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5 Ways To Optimize Your SharePoint Search

Many users underestimate the search function in their SharePoint, although it provides stacks of options. You can research an immense variety of sources inside and outside the company to obtain relevant hits. It is easy and quick to configure, and – contrary to common misconceptions – Enterprise licenses are needed only in exceptional cases. In all, the SharePoint search function delivers immediate value added.

We will use this article to investigate how known sources can be put to good use. SharePoint mostly offers a variety of options in this regard.

With which versions is SharePoint search compatible?

  • SharePoint 2016: completely
  • SharePoint 2013: completely
  • SharePoint 2010: like FAST Search Server, no Hybrid Search

Obviously the latest iteration of SharePoint is the version that offers the widest variety of search options. But SharePoint 2013 also covers all of the functions described in the following sections. Unfortunately, you will be left in the dark a little if your company belongs to those that still use SharePoint 2010. But do take note: SharePoint 2010 came with the so-called FAST Search Server, which handled similar functionalities.

1. How are the various Search Verticals structured?

The first option to access the various sources is the Search Verticals – so settings that enable users to search within defined areas. They provide a ready-made filter that users pre-define and configure at their own discretion.

There are a few standard Verticals that SharePoint provides out-of-the-box. They include the range Everything, which – as the name suggests – performs a complete search. You can also search for particular Persons. It follows, therefore, that you will have to restrict the search to the relevant name, function, email or skills. Conversations is another default option to find particular threads on SharePoint websites, but you can also select topical Videos. Be aware, though: the latter function only works in the Enterprise Edition.

You can also define your custom Search Verticals. This is a sensible option, for instance if you do not want to receive the contents of a relevant website directly together with the search results, and instead would like to export search results to a separate area. You can restrict these Search Verticals to certain sources. Afterwards you can apply the filters and show the source on your own display templates.

It is fairly easy to configure the Search Verticals. Either you go to Central Administration – the search service application – or you use the respective Search Center to define particular verticals for the relevant website. Search Verticals provide one option of bringing order to the various sources. It is also a good way for users to perform a targeted search if they are only looking for certain content.

Search Verticals

  • “Default filters for users”
  • Standard Verticals:
    • Everything
    • Persons
    • Conversations
    • Videos (only Enterprise)
  • Custom Verticals:
    • Can be restricted to sources
    • Accept filters
    • Can be used for custom Display templates
Figure 1: Section of the SharePoint search screen

2. Filtering by metadata navigation

This is another fantastic option that not even Google provides automatically: using metadata as a filter. This means that when you’re looking for something, you can limit the search results based on defined criteria. One of the classic ways is by Result Type. If you are searching for a certain term, you can select directly whether you would like to see a PowerPoint presentation, a Word document, a zip file or others.

The relevant filter options can be a real assistance in a targeted search if you are looking for a particular author, a document created a year ago, or a file that was modified just yesterday. Naturally, you can add your own metadata assigned to a document for this navigation option as well.

Using metadata as a filter

  • Standard filters:
    • Result Type
    • Author
    • Last Modified
    • Location, Site, File Type
  • Custom search filters:
    • All metadata assigned to your SharePoint elements
Figure 2: Section of the SharePoint Metadata Navigation Filters

3. Preview – for quick and easy use!

SharePoint has the default capability to show the search results in a document preview. This feature is based on the so-called Office Web Apps (as they were known in the 2013 version), or the Office Online Server, the new name in the 2016 version. It is used to show a direct preview in the browser, which means that users do not need to open the presentation (for example), rather can view it directly in the browser using the Preview feature. It works with content that is available in SharePoint, also in various formats. This includes websites, as well as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDFs. Users can navigate through the document and even directly create a PDF file version.

SharePoint Search Preview

  • Based on Office Web Apps / Office Online
  • Works for content in SharePoint
  • Preview formats:
    • Websites
    • Word, Excel, PowerPoint
    • PDF
  • Navigation possible
  • PDF printing possible
Figure 3: Section of the SharePoint Preview

4. Create your own display templates!

The following section explores the options for displaying a search result. In most cases the title will be shown, and the results will highlight the keyword you searched for. You will also see the address and a preview of the individual document, depending on whether this function can be integrated meaningfully. In addition, you can decide which template should be used – this is controlled with Result Types. For instance, you can define that PowerPoint presentations should always be highlighted particularly. Moreover, results can be linked to certain results pages that let you define how the search results are shown when you are in a particular search area. You can also use these display templates to show search results outside of this Search Center.

Display Templates

  • Decide on “how” a search result is shown
  • You use
    • Result Types
    • Search result pages

to decide which templates are used for showing search results outside of a Search Center.

5. Edit the results you receive from a SharePoint search!

Another option is to teach SharePoint to position certain results from particular sources further up the ranking or to show them as individual blocks.

Figure 5 shows an example: I search for the term SharePoint. The system then searches a certain website for the term and displays it as a highlighted block in the SharePoint search. This option can be configured for each result source: first for the search term; in this case, the keyword is included in the search, which lets you find precise terms. You can also define that a result block should be shown as soon as someone enters a particular keyword. The second option is to use action words.

Result Blocks

  • Addition of meaningful results from other sources
  • Configurable for each results source
  • Responds to various conditions:
    • precise term
    • action word
  • Search queries can be modified in the background to deliver better results
Figure 4: Section of the SharePoint search: example of Result Blocks

That’s far from everything – SharePoint search has plenty more up its sleeve!

There are stacks of other functions for you to play around with. For instance you can create your own prompts that suggest a better alternative when users enter a certain keyword. You can also prepare dictionaries that teach the search function to search for a complete word when various abbreviations are entered, thus increasing the number of search results. What’s more, you can extract words from documents and also influence the ranking in SharePoint.

Other functions:

  • Query suggestions
  • Search dictionaries
  • Word extractions
  • Influence the ranking (XRANK)

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Christoph Vollmann

Senior SharePoint Consultant

SharePoint consulting incl. requirements analysis, conceptual design and mapping of business processes

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