a peek into a commercial space with lit neon sign reading "Super Helpful"
PHOTO: Jonas Jacobsson

Usable, always available custom help sites can help businesses achieve the SharePoint adoption levels they strive for. And when people have access to a portal with answers to their SharePoint questions, the amount of request tickets IT support teams receive inevitably go down.

A custom-built help site is key here. The native SharePoint help center has too many limitations and is too general to help with your specific business needs. 

Even if you are implementing essential user training programs such as holding live training classes, hosting Q&A sessions, broadcasting daily tips and offering context-sensitive help, a help site is still needed. The goal of a help site is to give your end users access to whatever help they need so they don't have to contact the IT support team, saving everyone time and freeing the support team up to pay attention to more important tasks.

SharePoint Help Sites Let People Find Answers on Their Own Time

Many SharePoint-enabled companies don't provide custom help sites. Governance policies, regulatory compliance guidelines, and description of updates to workflows are sent to end users as long documents in pdf format. This is neither good for document management nor for user adoption of the platform. Long documents are hard to update and people don't read them. 

Moreover, this also leaves other sets of information, such as troubleshooting guides and frequently asked questions, without a set location where everyone can find them.

Here are some best practices when building a help site.

Related Article: SharePoint's Creep Into the Enterprise: What Comes Next?

4 Steps to a Useful and Efficient Help Site

To build a useful, efficient and specific to your business processes help site, start with the following four steps:

  • Develop a long-term plan.
  • Create a separate page for every help item.
  • Optimize content for web consumption.
  • Build a site where everyone can contribute content.

Following these key steps makes all subsequent customization initiatives much more manageable.

1. Develop a Long-Term Plan

Creating a long-term plan will help you avoid chaos in the long run and ensures the help site will continue to grow in the right direction.

Start off by making a list of all of the pages you'll need to include. This list will include any how-to tutorials, business processes, governance policies, regulatory compliance guidelines, frequently asked questions and more. Be sure to include a help desk contact or contacts, a troubleshooting guide, and workflows descriptions. List all of them before arranging them into categories. 

To create a help page, all you need is an idea or a title — you can always add the content at a later stage.

A help site should be a SharePoint site like any other. However, to leverage the power of SharePoint modern pages, use the communication site feature. Spend some time getting familiar with the capabilities native in SharePoint communication site. Learn how you can make use of the layouts, columns and web parts to build a site where the most popular help items appear on the front page.

Plan for other key elements as well: appoint a team of site managers and content contributors, document all of the workflows being used in the company, allocate the needed financial and human resources, create an incentive program for content contributors, gather feedback, measure results and if necessary, hire external experts.

Related Article: How SharePoint Communication Sites Impact Governance

2. Create a Separate Page for Every Help Item

Pages first, content second. Create and interlink all the pages before you populate them — this makes it much easier to manage. By creating a separate page for every help item, you'll make it more practical to read, share, edit and update the content — lengthy, consolidated pdf documents aren't user friendly. 

Add a different image to every page so that the home page web part can pick them up and display them as tiles. Visually distinctive tiles help visitors quickly scan and find what they need.

To make help items easier to find, add a roadmap on the home page, as well as giving a prominent position to the list of frequently visited pages.

Related Article: Content Strategy: Don't Ditch Your FAQ Page

3. Optimize Content for Web Consumption

Prioritize functionality over aesthetics. Write every help item for the web: in other words, short, scannable and to-the-point. Use bulleted lists, text formatting and short sentences wherever possible.

Make it best practice to always add a video version of the text content to every page. The video may duplicate or complement the text. Many people simply prefer video over text.

As the help site grows, you'll find yourself using more content management features. The native capabilities in SharePoint will be a benefit here to ensure as the site grows, your headaches don't.

Related Article: Why You Should Launch Your SharePoint Deployment and Adoption Plan Concurrently

4. Build a Help Site Where Everyone Can Contribute

Make the help site community-driven. It should be a place where every team member can ask a question or leave a reply. Everyone should have the option to contribute or start a conversation.

Always keep the comment feature enabled so end users can share what they think about the content on every page. And, to maximize user retention for the site, appoint a team of contributors to reply to questions and comments in a timely fashion after they are posted.

A Help Site Should Save Time for Everyone

Create a help site that will grow over time to be the central portal for people to find, read and contribute to the information they need to get work done. With time, you will grow a help site that is not only helpful, but also efficient. Some positive side effects include:

  • A useful help site will result in some employees learning more about the platform on their own initiative. When a good number of employees adopt the platform before user adoption campaigns are launched, the IT team saves time on user training and adoption efforts.
  • When help items are published in a central location, answering questions can often be as easy as sending a link to the answer. You can reduce the ticket loads even further when you encourage people to visit the help site first and only contact the help desk when they can’t find the answer they need. Over time, people will learn to go straight to the help site to find answers, without calling anyone.
  • To keep everyone aware of any changes in business processes or governance policies, all you need to do is update the existing page on the help site and notify the visitors instead of sending out a broadcast with an updated pdf document. Using this simple process, everyone knows exactly where to find the new recommended ways of working with SharePoint, minimizing the likelihood that end users will make mistakes or contact the helpdesk.

Over time your help site will become the place where everyone comes to learn how to use SharePoint. The self-service portal will definitely make both your end users and your IT team happy, while improving SharePoint user adoption in the process.