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

November 30, 2014

Help the users find what they need using the Search – 10 Tips

Filed under: SharePoint — Tags: — frederique @ 23:51

The SharePoint search functionality, and the search in SharePoint Online in particular, is quite powerful and helpful. But it is not magical. As an intranet team member, champion or administrator, you can help the users take full advantage of the search capabilities and help them find what they need.

I have also given a talk about this subject at the Office 365 Saturday Europe on November 15th; these are the slides I used.

What do we want from the search?

Users want the search to allow them to:

  • Find the right information so that they don’t miss anything relevant
  • Manipulate the result (filter, sort), so that they end up with the right info only, no clutter
  • See at the result at a glance, so that they can judge it and then use it

SharePoint’s search can help us do that. I always have to search hard (duh…) for resources specific for SharePoint Online, because the search in SharePoint 2013 is similar, but there are differences. This is the official SharePoint Online service description.

To help find the right information

Tip 1: Explain how it works

Searching does not have to be complicated: You can just enter a search term and hit enter. Or you can do a more advanced search, using operators like term1 AND “an exact search phrase between quotes”.

You filter the result by selecting a search vertical: instead of searching Everything, search People, Conversations of Videos, which are available by default. And you can filter the result by using the refinement panel on the left. Put your cursor on a result, and you will get more details and a preview, to allow you to decide if the item is what you are looking for.

Search result, with options to select another search vertical (e.g. Videos), filter with the refinement panel on the left. And hover over a result to preview it.

Search for one or more terms. In the result, you have options to select another search vertical (e.g. Videos), and filter with the refinement panel on the left. And hover over a result to preview it.

A tip to give to the innocent users who contribute content, is to enter proper metadata, especially the title. The search mechanism uses these metadata to bring up relevant results.

By default, the most relevant item is displayed at the top of the result list. What is most relevant, is determined by a complex mechanism that takes into account the types of content that are found (Powerpoint is considered more relevant to innocent users than Excel files), how often the search term appears in the item and where (if it is in the title, it is considered more relevant than if the term only appears deep down in the text). But it also takes into account dynamic factors like how often the result is clicked by users. So the analytics component of SharePoint Online keeps improving the relevance of the search results: don’t be surprised if you don’t always get the same result.
See for details the Overview of analytics processing in SharePoint Server 2013 that was also linked from the official SharePoint Online service description, so apparently it is also valid for SharePoint Online…

Tip 2: Explain what is not found

Some results are deliberately not brought up by the search mechanism. This can be confusing to the innocent users, so we should explain it. See for more details the previous blog post Why is that document not found? 6 tips to troubleshoot the SharePoint Online search.

  • Duplicates: only one is shown, not the other copies of the same item. Even if they are not exactly the same.
  • Items for which you don’t have permission. Which makes sense, because you don’t want to show a result, only to block the user when she tried to access it.
  • Unpublished drafts that are only visible to editors. You can only see unpublished drafts that are configured to be visible to all user. Apparently the search crawl account only has read permission.
  • Site or list excluded from search. Again, that makes sense. But users can get confused if they remember that the item exists somewhere and don’t understand why they cannot find it.
  • Synonyms. In SharePoint Online you can provide synonyms for your terms in the term store. But at present, the search in SharePoint Online cannot not do anything with these synonyms.
  • Too recent: the items have not been crawled yet…

Note: there are also some search limits for SharePoint Online. For example, very large documents are not crawled in their entirety. So far I have not had issues caused by these limitations in my projects, while I have had questions that were answered by the bullets above. But that may well change of course.

Tip 3: Boost authoritative items

As we stated in Tip 1, the items that are deemed to be most relevant are displayed on top. The relevance ranking takes many factors into account. But as an administrator or site (collection) owner you can also influence them.

As a site (collection) owner, you can set Query Rules for your site (collection). As an administrator you can do so for the entire environment. Using a query rule, you can specify what should happen in certain conditions. For example, if the user enters a specific search term, then a particular item is promoted at the top of the search results.

How? Click Site settings > Site collection administration or Search: Query rules. To set or view a query rule, you first need to specify the result source, like the local SharePoint results. Then you can specify in a new rule under what condition something should happen and what action then should be taken if these conditions are met. See Manage query rules for details.

Set query rules for the selected result source, e.g. to promote a specific result for a keyword.

Set query rules for the selected result source, e.g. to promote a specific result for a keyword.

As an administrator, you can also  set Authoritative pages in the SharePoint admin section. See also the SharePoint Online search administration overview and the subsequent Manage authoritative pages. The closer (less clicks) the item is to an Authoritative Page, the higher its relevance. So if you have a site that contains content that is particularly relevant, set it as an Authoritative page. On the other hand, if you have a set that is particularly irrelevant, you can demote it.

How? Click Admin > SharePoint > Search > Manage Authoritative pages:

Set authoritative pages that are very relevant.

Set authoritative pages that are very relevant.

Tip 4: Monitor the search

In the previous tips we discussed how you can influence the relevance of items in the search result. But to take advantage of that, you should monitor the search. Not just when you launch it, but continuously. Pay attention to the feedback the users give you and keep an eye on the search reports.

When you see what were the top queries, what searches led to no result and which queries were abandoned, you can act on that knowledge: change the authoritative pages and query rules, add or change the metadata. Or even ask for content that turns out to be missing altogether.

As a site collection owner you can check the search reports for your site collection. And as an administrator you can get reports for ShaePoint Online as a whole.
How? Click Site collection administration > Popularity and Search reports, or Admin > SharePoint > Search > View Usage reports (see also View usage and search reports):

Search reports for the site collection.

Search reports for the site collection.

Filter and sort the result to get rid of the clutter

Tip 5: Search Center for portal

Users on the homepage of the SharePoint Online intranet, or more generally in the portal, usually want to search everything: they are at the front door and want to find something in the environement as a whole. And because they are searching everything, it is very important that they can filter the potentially huge result to narrow it down to what they are looking for.

The Search Center that SharePoint contains by default allows you to configure the results pages, to show the information and the refiners that are most suitable to the users in your organization. The site collection ‘search’ is available by default.

You can start making use of it, by entering its url in the search settings of the portal site collection, and selecting that you want to send queries to the results page of that Search Center. Then you can edit that results page to meet your needs. See also Manage the Search Center in SharePoint Online.
How? Click Site settings > Site collection administration > Search settings:

Search settings to use the search center.

Search settings to use the search center.

Tip 6: Search this site in teamsites

Contrary to users in the portal, who want to search everything, users in a team site usually want to find something in that team site first. After all, they have navigated here purposefully. So make sure in the search settings of your team sites, that the users search this site by default. But allow them to search everything or one of the other search verticals instead, if they prefer. See also Specify search settings for a site collection or a site.

Search from a team site: by default within this site, or elsewhere.

Search from a team site: by default within this site, or elsewhere.

How? Click Site settings > Search settings > Turn on the dropdown menu:

Team site search settings: search in this site, but allow the user to search everything via the dropdown.

Team site search settings: search in this site, but allow the user to search everything via the dropdown.

Tip 7: Add relevant refiners

In the Search Center we discussed in Tip 5, you can edit the results pages and add refinement options that are relevant to your organization. For example, you can allow the users to filter by content type, theme, business division or whatever metadata are relevant for you.

Select the refiners carefully, because you should not add too many of them. SharePoint may get slow if there are more than 10 refiners. And users will need to scroll down too far in order to even see the last refiners. Note that only the refiners that actually have results are displayed. The advantage is that users will not be led to click a refiner that yields zero results. The disadvantage is that not everybody understands, so explain it.

How to add these refiners? On the search center results page click Edit > edit refinement web part > add or remove refiners and move them up or down:

Edit the refinement panel in the search center.

Edit the refinement panel in the search center.

You can simply select standard SharePoint metadata as refiners. If you want to use your own custom metadata as refiners, you need to make them available first, by adding them to the search schema, as refinable managed properties.
Note: in SharePoint Online, you cannot add new managed properties. What you need to do is use one of the existing “empty” refinable properties, like RefinableString01, and map the crawled property to it corresponding to your custom metadata; pick the one labeled ows_[MyProperty]. For more details, see Ben Prins’ blog post SharePoint Online: Search refiners and searchable columns and How to add refiners to your search results page in SharePoint 2013 (most of it is applicable to SharePoint Online too; not the reindexing though).

You can do this as a site (collection) owner for your site (collection) in the search center, or as an administrator for the entire SharePoint Online environment.
How? Click Site settings > Site collection administration or Search: Schema, or
Admin > SharePoint > Search > Manage Search Schema.

Search schema: connect your custom crawled properties to RefinableString managed properties.

Search schema: connect your custom crawled properties to RefinableString managed properties.

Tip 8: Use meaningful labels

Of course you should always use meaningful labels, for everything. But in the context of the search, this is even more important, because some labels are rather unclear to completely meaningless if you are not careful. In particular, this applies to the labels of the new refiners that you add, and to the sort order options.

The custom refiners that we discussed in Tip 7 by default are called RefinableString01 etc. You need to change the display name.

How? Edit the results page > Edit refinement web part > select the refiner > fill in the display name:

Change the display name of a search refiner.

Change the display name of a search refiner.

 

By default, the search result is sorted by relevance. In the settings of the webpart on the results page, you can allow the users to select a different sort order. The labels of some of these sort orders are not very clear though. In the translation to Dutch (I have only checked that translation), the label is even more incomprehensible. However, you can change the label:

  • Lifetime Views = Most viewed
  • Recent Views = Most viewed in the last 2 weeks
The user can change the sort order of the search result.

The user can change the sort order of the search result.

How? Edit the results page > Edit the Search Results web part > Settings > Available sort order: change the name of the label you want to change, e.g. “name”:”Lifetime Views” becomes “name”:”Most viewed”:

Change the sort order settings.

Change the sort order settings.

See, judge and use the result at a glance

Tip 9: Predefined search overviews

In addition to allowing the user to search her own results, you can also offer dynamic overviews that are based on predefined search queries. Then the user does not even have to perform a search to see what’s new and relevant in that part of the intranet. For example, you can display a ‘Who is Who’ page that displays people results at a glance.

Who is who page, with a predefined people search result.

Who is who page, with a predefined people search result.

How? Create a who is who page in your search center > Edit the search result web part > Change the query > Query text: {searchboxquery} contentclass:spspeople -{spoapp} -{spocrawler} -{Foreign}

Who is who page query.

Who is who page query.

Or you can display the most popular items, or the latest pictures.

Standard SharePoint search based content and content roll-up webparts, with standard configuration options.

Standard SharePoint search based content and content roll-up webparts, with standard configuration options.

How? There are standard webparts for this, in the sections Search-driven web parts and Content Roll-up.

Search-driven Contentweb parts and Content Roll-up web parts

Search-driven Contentweb parts and Content Roll-up web parts

Put one of these webparts on your page > Edit the web part > Select a display template for the control and for the item to determine what the result looks like (e.g. a list with two lines, or a slideshow with big images.
You can also change the query, if the default query does not suit you. Note: in the query wizard, you need to switch to advanced mode in order to change the sorting, for example to LastModifiedTime to see the pictures that were last modified. See Configure a Content Search Web Part in SharePoint.

Tip 10: Display relevant properties

To help the users see and judge at a glance what they have found in the search result, you can change the the overview and hover panel, to display the properties that are important for your organization. For example, the theme of the content or the contact details of a person.

Special display templates for the Who is Who page, displaying additional properties.

Special display templates for the Who is Who page, displaying additional properties.

You can do that as the owner of a publishing site (collection) or the administrator, by creating new Display Templates. These templates are HTML and some scripting, so you don’t have to be a developer to do create them. I am not an HTML or scripting guru, but I can still create display templates, by copying existing SharePoint and making some changes to the copies.

How? The most basic way is this: Starting with a publishing site (you don’t have this option in a team site) click site settings > Masterpages and page lay-outs > Display templates > Search >Download an original HTML file of a similar template as a starting point > edit the HTML file> upload the new file; the .js is created automatically so you don’t have to do anything with that file. Then select your new display template in the search results webpart where you want to use it. See for more details Change how search results look by using result types and display templates and the series How to change the way search results are displayed in SharePoint Server 2013.

 

So you see, you can enhance the search functionality offered by SharePoint Online to help the users find what they need, and you can do it without developing custom software. You just need owner or administrator permissions, for some things. And most of all, understanding of the possibilities.

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…

April 30, 2009

Article on dos and don’ts faceted search

Filed under: Usability — Tags: , — frederique @ 23:51

I’ve just read this interesting article about faceted search: http://www.uie.com/articles/faceted_search. Faceted search or guided navigation allows you to search by different types of metadata (called facets). You can drill down via these dimensions: narrow down your search result by selecting the value you prefer in the choice lists associated with these facets. Or search for related items, which share facets.

Personally, I use the faceted search feature in an online bookstore I visit: I browse the collection by selecting a category, a genre, a price range, a language, or whichever suits my needs at that moment.

Stephanie Lemieux lists in her article a set of dos and don’ts that have emerged as best practices for designing faceted search.

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