SharePoint started in 2001 as a document management system, and that’s still one of its most important features. A key feature of a DMS is to be able to find documents. The SharePoint search engine has improved significantly over the last years. But a common misconception is that SharePoint Search works for every company straight out-of-the-box.
SharePoint Search will not suit all of your needs without configuration
Some of our customers say: We want it to work just like Google, but some of them don’t seem to understand that Google does not “just work”. Every day thousands and thousands of Google employees work on improving the search engine and adapt it to the always changing world-wide web. The same is true for Bing, it does not “just work”. In fact, we do have Bing in SharePoint. The core of the Bing search engine has been implemented in SharePoint 2013. So why does it still not fulfill all needs? Most importantly because of company specific metadata and taxonomies; even company has its own list of content types, metadata, and no site structure is the same. The SharePoint Search engine just needs some help to be able to understand the content better.
Search configuration and tweaking should be part of the project plan, and it must be understood that this takes time up-front, but also ongoing effort. I have compiled a list of 10 tips how you can make SharePoint Search work for you. I’ve added them in random order, there is no best tip as it all depends on your requirements and organisation.
Tip: Include file shares
Most organisations are still using file shares to store documents. By including these file shares in the SharePoint Search, users will be able to find these documents easily and they will more likely invest more time in using SharePoint.
Tip: Configure the refinement panel
The refinement panel allows users to refine the search results, based on metadata. For example, it allows them to only see documents changed in the last 3 months, and created by a certain author.
Additional metadata properties can be added to allow filtering on custom metadata tailored to your implementation.
Tip: Use a neural network to improve the search ranking
That sounds cool, doesn’t it? The ranking of search results in SharePoint is driven by a neural network. It learns from its users by default. In most cases this will suffice, but sometimes the out-of-the-box ranking does not work for you.
In those cases, it may pay off to create a custom ranking model and feed it with data by classifying search results. Install the Ranking Model Tuning App, ask your users to fire some queries & assign scores to the results. The app will then calculate a new ranking model based on the scores given by the users. This app also uses a neural network to create the new ranking model.
Tip: Use the search reports
As I said, search configuration and tweaking is not a one-time thing. Ideally your organisation has a dedicated search administrator, with the task to configure search based on the search reports. For example, there are reports that show all “no results queries”, i.e. queries that users entered but did not yield any results. Or, the “no click queries”, which means that users did not click on any results.
Tip: Use query rules
Query rules were introduced in SharePoint 2013 and are a very powerful tool to easily customize the search behavior. Some use case examples:
- When users search on “Leave request”, the link to the leave request form is shown above the search results.
- People that have “GM” in their job description, should be ranked higher than everyone else.
- When searching for “Contoso Wiki”, show a result block from the Intranet wiki above all search results that contain “Contoso”.
- When a user searches for “Wellington projects”, show all project sites from the Wellington office.
The possibilities with query rules are endless!
Feel free to comment if you’re not sure how you can achieve your requirement with a query rule, most likely it is possible!
This is just a small subset of what you can achieve with SharePoint Search
This is just a small list of what I think are the most important tips. I could write a blog post with 20 or 30 tips, but then probably no one will read it. If you have any question how you can do X or Y with Search, please ask it in the comments.