Vertical Sections Land in SharePoint Online

One of the much anticipated additions to SharePoint Online has now landed, with the ability to create vertical sections. Before I start going into vertical sections too much, let's just quickly visit what I mean when I talk about sections in SharePoint Online.


When creating content on a page in classic SharePoint pages, I would have had to create a page layout which had a number of publishing zones or web part zones, and then I would have needed to make my content fit the layout. This was always a huge barrier for organisations (in my experience) when trying to create their intranet on a SharePoint platform. They could create lots of page layouts to cater for every single need as long as they had someone who could create HTML and navigate their way around SharePoint Designer.

SharePoint Online crumbled those barriers with the modern experience allowing users to create layouts to meet their needs without needing to write any HTML. The users could also mix their page layouts to best present their content, being able to have horizontal sections containing a good variety of columns such as single, two, and three column layouts as well as being able to have 66/33 and 33/66 layouts.

Whilst this was great, and most of what we wanted to do would fit into these layouts, there were times where having a column limited to a single horizontal section again hampered the ability to fully achieve everything we wanted for a page layout. For example, some of the web parts took up a large amount of real estate in terms of their height, the Twitter web part as an example. If you had this within a 66/33 layout, content creators would need to make sure that the content on the left of the screen was sufficient to limit the amount of white space being taken right in the middle of the screen. For me, this always meant that a Twitter web part was placed down the bottom of the page where it wouldn't push anything else out. So to an extent, we still needed to match our content to the layout.

Enter the Vertical Section

In August 2019 (for me anyway), vertical sections have rolled out which means that I can have a section which will span the height of all of my horizontal sections. This is added in exactly the same way as my horizontal sections were, by putting my page into edit mode and clicking the + to add a new section.

This will immediately place a vertical section on the right hand side of my page which will run the full height of the page. The section itself behaves in exactly the same way as any other, with the + icon available to add your own web parts, and the ability to drag and drop content from the other sections into it.

So now if I move my Twitter web part, remember that this is a "height hungry" web part, then it will quite happily span down the page without pushing out the rest of my content.

Whilst I have used my Twitter feed as my example, there are a huge number of use cases for implementing this column on your pages such as having your quick links in a prominent place, or having all of your personalisation web parts in a single column meaning that your page is contextual to the user without detracting from main bulk of content in the other sections.

The vertical layout isn't just limited to communication sites, it is also available on your Team sites, so you can start to introduce even more rich layouts within your teams as well as your "intranetty" (making up my own word) style pages.

The page also responds well when you start to resize your browser, with the vertical section moving immediately to the bottom of the page beneath the main content areas as I would expect with any responsive page.

This is a good addition, but there are also a few things which are worth keeping in mind with the vertical layout.

The limitations of Vertical Layouts

As a page designer, you should be aware of some of limitations which I have spotted with regards to this type of section as I can already hear some of these questions being asked by clients when I start getting overly excited by the fact that I can create a full height column!

The first is that it will always appear on the right hand side of the screen only, so at the moment you don't have the ability to move it to the left, as an example. I know that's quite trivial, but I can already hear the questions which I will be asked by clients.

Secondly, you can only create one vertical column, so don't think that you will be able to create multiple vertical columns. Not yet anyway.

Thirdly, the only editing options which you have on the section are related to the background colour derived from your theme. Is this really a limitation? In my opinion no, but again I'm just anticipating some of the questions about what options I have when editing the section.

ADDITION: Thank to John Wynn who also pointed out one limitation which I'd missed, which is that you can't combine a full-width section and a vertical section on the same page. So consider which is the better layout option for you when you're creating your content.

The biggest thing for me, and I wonder if anyone else has this issue, and that whilst the page layout responds well, I find that I only have to reduce my browser in size slightly before the vertical section jumps to the bottom of the page. Strangely this seems to affect me more when viewing on a high resolution display (2736 x 1824) rather than on smaller resolution (tested on 1680 x 1050). I'll be playing with this a little more to see what is really affecting this behaviour so would be interested to see how everyone else gets on.

All in all...

Overall I think this is yet another positive change on the page authoring capabilities of SharePoint Online and really shows how it's position as a content rich platform is continuing to grow. Yes there are limitations, but nothing that in my opinion even remotely falls into something which could cause an issue.

But with any limitations aside, the ability now to have that full column of content available on my screen which will not impact the height of any of my horizontal sections is a big win. I'm looking forward to see what the authoring experience will bring next.