blog.frederique.harmsze.nl my world of work and user experiences

September 30, 2014

Why is that document not found? 6 tips to troubleshoot the SharePoint Online search

Filed under: Office365 — Tags: — frederique @ 23:53

The search in modern SharePoint in general, and in SharePoint Online in particular, is great. It helps users to find content and people quickly and easily. But it is not magical. And it is not always as intuitive as I hoped. Here are a couple of tips to help you to find out what’s happening when users cannot find what they are looking for. There are probably more possibilities, but these are based on my personal lessons learned.

1. Is it is a duplicate of another document?

If several files are the same, the search will only give you one of them and not its copies: its duplicates. And they don’t even need to be exactly the same: they can have different filenames, different titles and some difference in their content, but SharePoint still considers them to be duplicates.

This is a feature and not a bug: users don’t want to be swamped with duplicates that push the other relevant documents out of sight.

However, it can be very confusing if you expect to find a specific document and it is not displayed. I know I was confused, when I had added several test files in various sites, with different filenames and different titles, and I found only one of them.

In the hover panel, a link to 'View duplicates'. In the Dutch version of SharePoint weirdly translated as 'Dubbels weergave'.

In the hover panel, a link to ‘View duplicates’. In the Dutch version of SharePoint weirdly translated as ‘Dubbels weergave’.

Duplicates hidden behind the link 'View duplicates', even though they have different titles and different filenames

Duplicates hidden behind the link ‘View duplicates’, even though they have different titles and different filenames

So what you can do about this is:

  • Be aware of this functionality of the search and warn the users
  • Activate the link to display the duplicates. This link will appear in the hover panel of the one document that is found – so it is not very visible, explain it to the user. Clicking on that link will show all duplicates of this document.

2. Does the user have permission to see the document?

This is an oldie, but it can still confuse users. If you do not have permission to read a document, you will not find it in the search either.

Again, this is a feature and not a bug, because usually users have only permission to access a few of the loads of team sites in their SharePoint environment. And it would be very annoying to get a lot of results in their search, only to discover that they cannot actually open anything.

However, if the users were supposed to have permission to see the documents and they have been omitted for some reason, this becomes a problem. They won’t find out what they are missing by searching. They will have to discover in some other way that this relevant document exists and then request permission, so that next time they can find it via the search.

So explain to innocent users that this is how it works.

3. Is it a draft, instead of a published document?

We just discussed the security trimming of the search: if you don’t have permission to see a document, you will not find it in the search. That means that if I do have permission to see the document, I will find it in the search result, right? Wrong!

If a document is a draft that has not been published, you may not find it in the search. That depends on the versioning settings of the document library it lives in: libary settings > Versioning settings > Who should see draft items in this document library?

Versioning settings: Who should see draft items in this document library?

Versioning settings: Who should see draft items in this document library?

  • Any user who can read items:
    If everyone who can read the documents can also see the drafts, then you will find the drafts in the search result.

    • If the document has not been checked in yet, only the author can see the document in the library and only the author can find it with the search. This is something I expected.
    • If the document has been checked in as a draft, a minor version, all site visitors can find it with the search. Again, as expected.
  • Only users who can edit items
    If only users who can edit the items are allowed to see the drafts, then you will not find the drafts in the search result. Not even if you are the author of the drafts. This one, I did not expect…

The reason is that the crawl account apparently does not have permission to see the drafts, even if you have that permission in the library.

Files that have not been published in my test library: one of them has not even been checked in.

Files that have not been published in my test library: one of them has not even been checked in.

With the setting ‘Any user who can read items ’, a Site Visitor finds the drafts that have been checked in. Only the draft that has not even been checked in is left out.

With the setting ‘Any user who can read items ’, a Site Visitor finds the drafts that have been checked in. Only the draft that has not even been checked in is left out.

With the setting 'Only users who can edit items' even the author cannot find the file, even when searching for the exact filename.

With the setting ‘Only users who can edit items’ even the author cannot find the file, even when searching for the exact filename.

4.Are its library and site included in the search?

By default, everything is included in the search. However, it is possible to exclude a library or an entire site – and all their content - from the search. If that has been done, nobody will find the documents that live there by using the search.

  •  At the library level: Library settings > Advanced > Allow items from this document library to appear in search results? = Yes

    In the Advanced settings: Allow items from this document library to appear in search results?

    In the Advanced settings: Allow items from this document library to appear in search results?

  • At the site level: Site settings > Search and offline availability > Allow this site to appear in search results? = Yes.

    Site settings: Search and offline availability

    Site settings: Search and offline availability

So check these settings if users complain that they cannot find a document.

5. Are you searching for a synonym of the official term?

One of the great ways of making your content more “findable” is to enrich it with metadata: categories that can be managed centrally for your organization in the Term Store. In that this Term Store, the terms can get additional labels, for synonyms of that term. The author who tags his document, can either use the term itself or one of its synonyms; it will carry the official term regardless of the synonym the author picked.

I expected the search to take these synonyms into account, and give me the appropriate results when I search for a synonym.

However, the synonyms entered in the term store are completely ignored by the search; I got no result whatsoever for the (exotic) synonym I searched for. And the alternative for dealing with synonyms, a thesaurus, does not seem to work in SharePoint Online at this time (“Unfortunately, it is not feasible to do that in SharePoint Online“). Hm.

So monitor the usage of the search, to see if people are trying to find content by synonyms that lead nowhere and then ask content owners to use the synonym in the content or in other metadata (like enterprise keywords). And ask Microsoft to fix this, because I feel it is a gap in the functionality.

6. Is the document too recent?

Normally I find items within a couple of minutes, say 15 minutes at the most, after I have created them. However, sometimes it takes a lot longer. A couple of hours instead of minutes.

In SharePoint Online there is not much I can do about this: I cannot kick off a crawl to hurry the system. I can only check the service health log to see if Microsoft has reported any issues with the search, or enter a service request. Or I can be more patient…

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