Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How to carry out effective and efficient SharePoint searches

I have to admit. When I think about search, the first thing that comes to my mind is “Google” (or some people may even think about Bing or other search engines). Google has made searching very easy and very “fast”. And it has also made other search sites and tools look equally dumb and useless. So, an end user will open Google in one tab of the browser and SharePoint search page on another and type a query and compare the results. I am sure the person will be amazed by Google’s response time. But that does not mean that SharePoint search is weak and does not perform.

Users have to understand that there is a vast difference between Google’s infrastructure and the infrastructure of the organization they work in. Their own organization is hosting SharePoint for them (or sometimes may be it is hosted by another organization, but the point is that the infrastructure is still smaller than Google’s). So, the server capacity is limited, bandwidth is limited and storage is limited. Still, SharePoint manages to give results by just taking a little extra seconds than Google. So, I think that is commendable job from SharePoint’s point of view.

For all those who still do not like to search on SharePoint site, here are few tips that can help you get the results your are looking for in the first instance of your try. Try any or combine these tips below to narrow down the result set and get the results easily and in your first try.

Using Keywords:
Keywords are the basis of searching something. Consider you want to search for a H.R. document whose title is “Company HR Policies”. So, you can search for Policy. Searching with a single word may not give you the results.You can use phrase – Company HR Policy. SharePoint will now search for either Company or HR or Policy and return documents and items that contain any of these words. Exact phrases can  also be used like “Company HR Policy” (by specifying the quotation mark). This will search for exactly the phrase you have typed and in this case, you might get the first result as the document you were looking for. So, if you know the filename and want to search for it, use exact full phrases rather than loosely typed pieces of words.

But what if you do not know the filename but do know who wrote the document or what type of file it is. In such cases, Property Filters can be used

Property Filters:
When property filters are used while searching for content, SharePoint will limit the result set based on the matches between the data provided by you and the metadata properties of the file/item indexed by SharePoint.

e.g. You know that the document is written by a person named “Amol Ghanwat”, then following are few examples how you can use to search it.

author:”Amol Ghanwat”

Note the use of quotation mark when multiple words are used.

In case you know the file type, you can search for document and limit the result set for those file type(s). e.g. if you are searching for Excel 2007/2010 file types, following query will yield only Excel files


So, I mentioned earlier that you may not know the name of the document. But what if you know only a certain part of the filename or some other attribute. Prefix matching can be used to search for content for which you have incomplete information.

Prefix Matching:
You know that the file name starts with something like “Share….” but do not know the rest of the name. You can simply search for “Share*” (using the asterisk “*” symbol) and the search would return documents/item starting with “Share” e.g. SharePoint, ShareBook, etc.

Prefix matching can be used with property filters. e.g. You know that the content was written by a person whose name start with “Am” but do not know the last name, simply search for author:Am* and it would return documents with authors whose name start with “Am”

Note: As the name applies, “*” symbol can be used only as shown above. If you try to search something like “*Point” it will not return “SharePoint” in results. This is because wildcard characters are allowed only a
t the end when using SharePoint search.

Inclusions and Exclusions:
You are searching for a travel catalog and would like to find information about “Paris”, you can use inclusions as - Catalog + Paris or ”Travel Catalog” + Paris

This will ensure that the documents with “Catalog” or “Travel Catalog” with “Paris” are returned.

Similarly, if you would like that documents with “XYZPlace” in its name should not be returned, then we can query as - Catalog – XYZPlace

Boolean Expressions:
If there are multiple words or phrases in your query, you can use OR AND operations. e.g. If you want to search for a restaurant with the name ABC, you can search as restaurant AND ABC

Numeric Expressions:
Lets consider that you are an account executive and would like to search for accounts whose balance is less than 1000. In such cases, you are use Numerical Operators to compare values from SharePoint list/library/site columns. e.g. Accounts < 1000

Note that if Accounts is a custom column, your SharePoint site owner or administrator might have to request for this column to be mapped to metadata properties and crawled. If the metadata mapping is not done, then Numeric expressions will not yield correct results. Also, metadata mapping affects property filters.

Search Alerts
If you search for something very frequently and the main purpose of the search is to track which documents are added, removed, updated, etc, then you are use Search Alerts. When you search for something, the result page will contain links for Alert Me and RSS. Use any one of the links to keep yourself updated. e.g. If “ABC” was the first search result that used to come and after few days, “XYZ” relevance increases, it will show up first. Or a document named “PQR” was added and showed up in the search results. All these changes are summarized and sent across to you as RSS feed or as an email.

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