SharePoint is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in organizations
as a method to manage content. Of course, no content management
system is complete without an excellent search function whereby the
model always serves up the exact set of relevant documents demanded
by the user. While this ideal is not always attainable in practice,
SharePoint's search functionalities can be customized to achieve
vast improvements in the overall search experience.
By customizing the results that each user sees and the context
they see it in, an administrator can increase the relevance of
results. They can also enable users to weed out the irrelevant
documents by providing appropriate search refiners, and improve
findability by using synonyms, Best Bets and Advanced Search
This white paper provides SharePoint administrators and users
with a way to think about and grade their search experience, while
walking them through five steps that will help them improve their
search experience, increase user involvement and ultimately boost
Today's corporate environment very frequently requires the use
of Microsoft SharePoint as a solution for enterprise content
management, and intranet and extranet site management. As a result
of its various uses, a SharePoint system can end up housing large
amounts of content. To help make sense of all this information, a
crucial component of every implementation of SharePoint turns out
to be its search functionality.
A really good search algorithm can change the way users interact
with content. Google made the Internet truly discoverable. The
search refiners that Bing and Amazon employ make it easy to narrow
down a large set of results to only those that truly matter to each
The SharePoint search experience can be positioned anywhere on a
wide spectrum of quality. Depending on the search solution that is
right for your business, you will be able to customize some or
a lot of the search experience.
To ensure user involvement with your SharePoint site, it is
imperative that you provide users with powerful search-based
If you've already decided on the steps to take, there are many
videos on the Surfray website that contain technical demonstrations
on exactly how to carry them out.
But then, what if you don't know how to approach SharePoint? How
do you prioritize and decide?
In this white paper, we present to you five simple steps that
will enable your site's search capabilities to climb up the value
The SharePoint Maturity Model
To begin with, it is necessary to evaluate how well your
business already does search using the appropriate metrics.
The SharePoint Maturity Model (SPMM), as applied to search, sets
out the metrics to determine the level of maturity that your site's
search is currently at. The model is also useful in determining how
far you want to go with your improvements to search.
Out of box functionality
Custom scopes and iFilters added
Search results analyzed.
Best Bets and metadata properties leveraged.
Content types and custom properties leveraged in Advanced
Results customized to specific needs, may be actionable.
Users understand relationship of tagging to search
Automated tagging may be used. High volumes can be handled.
This model will help you evaluate your SharePoint search
implementation by asking yourself the following questions:
• How many lower-level features have you
implemented? How about higher-level ones?
• Did you get most of the lower-level features out
of the way first before going on to the higher-level ones?
With the SPMM, as with every scale of complexity, the features
on the lower end of the scale cost less to implement than the
features on the high end. Indeed, at the lower end of the scale,
not implementing the features might cost more in terms of the
amount of effort the user has to put in on a regular basis, whereas
the advantages of implementing the higher-end features might be
relevant only in rare cases.
Your organization will need to decide which features it is
important to implement on a case to case basis. Obviously, these
will vary from business to business.
Step 1: Ensure that there are no permissions
This is a level-100 step. You need to ensure that users can see
all the documents they are meant to see. You cannot afford errors
in permissions that restrict access. Unfortunately, this can be
more complicated than you think.
You will have to take inventory of all the different kinds of
users that will access your data. Will other departments in your
organization want to access your content? Will it be relevant for
extranet users - those in other organizations that are involved in
your business processes? Finally, what about external users? Are
you publishing content for your customers?
Then there will certainly be data that you want them to see and
content that you do not want them to have access to.
When multiple users all over the organization are creating and
publishing content on SharePoint, it can be difficult to ensure
that every document has the right set of permissions. However, this
is a fundamental step towards greater maturity in search and you
will need to develop a system to assign permissions properly.
Step 2: Create bespoke metadata to build unique site
structures and, ultimately, search refiners
This is a level-300 step. You will be using somewhat advanced
features of SharePoint to tag and classify your documents. Taking a
few minutes to do this while the document is being created will
save searchers a whole lot of time when they are looking for
Simply defined, metadata is data about data. In SharePoint,
metadata is implemented as columns. You might already know all
this, but how do you make it match your needs and work for you?
Metadata is usually displayed along with your search results,
but it can be used for more than just display purposes. For
example, users can search for keywords that are attached to
documents but do not necessarily appear in them very often; or
metadata can be collected into search refiners for users to narrow
down search results.
Example 1: A white paper on SharePoint search
does not contain a large frequency of the phrase "SharePoint
search". If this paper were to be indexed based on its content
only, it may not show up in the top search results if a user typed
in that exact phrase. However, including this phrase as a keyword
in the document's metadata ensures that the system acknowledges its
Example 2: If you are a company that sells
products at a range of prices from $0 to $10,000, you can include
the product name and price in the metadata. SharePoint uses this
metadata to build search refiners that it displays on the left of
the search results. A user can then narrow a search that initially
returns all products according to price or name.
Step 3: Use customized search refiners to improve
findability based on the audience's desired search
All right, so you have metadata and you know how to use it. Now,
let's think of a deeper problem. Documents that are relevant to
some users may not be relevant to others. How do you ensure that
wires don't get crossed - so to speak - during a search?
To some extent, setting permissions will have helped with this.
But what if all groups have permissions to access a set of
documents, but each document within that set is of differing
relevance to each group that accesses it? Moreover, what if
different attributes of your documents are relevant to different
groups? As your search stands now, every search in that set of
documents will serve up the same order of results, with the same
search refiners, to every user, no matter which group they belong
For example, let's say there are two groups in your
organization: engineering and marketing. They are very different in
terms of what content on the SharePoint site is relevant to them.
When an engineer looks for a document, they want to know which
product it deals with, what materials are used and when the
document was last modified. However, a marketing person wants to
know which product, what campaign it was part of and when the
document was last modified.
By classifying your users into audiences, you can define what
they see not just in terms of documents, but also in terms of the
search refiners used to classify those documents.
Step 4: Improve findability with synonyms and Best
Now that you have a highly customized search experience, it is
time to take a step back and ask the following question: are people
getting to see what they want to see? In other words, how many
failed queries are executed, which queries fail and how do you
provide content for these failed queries?
A big red light in your SharePoint administration is if you have
a number of queries that are being executed often but either don't
serve up results at all or generate results that are not clicked
through. SharePoint Analytics provides you with these statistics,
so this is information that is available to administrators.
What do you do in the case of a failed
One answer is to create synonyms. You can define terms that mean
the same or almost the same, so that searches in one term will also
produce results from searches in the other term.
Another answer is to create Best Bets. Best Bets are a
SharePoint-specific concept. SharePoint allows its administrators
to define certain documents as Best Bets for certain queries.
For example, suppose your system (which contains this white
paper) is being queried for the phrase 'SharePoint search white
paper' very often. While results are being generated, they are not
being clicked through: either because this paper is buried deep in
the last few pages of results or because it is not provided at all
because of a weak keyword match. You can define this document as a
Best Bet for the query. The next time anyone types this in, they
will see this document as the first hit, with a star next to it
that indicates it has been served up as a Best Bet.
Step 5: Build an effective Advanced Search page in case
content cannot be found
Some industry gurus argue that Advanced Search should not be
necessary - basic search, they insist, should itself be good enough
to generate the desired results. Indeed, the more your Advanced
Search functionality is being used, the greater the indication that
your basic search is probably not working as well as it should.
However, even if you have a basic search that is so good that it
only sends one customer in a million to the Advanced Search, the
latter is still necessary to catch the corner cases.
This is a level-400 step and a great example of those steps
higher up on the maturity ladder that cost a lot to implement. You
will need to decide whether building great Advanced Search
functionality is a good value proposition for your organization or
Implementation of Steps
To implement the above steps successfully at your organization,
you have two options.
You can develop solutions in-house. If you already have the
right people at your organization and they have the bandwidth
required, this might be a good way to go. A variety of technologies
If that is not a feasible solution for your organization, a
third-party solutions provider like Ontolica can help. Ontolica
understands a business's needs and is built to provide you with
solutions in the fastest, simplest manner possible.
In this white paper, we have tried to give SharePoint
administrators a start in improving the search experience for their
users. With these five simple steps, administrators can tackle
various dimensions of search: customization of permissions, search
refiners and other search components; classification using
metadata; improving findability using synonyms, Best Bets and
Advanced Search. Videos on the Surfray website can help with the
technical details. For more discussion on SharePoint search, see: