There’s been a lot of talk lately about Microsoft’s announcement to stop offering the Office 365 Public Website. Last night, Microsoft updated the KB article where they originally made the announcement. In this article I’m going to quickly recap the updates for you, share some more details about the third-party offerings, and help you understand what this news means to you and how to plan accordingly.
This topic is particularly interesting to me because my team and I worked extensively with the Public Website to create www.whymicrosoft.com. We even spoke about this topic during the second half of our Creating Internet facing websites with SharePoint on-premises or in the cloud breakout session at the Microsoft SharePoint Conference last year. Now one of the things we are focusing on is helping people who currently have an Office 365 Public Website migrate it to another platform including the third-party offerings Microsoft just announced.
In a nutshell, last month Microsoft announced they are deprecating the O365 Public Website offering in both SharePoint Online and Office 365. If you have a Public Website right now, Microsoft will continue to support it for two more years. The exact date is March 9, 2017. If you just signed up for O365, you can create a Public Website on one of the third-party offerings just announced last night.
Third-party Public Website offerings
Previously in the KB article, Microsoft stated “Moving forward, Office 365 customers will have access to third-party offerings that will enable them to easily integrate their public presence with their Office 365 service. More information about these solutions will be made available in January 2015.”
Microsoft delivered this information right on time last night. Updates to the KB article reveal what third-party offerings Microsoft is making available to SharePoint Online and O365 customers to enable them to create a Public Website.
These third-party offerings include GoDaddy and Wix.com and are targeted at “small and medium-sized businesses who need either a basic online presence or a complete web experience.” Keep in mind, the O365 Public Websites were originally “designed for customers who need only a basic online presence.” This is good news for customers! Why? Because the WCM systems available on GoDaddy and Wix.com have more features and capabilities than the Public Website did.
Microsoft goes on to say they “will continue to evaluate the capabilities of the service and other third-party options to make sure we are delivering the utmost value to our customers.” This leaves the door open to more third-party offers being available in the future.
The impact on the Public Website owner
So, what does this mean for someone who already has an O365 Public Website? First, it means Microsoft is providing more than one third-party offering to customers with a Public Website so they can run their Public Website on one of those offerings. Second, it means that if you already have a Public Website you need to make plans to move it to another platform (very possibly one of the third-party offerings) in the next two years. Third, later in the KB article, Microsoft makes it clear that you do not have to use one of the third-party offerings; they will provide and you may host your website on a solution of your choice. Fourth, existing Office 365 customers will not receive any discounts on their existing O365 service. Finally, the third-party offers are not free, but they are available at a discounted rate for O365 customers.
If we look at Microsoft’s ‘mobile first, cloud-first’ mantra that Satya Nadella has announced and we examine what Microsoft has done recently with Office, it is very apparent that more and more services are being offered in the cloud and more and more Microsoft products are being developed to work on mobile devices.
The Public Website announcement from Microsoft aligns with the ‘mobile-first, cloud-first’ mantra because the WCM systems offered by GoDaddy and Wix.com run in the cloud and they provide WCM systems that support mobile devices via responsive web designs.
You need a domain name
Here’s a very important thing to note about the third-party offerings which is not mentioned in the KB article. You need to purchase your own domain name to use the third-party offerings. You can no longer use <mycompany>.sharepoint.com once you migrate to a different web host.
You will see this prompt when you click the Learn More links in the Public Website management page in the O365 Admin app.
Here’s how the third-party offers appear in the O365 Admin app.
Third-party pricing options & special offers
The KB article does not mention what pricing options are available for the third-party offerings. You need to visit GoDaddy and Wix.com to learn more about pricing.
GoDaddy is already advertising specials for O365 customers on their website, here’s a screen clip I took from GoDaddy today.
Wix.com is also advertising specials for O365 customers.
What WCM platforms do the third-party offers include?
You’re probably wondering what WCM platforms the third-party offers include. Thankfully, this is not complicated. GoDaddy offers two WCM platforms, the Public Website Builder and WordPress. Wix.com offers one WCM platform.
The GoDaddy Public Website Builder and Wix.com WCM platforms are very similar. They allow you to select templates and customize them to your needs. They both offer simple plugin apps to implement things like social sharing link bars and YouTube videos.
GoDaddy also offers WordPress as a WCM platform. WordPress offers more customization options, more plugins, and complete control over your website.
Building a Public Website on a third-party WCM platform
Now you are faced with some decisions regarding how to move forward with your existing Public Website, or how to create a new one. Thankfully, you have a couple of years to make it happen.
If you already have a Public Website you will need to figure out how to migrate it. As you consider this migration there are two main components to consider. First, you will need to consider how to migrate the branding (the look and feel) of your website. Second, you will need to consider how to migrate the content and data in your site.
The KB article says “Microsoft will provide guidance to help with content and data migration to the new third-party solutions. This will be made available following the changeover date.” The changeover date is March 9, 2015.
Here’s some initial guidance with regard to migration you can use to supplement what Microsoft publishes in the coming weeks. This guidance comes from my experience working with O365 Public Websites and the third-party offerings.
When considering branding it is a good opportunity to reevaluate your current website branding and determine if you want to keep it exactly how it is, or if you want to change it. At this point it is also essential to consider mobile devices. If you do not already implement a responsive web design, most likely you will want to implement one.
It is very easy to implement an out-of-the-box responsive web design on the third-party platforms. I know firsthand; my blog runs on WordPress at GoDaddy and it has a responsive web design applied to it. To enable a responsive web design on my blog I simply purchased a responsive web design theme for my blog and applied it, then changed some colors in CSS. The GoDaddy Public Website Builder and Wix.com both provide responsive web design templates for free.
If an out-of-the-box responsive web design will not meet your branding needs and you wish to implement a custom responsive web design, you will need to plan not just from a technical point of view, but also from a user interface and content point of view. Creating a custom responsive web design that is effective and usable takes careful planning; don’t underestimate how much time you need to invest in this.
Content and data
As you consider the content and data in your site, you will need to determine the proper mechanism to migrate the content and data and also how the content and data are structured. In the KB article, Microsoft states, “All content and data migration is currently a manual process to be completed by the customer.” This might give the impression that it is impossible to create a program to automate parts of the content migration. Having worked on Public Websites, I know it is possible to automate portions of the data migration process.
For a Public Website with up to 10-15 pages of content, a manual copy and paste operation is most likely the quickest route. For Public Websites with large amounts of content, it may be quicker and more cost effective to write some code or purchase a third-party product to move the content. At this point I have not seen any announcements for products which support migrating content from Public Websites to another platform. If you need assistance, send me an email.
Don’t forget to consider, before you can migrate your content you will need to determine how to properly organize and store it in your new system. Many times this will be a straightforward approach for page content. However, for content that is part of a filterable list, or a rotating banner, etc. you will need to identify how to store and organize the data in the new platform and which capabilities and plugins the new platform offers to implement similar functionality. Depending on your requirements, migrating such components may be very easy to do. For example, there are many different banner ad and slider plugins available that may be used to quickly implement these types of components on your new site.
It’s quite surprising how many Public Websites exist. I don’t know the exact number, but if you go to Google and plug in this search term site:*.sharepoint.com you will see Google reports about 356,000 results. Keep in mind, this search doesn’t return any Public Websites where a custom domain was applied to them.
Inspecting the results list reveals the Public Websites vary tremendously in the amount of branding applied to them and the amount of content they contain. Anyone remember GeoCities websites? Public Websites are just as diverse. Although, you probably won’t find as many Under Construction animated GIFs on the Public Websites as you would on GeoCities sites. J
This adds up to many different migration needs for many different site owners. Keep this in mind as you migrate your Public Website. There is no cookie cutter approach that can be used; each case will be different and you’ll need to plan accordingly or work with someone who can help you plan accordingly to successfully migrate your site.