Tips on Branding Your MOSS Public-Facing Site

November 15, 2007

With the rollout of V3, public-facing sites made with SharePoint are becoming more and more prevalent , and thus the need to know how to brand a SharePoint site has become a really hot topic.  So over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a few thoughts about best practices on branding your SharePoint V3 public-facing site.  Note that for the purposes of this article, I’m assuming a publishing-enabled site.
But first, a quick lecture:
1 – Allow a lot more time to brand the site than you think you’ll need.  A LOT more.  Get someone who has a warm happy relationship with CSS and HTML and get them trained on SharePoint BEFORE you train them on SPD (one learns anatomy before one learns surgery).  And don’t brand at the last minute.  Make these decisions early on. 
2 – Consider the needs of the content editors maintaining the site — and consider them BEFORE you create the site.  This will influence decisions about the page layouts, settings on web part zones, default web parts, etc.
Ok, lecture over.  On to a couple of brief tidbits.
1 – There’s a default.master on the file system (a "hard copy" if you will) and there’s a default.master in your MOSS site (stored in your SQL db like other MOSS content).  Feel free to use SharePoint Designer to modify the default.master on your site (more about that later).  But don’t edit the default.master page on the file system if you can at all help it.  And while I think SPD is pretty grand, I will say that if you are going to edit the default.master on the file system, edit it in a plain-jane editor, and not SPD.  SPD’s forte is editing pages and settings in a web, so use it for that.
2 – Don’t use the publishing portal template.  Use the collaboration portal template.  If you use the publishing portal, you can’t add surveys, blogs, etc. out of the box.  And you can’t see the feature to let you add them.  You may think you don’t need those tools now, but what if your company suddenly says, "Hey a blog sure would be neat"?  You could certainly force the feature on your site collection via spsadmin.exe… but why not just start with a better slate in the first place?
3 – Don’t edit core.css on the file system if you can at all help it.  Use another style sheet to override the core.css styles.  Why?  Because if you miss something you could very well lose functionality on your site.  And unless you’re really familiar with Every Single Possible  function available in MOSS you might not realize you’ve done it.
4 – Do give the SharePoint navigation controls a chance before you remove it and use your own navigation.  There’s some great basic functionality and it’s not that difficult to tweak. 
5 – Don’t delete placeholders in the master page.  Hide them.  You’ll break things if you delete them.  See Heather Solomon’s blog (and many others) about using a minimal master page.
6 – Do really consider If you need to create a special content type for your page layout, as deploying content types can be a tricky business.

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