Our Top 3 Requested Intranet Features

You could say we’ve helped to implement a few intranets in our time. As we listen to stakeholders and interview users, these three features make the top wish list almost every single time:

Top 3 Requested Intranet Features:

  • Bookmarks: Users want to be able to save pages to a personal list of links. They want to be able to add external links, too.
  • Applications or Tools: The business wants to provide a list of commonly accessed external tools (timesheets, expense reports, healthcare, etc.). Meanwhile, users want to be able to modify that list to show what they actually need.
  • Alerts: The business wants to display urgent message or alert across all the pages of their intranet. For example, they may want to warn people of site maintenance downtime or upcoming deadlines.

SPFx solution FTW!

At PixelMill, we’ve developed a pretty elegant baseline solution for these features. A custom SPFx application customizer adds an unobtrusive button bar to the side of the page. These buttons open a panel where users can add and manage bookmarks, browse tools, “pin” tools, and view past alerts. Besides showing in the panel, active alerts display a banner in the header area. The user can close the banner to get back screen space or mark all alerts as “read.” While we’ve added other bells and whistles for specific clients, users have loved these features in every implementation. The custom approach allows us to make the interface exactly the way the client wants it to look and to hit all of the desired business outcomes.

Screenshot of PixelMill's custom bookmarks feature

DIY on the cheap free

But what if you don’t have the budget for a slick custom interface? As SharePoint has evolved, it’s even easier to get similar functionality with OOTB features! Below, I’ll walk you through the options and the pros and cons of each.

– Bookmarks with OOTB SharePoint

Screenshot of Save for Later link and OOTB Saved for Later web part.
“Save for later” link at the bottom of a SharePoint page, and the OOTB Saved for later web part.

Save for later: Pages in SharePoint have a bookmark icon for saving for later. You can add a Saved for Later web part to a page to show the user’s saved items. (Note that in the OneDrive and SharePoint mobile apps, you can also save documents for later.)

  • Pro: Out of the box SharePoint functionality
  • Pro: One-click save for pages
  • Con: Limited to SharePoint pages. Users cannot add any links they want.
  • Con: Users have to go to a specific location to access their saved links. (Saved links show in the SharePoint start page or OneDrive menu, or from the Saved for Later web part)
Screenshot of My Sites panel and the "Follow sites/Following" button.
Followed sites show in the App Bar under My Sites; the “Follow site” button is in the header of SharePoint sites.

Follow sites: SharePoint sites have a link in the header to allow a user to follow a site. This is not a bookmark feature per se, but it does show the site in the SharePoint app bar and on the SharePoint home page. It also affects the results returned by Microsoft Graph, so the site will be prioritized in various interfaces when browsing. Finally, the Viva Connections and SharePoint app bar news feeds will display news items from followed sites.

  • Pro: Out of the box SharePoint functionality
  • Pro: Users can access their followed sites from the SharePoint app bar, anywhere in SharePoint
  • Con: Users can only bookmark sites; they cannot bookmark a specific page or other URL

– Applications or Tools with SharePoint OOTB

Example of Quick Links web part

Quick links: The Quick Links web part can be added to any page in SharePoint and configured to show a list of links to the third party apps or tools that many visitors will use.

  • Pro: Easy for site owner to maintain
  • Pro: No custom code; out of the box SharePoint functionality
  • Pro: Links can be audience-targeted
  • Con: User cannot customize
  • Con: Only available from one page
Screenshot of organization-defined app links in the waffle menu
Accessing Admin selected apps from the waffle menu

Custom tiles in app launcher: Configure the waffle menu from the tenant admin area to include a company-specified list of apps. Users can pin the apps so that they show up on the initial waffle menu.

  • Pro: No custom code; out of the box functionality
  • Pro: Links are available from any place in M365
  • Pro: User can customize by pinning apps
  • Con: Apps cannot be audience-targeted
  • Con: A tenant admin has to maintain the list of apps
  • Con: The user has to know to click “more apps” to access the company list of apps

– Alerts with SharePoint OOTB

Screenshot of a site with a large banner
Use an Image or Text web part to alert users.

Image or Text web part: Manually add a web part to the home page to provide an urgent alert or update to users.

  • Pro: Easy for site owner to create
  • Con: Cannot audience target the content
  • Con: Users can only view the alert from the home page
  • Con: Users cannot dismiss an alert
  • Con: You cannot schedule an alert
Screenshot of a site using a news web part to display alerts and updates
Use a News web part to display alerts and updates.

News posts: You can set up a site collection called “Alerts” and schedule news posts. Then, these news posts can be rolled up to the home page in a news web part. If there are no scheduled alerts, you can configure the web part to hide itself. Using a consistent graphic for alert types will make those posts stand out to users.

  • Pro: Easy for site owner to create
  • Pro: News posts can be scheduled
  • Pro: News posts can automatically roll up to a special news web part on the home page
  • Pro: Users can see a helpful site name in the news post if the site is named well (“Alerts”)
  • Pro: News posts can be audience-targeted
  • Con: Users can only view alerts on the home page
  • Con: Users cannot dismiss or hide alerts

Is custom worth it?

Choosing between OOTB or custom is not an easy feat, but we did put together a helpful guide to help you decide. If some of these cons feel too much like dealbreakers and you’d like some help figuring out if a custom solution is worth it, we’d love to talk you through the pros and cons of implementing something like our custom SPFx component. Contact us today!

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The Microsoft Viva modules are revolutionary tools used to aid one's work stability and improve their digital workspace experience. Find out more by tuning into to Eric Overfield's "The State of Microsoft Viva & The Digital Workspace" PixelMill Webinar!

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