Hub sites improving the SharePoint Online experience

By Tony Clegg on

SharePoint Online hub sites

We are seeing many enhancements for SharePoint Online coming through. The release of modern Communication sites feature certainly opened up new ideas for how we can use SharePoint Online and it’s worth reading my previous blog about Communication sites. But right now if there’s one new feature I’m keen to use, it is hub sites.

What are Hub sites?

With the creation of new modern sites, whether they be Communication or Team sites, there was immediately a requirement to link together.  Previously in SharePoint we might have created sub sites below a main site to group sites together. However, this isn’t the recommended approach anymore. If we were creating an internal communication solution we may have created a publishing site with sub sites. Whilst this is still available for very custom scenarios, we now have a simple alternative.

By grouping our sites together in logical hubs of information, we need to consider how to structure SharePoint Online. This is because each Office 365 tenant is limited to 50 Hub sites.  One project I am working on has implemented many communications sites brought together as the corporate communications platform. I’m now planning to enhance this platform by implementing a hub grouping all these sites so they appear as one.

How do I create a hub site?

There are two things to consider when creating hub sites:

  • The first is that they can only be created by a user with the SharePoint Administrator role.  My client’s users can’t create their own hub site but as site owners they can connect their sites to an existing hub site.
  • Secondly, hub sites are currently created using PowerShell to promote a standard modern site to be a hub site.  Once the hub has been created, sites can be associated with it easily and, if required, can easily be moved between hubs.

What benefits do hub sites bring?

This is where it gets really interesting, because there are some great benefits:

Consistent hub branding across all linked sites

By creating a hub site and grouping other sites with that hub it will immediately force some of the branding from the hub to get pushed down to the associated sites.  If we decide to change the colour scheme in our hub then this will be pushed down as an update to all other sites associated with the hub.

Image: Hub sites SharePoint Online Information Portal, Operations and Helpdesk screens montage

New navigation panel

Next, we have a new navigation section added in to every page where we can add a logo and set up navigation which appears across every site connected in the hub.  This will appear above the site name and below the top-level Office 365 ribbon banner.  You will have to configure hub navigation, and new sites added will not automatically get placed in this navigation, but associated sites will show a consistent navigation created in the hub.

Enhanced cross sites search

Another key benefit is that we can now search for content not only in our site, but across all sites in the hub.  By using the search box on a modern page header this will invoke a search across all the hub. Results will then display which site they have come from.  So grouping sites like our internal communications into one hub delivers more meaningful and useful search results.

Image: Hub sites SharePoint Information Portal screen shot

Now we have a search experience that restricts results to our hub and its associated sites, we now see other areas of functionality appearing as options.  For example, if we add a new ‘Highlighted Content’ web part to a page, we are presented with a new option to restrict results to our hub.  This is great for only showing hub news or events without highlighting other sites outside of the hub.

When hub sites appear on general release very soon, they will offer another way of grouping and sharing information. If you’re already using Microsoft Teams or Groups in Office 365 then these will also create SharePoint Online sites. So it is worth considering whether these might form part of your hub site planning.

How Can Silversands Help?

Silversands has been helping clients get the most out of SharePoint since it was first developed. Consequently, we have a huge depth of expertise. As well as technical implementation and migration, we are now seeing lots of demand for help around security & compliance and user adoption and planning. If you need to talk to one of our experts about a need you have please complete and submit the form below. Someone will be in contact with you very soon.

We run regular workshops and webinars providing the latest updates and expert advice about SharePoint Online and OneDrive. We also post regular blogs about the full Office 365 suite, so please do follow us.

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