[Beginner Guide] SharePoint Pages vs Sites vs Web Parts

SharePoint Pages vs Sites vs Web Parts (Beginner’s Guide)

Last Updated on November 16, 2023

If you’re new to SharePoint, then it’s important that you understand the basics of SharePoint structure.

Some of the many questions I get from new SharePoint users are about SharePoint pages (what they are), their differences with sites, and how web parts fit in the picture.

Those already familiar with site structure know the answer to this. Unfortunately, the concept behind the structure may not be that easy to understand for those new to SharePoint.

In this article, let’s shed some light on what SharePoint pages, sites, and web parts are and how they’re related to one another.

Let’s get started.

The basic building blocks in SharePoint

SharePoint isn’t magic. There are concepts behind how content is shown — with the basics being the building blocks.

There are three elements that make up the building structure in SharePoint:

  1. Sites – where content is organized
  2. Pages – where content is shown
  3. Web parts – store content or information

To make this easier to understand, think of SharePoint as your computer:

  • The whole computer itself is a SharePoint site.
  • The screen you’re viewing the computer from is a SharePoint page. It can change depending on how you manipulate the things in your computer (like arranging the desktops or opening a new program).
  • The programs and applications in your computer are the web parts. They are made for different purposes and you can use each one and see them on the screen (the page).

That’s a watered-down version of what each element is. Now, let’s get a little deeper on which one.

I’ll also link some articles I’ve written in the past that might be able to help you understand each topic better.

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    What are SharePoint sites?

    Basically, SharePoint sites are containers for all the other elements (information and data). Think of a site as a filing system or a folder with contents on it.

    When you create a site, you’re creating a container to hold all things related to a specific purpose for a specific group of people.

    Example Team Site in SharePoint

    Each site you create in SharePoint has its own security and content and can stand on its own apart from the other sites in your tenant.

    Now, you can theoretically create a maximum of 250,000 sites (and subsites) for your organization. Naturally, it’s unlikely you will need and use the maximum allowed.

    As for your site, you can use each one however you like:

    • You can create one to serve as the landing site for everyone in your organization.
    • You can also create a site for each department.
    • You can also add a site for every project you have in each department.

    You can also create subsites, which are basically sites that are subordinate or under another site (called the parent site).

    Related: How to Create a SharePoint Online Project Site: Step-By-Step

    In other words, a subsite is a site that exists within another site. Generally, a site collection will have at least one top-level site and zero or more subsites.

    The root website in a site collection is always a top-level site. Subsites offer the administrator tremendous flexibility when designing a collaboration solution for users across an organization.

    Types of sites in SharePoint Online

    If you go deeper, you will find that you can create three types of SharePoint sites — each with its own unique features and purposes.

    1. Team sites – come with two variants, one with Microsoft 365 Group and one without Microsoft 365 Group. Use team sites for easy collaboration and communication.
    2. Communication sites – used to share information, status, reports, and other information with others.
    3. Classic sites – part of the classic experience (predecessor of the modern experience). Still being used by a lot of organizations these days since classic sites have unique site templates like blog pages, wiki pages, and others.

    Related: How to Create a Modern SharePoint Wiki Knowledge Base

    On the topic of classic and modern sites, modern sites definitely look better and are more optimized for today’s technology and devices.

    Although SharePoint still supports classic sites, who knows how long it will be until they’re eventually phased out. It’s clear that modern sites and experience are the future.

    If you want to learn more about classic vs modern experience in SharePoint, you can read about it in a comparison article I wrote.

    For more information on the types of sites on SharePoint Online, read this article (the article also explains how to make each one).

    What are SharePoint pages?

    Now that you understand what SharePoint sites are, let’s move on to SharePoint pages.

    Basically, SharePoint pages are used to display information and content on the site (so we humans can understand data better).

    For example, if a shopping mall is a SharePoint site, then the individual stores and stalls inside that mall are all SharePoint pages.

    On a SharePoint site, you can have many different pages. You can create more quite easily if you need more space to display your content.

    When you create a new page, there are temples available to help you get started:

    • Blank (default)
    • Visual
    • Basic text
    Page templates include blank, visual, and basic text

    You can also customize the look and layout on the page when you go to the edit mode. You can insert new web parts anywhere on the page.

    Now, one thing you need to know is that there are default pages that come with each site.

    There’s also a start page where users can go to access all the SharePoint sites and portals in the tenant.

    A start page is sometimes confused with a home site, hub site, and even a root site, (these are not a type of site but are simply a designation or an added purpose for an already existing site).

    If you want to read more about this topic, check out the article I wrote about start page vs home site vs hub site vs root site.

    What are SharePoint web parts?

    Let’s now move on to the last element…

    Web parts are like Lego pieces that you can insert into the page to display content.

    Basically, web parts are small applications you can use to store and display a type of content.

    How to add a new web part in a SharePoint page

    For example, on your computer, you may have programs like Microsoft Excel that allow you to create and edit spreadsheets.

    You also have a calculator you can use to do calculations. You may have Photoshop where you can edit images.

    In SharePoint, there are also various web parts that can do a lot of different things. Some of the most common ones include:

    • Document library – enables you to store content and documents.
    • Picture library – enables you to store images.
    • Events – enables you to create events.

    There are also unique web parts like the Twitter Feed that you can use to display information on your site from another source (Twitter).

    Just like your computer programs, there are also third-party web parts you can use on your site available on Microsoft 365.

    When editing a SharePoint page, you can embed web parts and even customize how you want to use/show the data or content.

    Related: How to Prevent Users From Editing SharePoint Pages (Guide)

    The concept of SharePoint sites, pages, and web parts

    SharePoint sites, pages, and web parts are basic concepts in SharePoint — all of which you must understand to be able to use SharePoint well.

    Fortunately, as you have read earlier, it’s not really that hard to understand these concepts.

    If you’re confused, just remember the following:

    • Web parts are small applications that store content and information.
    • These web parts can then be used in SharePoint pages so you can see those content and information.
    • SharePoint pages are under a SharePoint site, which serves as a container of all data and information.

    If you have some questions, feel free to drop them below in the comment section so we can talk about them.

    For inquiries and concerns, contact me directly through my contact page and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

    About Ryan Clark

    As the Modern Workplace Architect at Mr. SharePoint, I help companies of all sizes better leverage Modern Workplace and Digital Process Automation investments. I am also a Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP) for M365 Apps & Services.

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    2 years ago

    Wow! So insightful. Thank you.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
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