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Taming Content Sprawl: Best Practices for SharePoint and Microsoft 365


Numerous businesses rely on Microsoft 365 for collaboration, productivity, and content storage. While it's a powerful platform, managing content within Microsoft 365 can quickly spiral into chaos if not properly organized and governed. This phenomenon is known as "content sprawl." In this blog, we'll explore what content sprawl is, its challenges, and most importantly, effective strategies to manage content sprawl in Microsoft 365 and optimize your productivity.


Understanding content sprawlConnect to what matters most at work image

Content sprawl refers to the uncontrolled growth of digital content/data, often resulting in disorganization, inefficiency, and compliance risks. In Microsoft 365 (M365), content sprawl can manifest in various ways, including:

  • Proliferation of Sites: Numerous Microsoft Teams sites (and therefore SharePoint sites) are created, leading to confusion and redundancy.
  • Inconsistent Metadata: Inadequate metadata and tagging make it challenging to locate and categorize content.
  • Data Duplication: Redundant copies of documents across different locations waste storage space.
  • Naming Conventions: Inconsistent or vague file and folder names make it challenging to find and manage content.
  • Provisioning: A lack of provisioning controls can lead to the proliferation of unused sites and teams.
  • User Behavior: Employees saving documents in personal spaces rather than shared repositories contribute to sprawl.


Challenges of content sprawl in SharePoint and Microsoft 365

Before addressing content sprawl, it's crucial to recognize the challenges it poses:

  • Reduced productivity: Finding relevant content becomes time-consuming, leading to decreased productivity.
  • Compliance risks: Unmanaged content may violate data protection regulations and industry standards.
  • Storage costs: Storing redundant or obsolete data incurs unnecessary costs.
  • Security vulnerabilities: Unprotected, disorganized data is vulnerable to security breaches.


Understanding the challenges of content management in SharePoint and Microsoft 365

Content management in Microsoft 365 can be a challenging task due to the sheer volume and variety of content that organizations generate and store. With multiple teams and departments creating and collaborating on documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and other files, it's easy for content to become disorganized and difficult to find. Additionally, the decentralized nature of Microsoft 365 can lead to content duplication and version control issues.

To effectively manage content in Microsoft 365, organizations need to understand these challenges and implement strategies to overcome them. By doing so, they can ensure that their content is organized, easily accessible, and up to date.


Solutions for managing content sprawl in SharePoint and Microsoft 365

Now, let's delve into strategies and solution to manage content sprawl effectively in Microsoft 365.


1. Clear governance policies for SharePoint and Microsoft 365

One of the key strategies to manage content sprawl in SharePoint and Microsoft 365 is to implement a centralized content organization strategy. This involves establishing a clear structure and hierarchy for organizing content, such as creating folders, libraries, and sites based on departments, projects, or themes.

Content governance of both SharePoint and Microsoft 365 plays a crucial role in managing content sprawl, as it establishes rules, policies, and guidelines for content creation, sharing, and collaboration. By implementing content governance practices, organizations can ensure that content is created and managed in a controlled and structured manner.

Content governance also promotes collaboration and communication by providing a framework for teams to work together effectively. It establishes permissions and access controls, defines content approval processes, and ensures that content is shared securely and appropriately.

  • Establish well-defined governance policies for Microsoft Teams, SharePoint and OneDrive.
  • Define roles and responsibilities for content owners and administrators.
  • Define retention and deletion policies.


2. Leverage metadata and tags for efficient content retrieval

Another best practice for managing content in Microsoft 365 is to leverage metadata and tags for efficient content retrieval. Metadata refers to additional information that can be attached to content, such as author, creation date, keywords, and file type. Tags, on the other hand, are labels that can be assigned to content to categorize and classify it.

By properly assigning metadata and tags to content, organizations can enhance searchability and enable users to quickly locate relevant information. For example, by tagging documents with project names or client names, users can easily filter and retrieve content related to specific projects or clients.


Best Practices: How to best tag in a SharePoint Document Library?

All content saved in SharePoint is tagged. At minimum with the file name, as well as details about created and modified the document and date/time for those events. There are huge advantages to be had, if you can extend this and apply a common set of tags (SharePoint Document Library Columns) that your users tag against. Where it makes sense, using the Microsoft 365 Term Store as a source for your tags adds additional benefit as you can ensure consistency of the tag values.

Practically speaking an example of this could be that project related documents can be tagged with the project name or project code. Just that alone is a huge benefit when providing good search experiences or when filtering documents.

Following through on the example above, you would configure the Document Library as follows from the Library Settings:

  • “Create column” or “Add column from existing Site Columns”
  • When creating the column, you should set options as follows:
    1. “Managed Metadata” under Name and Type (you will then see a warning, which you generally can ignore in modern SharePoint Online environments)
    2. In “Multiple value field”, tick the box if more than one choice can be made. E.g. it would not be unusual to allow multiple project codes.
    3. Under “Use a managed term set” browse to a term set that contains your project codes or project names.

Read more: Best practices for SharePoint Document Libraries


Best Practices: Use automated tools for content classification and tagging

The use of automated tools for content classification and tagging represents a significant advancement in the way businesses manage and organize their vast amounts of digital information. These tools often leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, can efficiently categorize, tag, and organize content based on predefined criteria or patterns learned from data. This automated approach to classification and tagging not only enhances accuracy but also significantly reduces the time and effort required compared to manual methods.

One of the primary benefits of using automated tools for content classification is the ability to handle large volumes of data consistently and quickly.

Atlas automates complex governance tasks and reduces the need for manual tagging. See below for more information on Atlas


3. Provisioning controls

  • Establish clear guidelines for creating new sites and teams.Connect to what matters most at work image
  • Implement approval processes to prevent unnecessary proliferation.


4.  User Training

  • Educate users on the importance of proper content management.
  • Provide guidance on where and how to save documents.


Content sprawl is an ongoing effort

Overcoming content sprawl is an ongoing effort. Here are some actionable steps: 

Solution 1: Regular Audits

  •  Conduct periodic content audits to identify obsolete or redundant data.
  •  Archive or delete content that no longer serves a purpose. 

Solution 2: Automation

  • Leverage automation tools to categorize and tag content automatically.
  • Implement workflows for document review and approval.

Solution 3: Governance Policies

  • Regularly review governance policies and align it with compliance standards.
  • Enforce policies consistently to maintain data integrity.


Managing content sprawl conclusion

Managing content sprawl within Microsoft 365 is essential for maintaining productivity, ensuring compliance, and minimizing costs. By implementing clear strategies, educating users, and enforcing governance policies, organizations can regain control of their digital content and thrive in the digital age.

Remember, content management is an ongoing process, requiring continuous evaluation and adjustment. With the right approach, your organization can conquer content sprawl and harness the full potential of Microsoft 365.


Deep Analysis Atlas report 2023 promo image

"Atlas is a system that brings order and control to Microsoft’s chaos and sprawl… If you have SharePoint, Teams, or M365 sprawl, then Atlas is well worth considering."

Deep Analysis Report 2023


How Atlas manages content sprawl in Microsoft 365

Atlas is leading the way in managing content sprawl in Microsoft 365 by offering a centralized, integrated solution that enhances searchability, customization, governance, collaboration, and provides valuable insights.

  1. Centralized Content Management: Atlas facilitates centralized content management within the Microsoft 365 ecosystem. It provides a unified platform where all types of content - documents, Microsoft Teams conversations, and more - can be stored and accessed. This centralization helps in reducing duplication and ensures that all team members are working with the most current and relevant information.

  2. Integration with Microsoft 365: Atlas is designed to work seamlessly with Microsoft 365 applications. This integration means that users can leverage familiar tools like SharePoint, Teams, and OneDrive, but with enhanced capabilities provided by Atlas. 

  3. Automated content classiffiction and tagging: Atlas enhances efficiency, consistency, and accuracy, these tools offer significant benefits for businesses looking to manage their data more effectively.
  4. Enhanced Search Capabilities: One of the key features of Atlas is its advanced search functionality. This reduces the time wasted in navigating through a cluttered and sprawling content landscape.

  5. Customizable Workspaces: Atlas allows the creation of tailored digital workspaces. These can be customized according to the needs of different teams or projects, ensuring that relevant content is easily accessible, and non-relevant content is kept out of sight, thereby managing sprawl effectively.

  6. Governance: With its robust governance tools, Atlas helps organizations to enforce policies and ensure compliance.

  7. Collaboration and Communication Enhancement: By providing a platform where employees can easily share and collaborate on content, it reduces the need for multiple versions of the same document and keeps everyone on the same page.

  8. Analytics and Insights: Atlas provides valuable analytics and insights into how content is being used within the organization. This data can help in identifying and eliminating redundant or outdated content, further reducing sprawl.

Blogs and Useful Resources - SharePoint & Microsoft 365


Author bio

Katya Linossi

Katya Linossi

My job is to shape the vision, strategy, culture and performance of ClearPeople. Other than being passionate about making workplaces more inclusive, I enjoy planning our next travel adventure or trying out a new recipe.

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