A site by any other name: renaming the site address in SharePoint Online

Site address renaming is rolling out to Office 365 tenants now. Here’s what I learned from my first site address rename on a production site.

flowers roses basket bouquet
Paul Long (CC BY 2.0)

I recently had a chance to check out a new feature that landed in my Office 365 tenant – the long-awaited site address rename. It worked great in my test account, so I prepared to try it in a client tenant. It also worked great there – but I learned a few things that I wanted to share.

Why you might want to rename a site address

There are lots of reasons you may need to rename a site address. When you create a site in Office 365 (team site or communication site), you are effectively making a land grab for the URL name. First come, first served – so that name can’t be used by another site. That may be OK, but sometimes it’s not!

  • Oops, a team took a URL that an organizational function needs. If someone creates a Team or team site called IT, that same URL (sites/IT) is not available for the intranet communication site that IT will want to create to share content with the rest of the organization. This is one of the most common scenarios I see, especially in organizations that deploy Office 365 for team collaboration before they get to their new intranet. If the team is actively using their site, my recommendation is to find another name for the IT communication site (e.g. sites/InformationTechnology). There are some implications for file access if you rename a site address for a team site that is connected to a Microsoft Team. Review the warnings in the Microsoft documentation. Here’s the part that might give you a reason to pause:
    • "Teams (for Office 365 group-connected sites) After the site address is changed, users won't be able to view the team's files within the Teams app, but they can access them from Teams by selecting Open in SharePoint."
  • You created a communication site for one purpose and now you want to extend that purpose – and the site address doesn’t match the new site title or intent. This is what happened for my client. We created a site that we thought would host only Quality Policies, so we named it sites/QualitySys (for Quality Systems). The concept of an organizational Policy Center wasn’t in the scope of our initial project but once it was created, of course, it was clear that the site could easily host all (Yes, I tried to convince the client to do this from the beginning, but … baby steps.) We could have done several things – including copy the relatively complex site structure to a new site using a migration tool. Since we knew the site address rename feature was coming eventually (turns out, we waited almost a year!), we changed only the Site Title to Policy Center and decided to wait for the site address rename feature to be launched to clean up the URL.
  • The function changed names and the site address doesn’t match. I see this a lot, too. A department re-brands with a new name and they want their site URL to match the new name.

How to rename

Site rename can be done in PowerShell, but it is a simple thing to do in the Admin center. Find the site that you want to rename in the list of Active sites and click the information icon. You will see the Edit button next to the site name. Just click edit and enter the new name, follow the prompts, and wait for the magic to happen! It can take a while for a site with a lot of content. For the pretty large Policy Center, I checked after about an hour and everything had finished (but I don’t know exactly how long it took).

What I learned

When you rename a communication site, there are some implications to think about – especially if you rename a site like our Policy Center that has a lot of other sites linking to it.

  • None of your links will break – but none of your links are changed either. We had links to the Policy Center in our hub navigation as well as in every functional site. Each function points to a function-specific view of the policies for that function. None of the links broke after the address change. Everything still worked because the rename creates a permanent re-direct for the legacy site name. However, all of the links to the site that we had made manually still had /sites/QualitySys in them. In other words, even though the label says HR Policies and points to the Policy Center, when you hover over the link, the URL still says /sites/QualitySys/…. Since I had created most of the links, I knew where most of them were and I manually updated them. This is a small organization with only about 15 -20 site collections. This would not be feasible in a large organization with hundreds of site collections. I spent about 45 minutes looking for all of the places where I had links to the Policy Center and updated as many as I could find. I’m sure I missed a few, but I hit the major ones. Now, users will see sites/PolicyCentre… instead of sites/QualitySys… when they hover over a link. I was anticipating some “why does the label say Policy Centre but the URL still says QualitySys” questions – so I decided to fix all the links I could before people got to the office in the morning.
  • You can’t really re-use the Site URL if you need the re-directs to continue to work. If you didn’t have any content on the site, you just need to fully delete the site collection from the tenant recycle bin and the name will be available to use on another site. But, if you need the re-directs to continue to work, you aren’t getting the site name back for another site to use!

Bottom line

This is a fantastic capability and is going to make a lot of intranet managers very  happy! But understand the implications – and use the superpower wisely. I know this is painful for a lot of my colleagues, but this is a scenario in which you should read the very well-written Microsoft documentation about the ins and outs of changing the site address before you rename your first site. A site by any other name may smell even sweeter, but understand the implications before you rename!

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