With the new version of Office 365 for enterprises to be officially launched on 27 February, there are many questions for existing customers regarding the upgrade process. In this article, I will explore what is known regarding the public website that is provided as part of a Office 365 tenant.

In the (still) current version of Office 365, the public website is using a simple design with limited functionality, which has been criticized by a lot of people:


With the new version of Office 365, the public website will however make use of many SharePoint publishing features and allow more flexibility and functionality:


Customers who will sign up for Office 365 after the general availability of the new version (27 February) will have the new website only. But what happens to existing customers and their existing public websites once Office 365 will be updated from Wave 14 (based on the 2010 versions, and using the “old & simple” website) to Wave 15 (2013 versions, using the “new & shiny” website)? Following are some important questions and their answers, as far as they are known

Will I lose my existing website once I upgrade?

You’re using Office 365, and you already have a public website. Once you upgrade, this website will not be lost and replaced by a new public website, but rather an additional public website (in the new format) will be made available. So, both of them will co-exist, and you can choose if you want to use one of them, both of them, or none.

How long can I keep my existing ‘old’ website?

This is something that I do not know right now, and I couldn’t find any information on this.

Can I use two custom domains, one for the ‘old’ website, one for the ‘new’ one?

So you want to use something like www.myawesomecompany.com for your old website, and www.ourawesomeproduct.com for the new website? Sadly, this is not possible, as only one custom domain is allowed. So one website can use your custom domain (www.myawesomecompany.com), whereas the other public website would then use the ‘internal’ name (such as mycompany-web.sharepoint.com)

Shall I use a custom domain for the old website or the new one?

I’ll start by quoting Microsoft here (see link at the bottom of this article):

Use the earlier website, which appears on the top of the Manage public website page, if one or both of the following are true for you:

  • You’ve already worked on the website’s design, and you don’t want to spend time designing another Office 365 website. You also might have already associated the website with your custom domain.
  • You’re almost finished designing your original website and you don’t want to start a new one.

Use the new website, which appears below the other website on the Manage public website page, if one of the following is true for you:

  • You haven’t yet started designing a website.
  • You started designing the earlier website, but you haven’t worked on it very much.

We recommend that you use the new website and tools if you haven’t already finished, or have nearly finished, an earlier website. The new website has more features, and includes updated design tools and new templates. It’s faster and easier to create the look and feel that you want for your Office 365 public website compared to the earlier website.

And some additional comments from me: when uncertain, go for the new website. It offers much more functionality, and while this comes with a bit more effort, the end result will be much better, and the benefits outweigh the (small) drawbacks in the long term.

In which ways is the new public website better than the old one?

The old website used a simple web-based editor, that made it easy for companies with little web design knowledge to create their own website. However, this came at the cost of limited functionality and no extensibility.
The new public website makes use of most of SharePoint’s publishing features. It is now possible to use more advanced designs and layouts for content, make use of a lot more SharePoint functionality, and provide a more compelling experience for editors, designers, and visitors. To see an example of the new public website, visit http://www.contosobistro.com/

Where can I find more information on the two public websites?

Resource: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/office365-suite-help/work-with-your-two-office-365-public-websites-HA103148336.aspx

I have more questions about the public websites!

Please leave a comment below, or feel free to contact me

10 thoughts on “What happens with my public website during the Office 365 update?”

  1. The new public website still does not allow you to create subsites. You are restricted to one site and a few pages just like the Bistro site. Yes you do have a few more SharePoint Publishing features but you do not get all of them. You cannot use css files, you have to use one of the preconfigured themes. What is required is the ability to create subsites and to have the full publishing features as well as the simplified version. Without this Enterprises will not move to Office365 for their public facing web sites even small enterprises which Office 365 is aimed at. I understand why Microsoft have done this, its because they are worried about performance issues if enterprises have the full set of Publishing features and the ability to create subsites, large internet facing sites with large numbers of page depressions would appear and cause performance problems. Perhaps there is a compromise where the number of levels of subsites is constrained.

    1. Hi Nigel,
      you are absolutely right, even though the new public website offers way more functionality than the old one, it still is far away from being a complete SharePoint publishing site. This should definitely help some smaller businesses to make more attractive websites, but I agree with you regarding medium-sized and larger companies (or generally: companies that want to do a lot more with their public website than just put a little bit of content with some slightly fancy design).
      I need to have a look at that CSS issue that you mentioned, I thought I had a nicely customised Master Page with custom CSS on a public website before

      1. Hi Rene

        A bit more investigation reveals that you can use the “Master Page” link under “Look & Feel”.
        This allows you to set the Alternate CSS URL and you are in.

        I have not tried this method yet.

        Alternatively, you can use the “Site Contents” link to get to the style library, and you could put your css files there and reference them from the master page et al.



  2. I can confirm that adding CSS files and referencing them in the Alternate CSS URL should work fine.

    The use of Master Pages and Page Layouts suggest you can deploy / upload your own (either through SPD / Manual Upload / Sandbox Solution WSP) which should open the floodgates for a totally customised look and feel.

    Image Renditions are present (and can presumably be configured). Device Channels also appear to be available (although initially only for “default” and “mobile” with no indication if they can be extended programmatically).

    Personally the biggest boon is Versioning and Draft / Approved publishing capabilities. The current public website lacks even basic authoring capabilities!

    1. Thanks for the confirmations, Martin. Didn’t know that Image Renditions work, I tought they don’t (though I’m getting confused why I think so; did I test it? did I read it somewhere?). I’m still planning to do a deep dive on the public website’s functionality at some point to figure out what exactly works and what doesn’t

  3. So I’m struggling a little bit. I’ve gone and I’ve set the old site to a different domain, and gave the new one my public domain, but it’s still pointing to the old ‘updated’ website.

    Is there a certain amount of time I have to wait? How do I get it to show the new public website? Thanks for your help in advance!

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