Best Practices Integrating SharePoint Search into Your Document Center

Your priority when incorporating SharePoint Search into your Document Center should be to leverage content types and metadata.

By Cathy Dew

The Document Center is a large-scale document storage solution. However, even the biggest file repository cannot adequately accommodate bulk quantities of documents without a strong search function. It is particularly vital, therefore, to configure your Document Center to take advantage of SharePoint search at every possible level.

The good news is that there are multiple steps you can take to improve file search, discovery, and overall navigation on your Document Center site. The bad news is that very few of these functions will be in place by default. You need to do some legwork to make your Document Center truly searchable. Once you’ve done so, though, you will hopefully have given your end users an easy and intuitive way to find the documents they need.

Step 1: Leverage Content Types and Metadata

Your first priority while incorporating SharePoint search into your Document Center should be to leverage content types and metadata. In the previous entry of this blog series, we discussed the advantages of using content types to ensure consistency of metadata tagging across similar or related files. We also talked about how you can use metadata later to filter documents based on category, type, or subject. For instance, if you were looking for a file about a specific product that your company makes, metadata navigation would help you filter and search.

First, though, you need to set up metadata navigation. Often, you will need to manage the metadata navigation settings at the document library level. You might enable different content types or filters based on the types of files you are using a particular library to store. However, you must enable the actual Metadata Navigation feature at the site level. If you are using a Document Center, that setting belongs to the Document Center site itself and will apply to every file, library, or list stored on that site.

To enable Metadata Navigation, the Site Admin for your Document Center must open Site Settings and click on “Manage Site Features.” From there, you can scroll down the page until you find “Metadata Navigation and Filtering.” Click “Activate” to enable the feature for your Document Center.

From there, you can configure Metadata Navigation settings on a library-by-library basis. You will find this feature by opening the Library Settings menu and clicking the “Metadata navigation settings” link. (Note that this link will only appear in your Library Settings if you have enabled the feature at the site level.) The Metadata navigation settings menu will let you configure the filters for your library. You can filter files based on content type, dates created or modified, the person who created the file, and more.

Obviously, content types are especially important for filtering, because they allow you to sort documents based on subject or category. You can enable content types at the site level or in individual subsites or document libraries. Library content types dictate which types of files you can add to each library. Site content types are inherited by sub-sites, lists, and libraries, and can be used throughout your Document Center.

Neither content type option is inherently “better” or “worse,” and the strategy you select will depend on your document storage needs. You may have a few site content types for more universal files and then configure more specialized content types on a library-by-library basis. Alternatively, you might put all your content types at the site level, to save yourself from having to configure content types individually for each library. The answer ultimately depends on how specialized your libraries are.

Step 2: Add multiple views

Another way to improve the discoverability of files throughout your various document libraries is to create custom views. Different views allow you to see and organize the files or information in your libraries and lists in a variety of different ways.

To start, SharePoint offers a variety of different types of views for you to choose from out of the box. Standard View shows you everything in a vertical list of documents, while calendar view lets you sort things by one of your date fields (such as date created, date modified). You can also customize these views so that they sort by different columns, include/exclude data columns, or filter in certain ways.

SharePoint lets you save multiple views per library. Some of these views will be public views, which can be accessed by anyone. You can also have personal views, which let users with the necessary permissions explore and sort list or library data however they see fit. Both options are useful, but public views are particularly beneficial for SharePoint search and overall file discoverability. Creating a few public views for each library on your Document Center can cut down on the amount of time that your users are spending searching and filtering the library in search of specific files.

Step 3: Implement Document IDs

One of the biggest problems with organizing, searching, and finding documents in SharePoint is the fact that files often get moved. For reasons both purposeful and accidental, the file you are searching for at any given time might not be where you think it is. You might be searching in a document library for a file that someone moved to a different library. Alternatively, you could spend hours looking through your entire Document Center for a document that was recently archived to a different site entirely. These situations are frustrating, to put it lightly

Enabling Document IDs at the site collection level prevents these kinds of long, fruitless searches. When Document IDs are enabled, each document in your site collection—including everything hosted on your Document Center site—will be assigned a unique and static ID. These IDs are automatically added to every single document your team uploads. You can then use this ID to track and find a file even if it changes location.

To implement Document IDs, navigate to the top-level site or site collection that you want to edit. Open the Settings menu and then select “Site Settings.” Scroll down to “Site Collection Administration” and click “Site collection features.” You should see an option for “Document ID Service.” By clicking “Activate,” you should be able to enable Document IDs for your site or site collection

A Note on SharePoint Search: Choosing Between Site Search and In-Library Search

Once you have enabled the features discussed above, you are ready to start searching SharePoint. The question is, which search strategy is best?

There are two primary ways to search for a document within SharePoint: at the site level or within a specific library. Every site has a search box at the top of the page which you can use to search all the contents hosted on that site. Your SharePoint Document Center is no exception to this rule. You can type your keywords into this box and SharePoint will return any “relevant” results from all the subsites, lists, and libraries contained within your Document Center.

On the plus side, this type of search is extremely easy. Right out of the box, you can type a keyword into the site search box and SharePoint will look for keyword matches. If the keyword(s) appear in a document’s file name, metadata, or text, SharePoint will flag the document and include it in your search results. In other words, while metadata and other configurations can help streamline this search function, you can technically start using it without taking any of the steps described in this article

On the other hand, since site search looks for everything in every subsite or library of your Document Center, you are probably going to get too many results—at least for simple searches. By default, a site search will also show you any type of content on a site, not just documents. So, you might search for a file and end up getting results littered with contacts, events, or tasks. This outcome is less likely on a Document Center site than most other types of SharePoint sites, but it’s still worth noting.

In-library searches, meanwhile, let you look for files on a smaller scale. When you open a document library, you should see a search bar in the header of the page. Again, you can type your preferred keyword(s) here, and SharePoint will look for matches in titles, metadata, or text. The difference is that you only get results from that specific document library. If you know where a file is, this option is better because it will yield more relevant results and help you narrow down your search faster. If you aren’t sure where on your Document Center site a file is stored, though, you will probably need to stick with the global search.

Find Your Files Faster with the Help of 2Plus2

Need help setting up metadata navigation, configuring views, or figuring out SharePoint search for your Document Center site? 2Plus2 can help! Go online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 today.

Cathy Dew
Cathy Dew – CEO + Information Architect
Cathy focuses the company on our mission – Real results. Every time. Information architect and strategist, Cathy is passionate about making software work well – the function, the feel, the result.
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