The stars must be in alignment, because here comes yet another blog post. This is another area that I have found to be short of great information in the SharePoint community in explaining the URL, how its built and how it can actually be a good… No, a great tool to increase find-ability of information AND give a wealth of information just at a glance. It will take some training and understanding with your end users, but in the long run, the pay off could reap huge rewards.
There are a couple of things I would like to caution to think instantly that they are ‘good ideas’ right up front. The first is the use of the Tiny URL’s. This may seem like a good idea at the time, however, the tiny URL can be cryptic at best. At worst it could be used by a disgruntled employee to send viruses, or people to less than savory sites, phisher sites, etc. The second reason is certainly understandable, but the first on being cryptic at first pass may be a moot point to you. The fact its short and sweet is great, yes it could work, but can any valuable information be drawn out of it? Will a user be able to see a tiny URL with a bunch of ‘random’ characters and goes, oh that link goes to the employee handbook? I don’t think so. So the email they got the URL as part of the body with the subject line of what it is will have to be kept… not good.
The second rumbling that I have heard about is in SharePoint 2013, the ability to assign Friendly URL’s (vanity URL’s). This ability will be available as a publishing feature. This certainly is better than seeing some of the cryptic URL’s with GUID’s thrown in for good measure. There is some uses here, but unless there is some sort of governance around the naming convention, this could very well go all over the map. I would hate seeing the URL http://<intranet>/Toaster/ go to something like the company Christmas party image of your CEO with a lampshade over their head. (Just sayin!) Probably not, but there is that possibility.
Why are these scary to me? They do have their place but when it comes to organized content, these two approaches could muddy the water and diffuse the potential for a great information architecture (IA). I may be off base here, but with my experience URL’s can make or break find-ability in an organization. Think of it as mixed signals to your end users.
A lot of the remainder of this post is going to refer to my previous blog post called An Executives Look at SharePoint Security. When working with a client, I always build SharePoint solutions security centric. In my Blog post I spoke of the four categories every SharePoint site you can possibly imagine will fall into governed by security. When configuring the main web application on an engagement, I build four managed paths that match up with those categories. (Department, Team, Project and Community sites) I also delete the ‘sites’ managed path as this is too generic. Something generic when trying to put together information that is useful is like having a zombie movie where everyone is already a zombie and they all happen to be vegetarian. This sets the foundation for the URL’s and is key for making your SharePoint URL’s increase in value. Creation of new site collections depending on the type of security and what category they fall under should automatically utilize the managed path it matches up with.
Another thing to understand is when creating site collections, sites, lists and libraries using naming convention best practice will assist in the ability to have your URL legible. An easy to read URL that will contain a wealth of information such as security and other identifiers of the site the URL points to is a welcome site. One best practice is to not allow any spaces when first creating a list of library. If you create a list or library with a space in between the words when you first create it, the URL will have to add a %20 to the URL to represent a space. Not much fun to read, when you have a lot of %20’s in a URL. It makes it very illegible. Once the list or library is created, then you may go back into list/library settings and add the space(s) back into it as it will have no affect on the URL at this point forward.
The Useful URL
When you put this all together, the URL should read like a sentence. See the image below.
When your taxonomy is correct the URL can give a wealth of information. I will break out each segment below, with ideas, thoughts and reasons.
Web Application: This is the largest object in SharePoint as stated in my previous blog. This is also the beginning of the URL. I would say having a good name utilizing a host header is better than the name of the server or something phenomenally generic like ‘SharePoint’ or ‘intranet’. This will help it to be more memorable and allow for a fresh outlook if a previous SharePoint deployment attempt when horribly wrong. This will also be the beginning of the sentence, the noun if you will.
Managed Path: Remember earlier in this post I spoke about using the categories as managed paths. You will have the managed paths department, team, project and community available to you. This will indicate what type of site it is at a glance. It goes beyond that as well. I know the security schema that is attached to it as described in my previous blog post as well. It tells me who is able to see/interact with the information that is housed at the site. Is it the company as a whole, just my department or a sub set of individuals comprising as a team.
Site: This is pretty straight forward… what site is it? As above, I did not spell out SharePoint, but did keep GovernanceCommittee. Is it a bit lengthy? Yes… yes it is, however, it is also extremely legible as well. I know I am going to the SharePoint Governance Committee’s site and I also know what to expect as well.
List/Library: As stated in the section of this blog post called The Foundation, If you create a list or library with no spaces in the name initially, the URL will not have a lot of %20’s in it. I know know from the image that I am going into a document library for Governance documents. Having a specific name vs. the out of box generic names is also going to help you with find-ability as well. You have to understand, with the out of box team site template, the document library Shared Documents will be in each and every single one. Then you have 100 sites, made from the template with the same document library name, the difficulty to find something due to the fact there is nothing that will assist it to rise to the top. This being said, its also in your best interest to give a good description, as this too brings weight to your search results.
Folders: Not pictured but well worth a mention, is folders. Do not have extremely long names for folders. You will rush very quickly to a bad place where your URL will exceed the 256 characters before you even put your documents in the folder. If this takes place, you will not be able to get to your documents. If you want to have the URL legible beyond this point, you will need to not have spaces or use _’s instead of spaces. This is a whole topic I could do a full blog post on… hmmmm. For now, just understand the same rules will apply here, but the URL will change if you put spaces in after its initially created.
Items and Document: Might as well take this through the gambit… right? When you name a document or list item, if you again, want the URL extremely legible, don’t put in spaces. I have to pause a moment to take this a step further. This is a web based application. Don’t try to put funky characters in your file/item names. SharePoint will not like you for it. No ?’s, #’s, /’s, &’s, etc. This will bode very badly and SharePoint in most cases will not even allow it. Also be aware of the length of the file names or item titles. Being in a web environment, SP will break if the URL goes beyond 256 characters. I have seen this to this day, yes.
With a little planning, you will be able to have a URL that will be of great value to all your end users. Something that will allow them to know many facts about the location they are about to visit. Upon receiving a link to a document or item in SharePoint, the URL will quickly let them understand a lot of information about that document or item before even opening it.