Interesting new features in SharePoint Server 2013 helps in developing improved Internet site on SharePoint

Microsoft SharePoint has been widely accepted as a platform for building various kinds of intranets, Search and Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems. Beginning with the humble 2007 version, the SharePoint platform integrated some new features as it developed including some internet sites, social features and business intelligence, which would help various enterprises attain actionable insights whenever it is needed.

The 2013 version therefore has included within it a host of features, capabilities and enhancements in Web Content Management, which means that there will be more Internet-facing Web sites based on SharePoint technology. This article would describe some of the new features and capabilities of the SharePoint Server 2013 that can be of use to the Internet site architects, developers and designers. However, all the features are included here, but it focuses on the top five capabilities across six different areas.

Core features and Capabilities for Internet site on Sharepoint

To develop Internet site on SharePoint, there are certain features and capabilities that designers and developers should be aware of. The SharePoint 2013 is a reliable platform providing all the necessary core features, features and capabilities and acts as an improved Content Management System.

In this version, the authoring and publishing model was further expanded to build, customize and maintain all kinds of publishing websites that would address to the demands of the business. Therefore, when developing Internet site on SharePoint, the publishing portal template and the automatically activated publishing infrastructure are usually leveraged. However, the benefits and added advantages does not end here as the SharePoint Server 2013 also takes leverage of the previously introduced caching options such as object output, IIS caching and BLOB. Furthermore, the new Distributed Cache service has been introduced to improve performance of some of the existing SharePoint features.

Even if these new features has been integrated in SharePoint Server 2013, the service application architecture remains the same. The new service applications include the Request Management, Machine Translation, App Management and PowerPoint Conversion service applications while there were also a wide number of upgradation on the existing service applications such as Search, Managed Metadata, and Word Automation service applications.

Architecture of Internet site on Sharepoint 

The new server, SharePoint Server 2013 takes a complete new approach to content publishing. It allows the developer creating Internet site on SharePoint to support more advanced and flexible topologies and scenarios. Catalogs, the Content by Search Web Part and Cross-site publishing feature is a new way to reuse content across many site collections. This becomes an extremely valuable feature especially when one has to catalog products in a multi-lingual web site. The Cross-site publishing model is one of the better replacements for Content Deployment model that was found in the earlier versions of SharePoint Server. Even if it is still available, the SharePoint Server 2013 gives advanced option.

Catalogs: This new feature allows the developer to reuse content across various site collections. A catalog can be defined as a list or document library level. The content from the catalog is then crawled by the Search service application and the Content Search Web Parts of other sites can display it.

Cross site publishing: This site collection features uses built-in search capabilities and allows the Internet site on SharePoint to share and consume catalogs. The feature, however, has to be activated at the authoring site collection.
Content (by) Search Web Part: This is a powerful Web Part that displays the dynamic search results on the publishing site collection. To display the content, however, the query must be specified. The developer or designer can use various styling options that can be pre-fixed for the Web Part.

Multiple SPsite URLs: The Set-SPSiteUrl Windows PowerShell cmdlet finally enables a host-named site collection to use multiple URLs. The designer or developer can use this new feature especially if they are building a multi-lingual SharePoint website based on Cross-site publishing when different public URLs are required as per the site collections. To cite an instance, in a single web application, there are usually two site collections that are accessible via the different URLs.

Managed navigation: This is a new way to categorize the web pages and build a dynamic navigation structure. The term sets in the Managed Metadata service applications can be again used to define and maintain navigation. The Managed Navigation can be again specified when connecting to a catalog.

Multi-lingual sites

The SharePoint Server 2010 is a powerful platform that can help in building various multilingual Internet facing portals. However, when using SharePoint 2013, there are some variations like Multilingual User Interface (MUI), the ASP.NET globalization and resource files that helps in enhancing the site.

Improved variations: Variations is one of the main SharePoint features that allows development and designing of multi-lingual websites. In SharePoint Server 2013, it has been improved significantly. The functionality now available is much more flexible and also supports automatic content translation. For instance, there is more control over content that is synced between various source and target sites.

Integration with Cross-site publishing: Search driven publishing helps in creation of multi-lingual sites and site collections. Cross site publishing allows rendering content from various multi-lingual authoring site collection on many publishing site collection. Each of these publishing site collection can be a host named site collection created for that particular language.

Improved Metadata Management: Translation of terms is now supported. There are various multilingual improvements and new capabilities implemented in SharePoint Server 2013.

Machine Translation service: This service can be used to automatically translate a page content and terms in an internet site on SharePoint.

Improved Metadata Management: The new SharePoint Server 2013 comes with some new multi-lingual improvements and new capabilities. To cite an instance, now translation of terms is now supported in this platform.

Machine Translation Service: The Machine Translation Service would automatically translate the page’s content and terms.

Country code top level domains: Finally, with the new SharePoint Server 2013 helps in building country code top-level domains. If variations and Cross-site publishing features in an authoring site collection are used, this can be achieved. The content from the multi-lingual authoring sites can be published to different host named site collections.

Web page architecture of Internet site on Sharepoint 

The SharePoint Server 2013 has introduced some new enhancements in the web page architecture. There is strong emphasis on clean HTML markup and lightweight web pages. The content authors will also like the Word to web copy-paste feature and use an easy way to create custom error pages on a publishing portal.

Cleaner HTML markup: With the new SharePoint Server 2013 there is much cleaner and lightweight HTML markup. There is no need for more tables for web parts and zones. The CSS was rewritten and remarkably simple.

Image renditions: For Internet site on SharePoint, now developers have an ability to optimize images to improve the overall website’s performance. The images included are dynamically rendered depending on the size required and cached in the BLOB cache.

Video improvements: There are new video rendition feature, embedded videos, automatic thumbnail generation. The video player has an HTML5 implementation that includes a fallback to Silverlight.

Content copy-paste: The content authors can now copy content from Word and paste the same into a Rich Text Editor Web Part, Content Editor Web Part or an HTML field control on a page. The Copy-Paste options help to apply correct HTML formatting.

Custom Error Pages: A custom HTTP 404 error (Page Not Found) can be easily customized. Now, by default, all publishing Internet sites on SharePoint contain the new “Error Page” page layout and the PageNotFoundError.aspx page in the Pages document library.  This can be customized and modified according to the need.
Look and feel of SharePoint Server 2013

If one has already tried using SharePoint 2007 or 2010, application of new branding is not difficult. It can be simply achieved by creating customized SharePoint master page and CSS files. However, the problem is that most website designers despite knowing HTML and CSS, they do not understand ASP.NET master page architecture that is used by SharePoint, especially the conversion from HTML to SharePoint master pages.

In SharePoint Server 2013, the SharePoint master page can be easily built directly from HTML file by a tool called Design Manager. The Design Manager converts a HTML file automatically to a SharePoint master page. Any web designing tools like Expression Web Studio or even Adobe Dreamweaver can do all further changes in the master page. Moreover, thanks to Device Channels, all Internet sites on SharePoint can now practically work on any device and use the appropriate master page based on type of mobile device or web browser.

Design Manager: This tool helps in branding your website based on HTML and CSS files.

Composed looks: Pre-defined packages of master pages with background images, fonts and color palettes are already available.

Theming model: There is a new theming model that applies colors, fonts and background images.

Device Channels: Now, the designer or developer can control the look and feel based on various mobile devices and web browser types. The site is functional in any device and uses different master pages accordingly.

Search engine optimization of Internet Site on Sharepoint

The new SEO features integrated with SharePoint Server 2013 helps in making it a great platform to a host of internet facing websites.

No Home Page Redirection: There is no more HTTP 302 temporary redirections for home pages. The home pages are served directly from an address defined as a host name of the website.

Robots.txt and XML sitemaps: The SharePoint Server 2013 automatically creates robots.txt file. The XML site maps are also created and referenced in robots.txt.

Friendly URLs: There are cleaner URLs and the developer has the ability to define friendly URLs for web pages.

Canonical URL filtering: There is an option to configure which URL parameters are valid and which ones should be ignored to indicate search engines whether they influence the content rendered on pages in the site collection or not.

SEO Properties: SEO properties are exposed at the site collection the Managed Metadata service application and page levels. A pages SEO properties allow for example modifying the browser title, meta descriptions and keywords.

Extensibility

SharePoint Server 2013 is a scalable application platform that can be used as a foundation by application developers to build any kind of Internet facing site that they would require. The SharePoint 2013 and ASP.NET 4.5 object model is vast, but when considering Internet facing site development, probably the most significant improvements were applied.

CSOM: Important changes and alterations in the client side object model (CSOM) can be now done. To cite an instance, remote API via –api alias and access can be given to service applications without server side code.

App Model: There is a new App Model to extend SharePoint functionality by using HTML and JavaScript for client side code. The App Model can also execute codes in cloud services like Windows Azure.

REST: Representational State Transfer (REST) service offers alternative methods to interact remotely with SharePoint object model. One can construct a RESTful HTTP request using Open Data Protocol standard.

Search: The redesigned search service application now available consolidates FAST search and SharePoint Search features bringing along many enhancements that are out of the box. For example, a redesigned search Center, search recommendations, search analytics and advanced refinements allows to the developers to build customized solutions based on powerful keyword query language.

Conclusion

Most of the Fortune 500 companies are now using SharePoint products and Technologies for their portal development, collaboration, business intelligence, record management and social computing. The same platform also be used to create fantastic looking and functional Internet facing sites for many years to come. The new SharePoint Server 2013 comes with all the above mentioned features and more that also offers nice hosting facilities which can be deployed on premises on various SharePoint farm, or in the cloud via the Internet facing Office 365 platform. The new and powerful features and capabilities now available in the SharePoint Server 2013, furthermore, help in creating various sites by Internet portal architects, developers and designers. Moreover, the fact that the Internet sites on SharePoint are licensed through the SharePoint Server Licenses which makes the platform an attractive one even from the financial viewpoint.