Based on my two years of working with customers' MOSS 2007 implementations, and some of the great ideas my customers have had, here are eleven ways to improve the usability of your SharePoint implementation for your end-users. (Note: These five suggestions work for MOSS 2007; not all work for WSS 3.0. You may need web server administrator, Site Collection Administrator, and/or "full control" permissions in your portal to perform these customizations).
1. Make the banner logo link to the Home page.
Hopefully Microsoft will include this functionality in the GUI in the next version, so that you can link to Home when you add a logo image to the header, but for now the quick and easy way to do this is to edit your master page and insert the following code in the following place, and then save, check-in (publish) and approve the master page:
<td id="GlobalTitleAreaImage" class="ms-titleimagearea">
<SharePoint:SiteLogoImage id="onetidHeadbnnr0" LogoImageUrl="/_layouts/images/titlegraphic.gif" runat="server"/>
2. Remove unused web parts from the Web Parts gallery.
When your content owners are adding web parts to their pages, there are web parts which may be confusing to them, or which you may not want them to use until they receive training. You can set permissions on web part files so that they will not appear if the user doesn't have rights to see them. To do this, from the top level site of your portal, choose Site Actions / Site Settings / Modify All Site Settings. Click the link for Web Parts in the Galleries section. You will see the Web Parts Gallery which is a document library. For the web parts you want to hide, click the Edit icon, click Manage Permissions, click Actions / Edit Permissions, and remove the permissions for those groups who don't need to see the web part.
3. Use the Table of Contents web part on empty top-level sites to avoid blank pages.
If you have sites grouped under a top-level site, such as Departments or Practices, but you don't have any content to display on that top-level site, your users may click on that tab and see a whole lot of nothing on the home page. You can place the Table of Contents web part here to display a dynamic site map of everything under that top level.
4. Link directly to a list form without using a too-long URL.
When you convert your paper forms to SharePoint lists, you will probably want to link your end-users directly to the data-entry form for the list, rather than to the list view that shows the existing items. However, the "New Item" URL is very long, and it won't fit in the URL field of a SharePoint links list, with the result that a user will click on the link to get to, say, an office supplies request form, but they will receive an error when they try to save the form because the URL is incomplete. To solve this, try my colleague Florin's solution for making tiny URLs in SharePoint. You can include the tiny URL in a Links list URL field with no problem.
5. Make sure all the content is in the same place on similar pages.
Seems like a no-brainer, but as content owners take over and your intranet grows organically, different power users will have different ideas about how their sites should be organized. To get a consistent look across all department, client, project, or location sites, create a custom template at the outset, build all the sites using this template, and train your content owners to use it if they need to create a new site in that category.
6. Look at the Site Usage Report for your sites.
What are people accessing? Could you move popular but deeply-nested items to a higher level, or expose them better via links or web parts? To access Site Usage reports, this functionality needs to be turned on in Central Administration (in two places – Operations / Usage analysis processing, and Shared Service Provider / Usage Reporting). You can then view the reports on any site at Site Actions / Site Settings / Site Usage Report.
7. Put default values in list fields (columns) to help validate data.
Although there is no true validation capability in an out-of-box SharePoint list form, you can show your users how you want data to be entered with the default value (in the column settings). For example, for a phone number field, you can include a default value that shows whether or not you want parentheses, dashes, or spaces to be included in the number. This will work along with the description field to tell your users how you'd like them to fill out the field.
8. Always add a description. Everywhere.
Columns, lists, libraries, sites, templates, and many other SharePoint features provide an optional Description field at the time of creation. It's a best practice to fill this in with a brief sentence that describes the item, even if you're just prototyping, because this description will guide the end user later (and appears in places you may not expect). For example, when you create a document library, the description for that library appears in the Add A Web Part menu. On a site with multiple libraries, the description you enter will help the end user choose among the libraries to place the right one on the page.
9. Move items around on the Quick Launch bar so it makes more sense.
The Quick Launch bar is dynamically generated and displays content as you add it to the site; however you have control over how the items appear. For example, when you create a sub-site, it always appears at the bottom of the Quick Launch, but if it receives heavy traffic and/or you want to highlight it for your users, you can move the link to the top. To do this, go into Site Actions / Site Settings / Navigation, and in the Navigation Editing and Sorting section, you can click on any item and move it up or down in the listing. And while we're on the subject of Navigation -
10. Add a heading in Navigation.
The Quick Launch bar is created with standard headings (Documents, Lists, Surveys, Sites) to group your content, but you don't have to use these. You can group the Quick Launch bar in the way that makes sense for your site and organization – for example, by phase:
To do this, go into Site Actions / Site Settings / Navigation, and in the Navigation Editing and Sorting section, you can edit existing header names, or delete them and add your own.
11. Target some content.
This one can be more complicated to set up than the above suggestions, because some prerequisites need to be in place, but it can really add value. Two common examples of where this can be useful are 1) if you have an announcements list on your portal home page where some items are intended only for certain geographical locations or organizational roles, or 2) if you have a links list of mission-critical applications and information, and some of these links are only used by certain groups within the organization. If you have AD security groups (or SharePoint audiences) set up correctly, you can deliver this content to the users who need it, with the result the others don't even see it. For a detailed how-to, read Microsoft's online guide about targeting content in general, and if you're considering targeting a links list, read this essential how-to on getting the Content Query Web Part to display the links list correctly.