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Wow Employees with Extraordinary SharePoint Document Search: Part 2

By Cathy Dew on July 18, 2017

You have thousands of files in your SharePoint libraries, and you need to find a particular document at a moment’s notice. What do you do?

Luckily, thanks to the SharePoint document search capabilities that Microsoft has created for libraries and lists, finding just what you need to find when you need to find it is a simple task. This post will explain how to leverage SharePoint’s considerable search functionality to locate the file you need—even if your SharePoint document library is currently hosting 10,000 documents or more.

SharePoint is the Document Library expert. To learn the fundamentals, check out our topic page "SharePoint Document Libraries: The very heart of the SharePoint experience."

This is the second of two parts discussing how to make SharePoint search work best for your company. In part one, we covered the differences between Site Collection Search and In-Place / In-Library search options. Today we’ll explain how to extend your search indexer’s reach by enabling search for your custom columns, faceted search, and the KQL (search query language).

Making Columns Searchable

The in-place search function is a more recent addition to SharePoint libraries and lists—and an incredibly welcome one at that. While the feature certainly makes searching for files more user-friendly, though, it can still run into problems occasionally. By default, SharePoint hasn’t configured the in-place search function to search for content in list columns. Because of this shortcoming, some searches might not be yielding the relevant results you expect to see. For example, say you are searching a contact list and want to find every contact whose email address has a shared company domain. This content is obviously stored in the email address column, which isn’t automatically searchable.

However, you can configure SharePoint to search columns, so that you can find email addresses or other similar types of content. Every column has an associated managed property name. SharePoint expects you to enter this property name into the search box every time you want to search within columns. Obviously, this kind of requirement is not convenient—especially since many end users probably won’t know the managed property name or won’t have it on hand.

For instance, say you are searching for all documents authored by one person in your organization. (For the sake of conversation, let’s call this person John Doe.) Author information is stored in the author column, which isn’t searchable by default. To execute a search for all John Doe’s files, you can’t just type “Doe” or “John Doe” into the in-place search bar. Instead, you’ll have to type “author:Doe” to get the results you want, as “Author” is the managed property name. If you want to make the author column searchable without using the managed property name, you will need to edit the managed property in SharePoint’s search schema so that it is searchable instead of just queryable. Learn more about how to edit and manage the search schema via Microsoft’s on-line documentation.

Another option is to shorten the managed property name by using an alias. By editing the managed property, you can add unique aliases to columns that are used frequently but have unwieldy column names.  You don’t want to make every column “searchable” since increasing the size and scope of your “free text” search can lead to performance problems and degrade the quality of the results returned due to spurious results or too many matches.

Faceted Search

Because intranets are so vast, it’s necessary to have a faceted search capability that allows users to narrow and refine their searches. SharePoint allows you to conduct a faceted search through what Microsoft calls “refiners.” You can use the managed properties in the search schema as refiners for searches—even if the columns those managed properties represent are not directly searchable themselves. For instance, someone might want to refine a search so that it shows only documents authored by a specific person or only files of a particular content type. This kind of faceted search is possible by mapping crawled properties to existing “generic” refinable managed properties and applying an alias to the property. With SharePoint Online you cannot create new refinable managed properties and have to use the pre-defined slots provided by Microsoft.

To add a refiner, launch Search Center, open Site Settings, and click Search Schema. Type “RefinableString00” (or some other number, if you’ve already added several refinable strings). Click the Property Name box and select “Edit/Map Property.” On the next page, you will be able to click “Add a Mapping,” which will let you search for the crawled property (perhaps “author” or “content type”) you want to use as a refiner. Select the property you want to use and click “OK.” You will now be able to use that property as a refiner on your SharePoint document searches.

The refiner feature can be extended to Term Sets. For a review of extending the refiners to your managed meta data read this article.

Other Features to Assist with SharePoint Document Search

There are several other features that you can use to hone your SharePoint document search functions so that they work more effectively. One option is to configure metadata navigation in your list or library settings. If you have a very meticulous managed metadata taxonomy for your SharePoint document library, metadata navigation—which displays a hierarchy of folders and managed metadata tags on the left side of the screen—can make searches simpler. Metadata navigation also includes a key filters control, which lets you specify additional details about a file—such as content type, date modified, and customer.

Search query keywords (or Keyword Query Language) offers additional fluidity to your SharePoint document search. KQL queries allow for more complex “free text” searches, including word searches with prefix matching and phrase searches for longer keyword strings. KQL queries also enable you to specify certain fields (including column items like author name or file type) using property restrictions.

For example: author:"John Smith" filetype:docx created<=”01/01/2017”

In conjunction with building a strong managed properties collection schema, teaching your user base the basics of keyword queries will greatly boost their ability to search and find relevant files. You can learn more about KQL from Microsoft, or use the excellent infographic found at ICanSharePoint.com.

As you can see, SharePoint document search can be quite simple or quite complex, depending on the nature of what you are looking for and how large your SharePoint intranet is. If you need help learning the basics of these features or configuring your SharePoint libraries and intranet for more effective searching, 2Plus2 might be able to help.In the meantime, get an intro to organizing your SharePoint Document Library with folders and metadata.Go online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 today.

Sources:
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.