts that can show what you have been working on such as the Recent Documents or Followed Sites.

Personal or My Content can be a great addition to any Intranet homepage because it can become a launch pad 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 home page and the example below shows the various Web Parts that you can use.

Actionable or Transactional Content

The last example is having the concept of actionable content located in a vertical section. Think of actionable content as any content that users can perform an action with such as filling in a form, launch to a different tool, have a social interaction or perform a common task. This approach was used very effectively by Coca Cola on their Intranet where the right hand column was a collection of useful tools such as links to the self-service content, a to-do list and changing your profile information. I really like this approach because it helps structure your content on your Intranet in a way that makes it obvious to your end users about what kind of content is available where.

If you have a Popular Links or Quick Links section on your Intranet (as most do), you would want to ensure that 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 ensure that this isn’t just the same links you have in the Vertical Section.

News Post and Page Uses

Not only can Vertical Sections be used to structure content on a home page but they can be used on other page types in SharePoint online – News Post pages (News Pages) and Pages. So what can you do with Vertical Section on these pages?

Provide context and consistency

One thing that I feel that is missing in the out-of-the-box 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, show additional information such as the metadata of the page (for instance if you use metadata to target content), other contacts, a call to action or related content can help people navigate across to other section of your intranet. 

So what type of context can you provide on your pages to help users understand context 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 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: I love metadata not just for documents but really for any kind of content as it can help provide context, help with search and help 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: Being able 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 creating links to ensure that you link to the exact related content you want.

Reduce the width of content pages

This is a little peeve of mine and from a user experience perspective, research has shown that I am correct :). 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 a standard SharePoint page 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. I know you could do this before by simply changing the column formatting on a section but the Vertical Section capability makes this easier (since you only need to do this once per page) and also by adding a background colour provides more structure visually.

If you have any questions then please let me know and I will be sure to add to the article.

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