MVPs for SharePoint 2010: Quick Tips for Improving Search in SharePoint 2010


Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by SharePoint Server MVP John Ross as part of the MVP Award Program Blog’s “MVPs for SharePoint” series. John Ross is a Senior Consultant and SharePoint Server MVP with SharePoint911 from Orlando, FL. He has over eight years of experience implementing solutions for clients ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies as well as government organizations. John is co-author of the books, “Professional SharePoint 2010 Branding and User Interface Design” and “Real World SharePoint 2010” from Wrox. You can find him on twitter at https://twitter.com/johnrossjr or visit his blog at http://www.sharepoint911.com/blogs/john

Many organizations implement SharePoint for a number of
different reasons including collaboration, content management, business
intelligence, process improvement, and many others. These are areas where
organizations are leveraging the vast capabilities of SharePoint 2010 to allow
their users to work smarter and not harder. 

But one area that many organizations seem to forget about is
the powerful enterprise search capabilities that are available out of the box
with SharePoint 2010.  Search tends to be
one of those areas with SharePoint that “just works,” so what usually happens
in an organization is that the farm gets setup and search gets configured —
results come back and it is assumed that everything must be working. Right?  This approach is very common which is why
when I go to work with different companies I often hear the same story about
how “Search is broken” or “search sucks.” 
But the fact of the matter is that in order to work to its full
potential, search can’t be entirely an afterthought. However, getting better
results from search doesn’t require a lot of effort.

Before we can get into any search discussion we’ve got to
start with the key measuring stick for determining whether any search engine
works — relevancy.  Relevancy is just
another way of saying “did you find what you were looking for?” Users who have
negative things to say usually aren’t finding what they are looking for and
therefore have an issue with relevancy. 
The following are a few quick and easy ways to improve relevancy across
your organization with very little effort.

Put more important
documents near the root of the site, less important documents farther down the
hierarchy
— They say the cream always rises to the top, and with search
the same is true.  There are many factors
that work together to determine the relevancy of a document but one rule of
thumb is that the deeper the document is buried in your hierarchy the less
relevant SharePoint is going to assume the document is in comparison to a
similar document closer to the root.  As
a rule of thumb, the less “/” in a URL to a piece of content the more relevant
it is.  For example a document at http://sales/sharepoint-presentation.docx
would be considered more relevant that
http://sales/products/sharepoint-presentation.docx.

Just remember that you can use this to your advantage. Less
important documents and sites can be nested deeper in your hierarchy and more
important ones can be closer to the top.

Use natural language
for site and file names
— Among the easiest and most effective things
people can do to improve search relevancy is to name their sites and files
effectively.  Look at these two URLs:

http://sales/north-america/presentations/april-2011-widgets.docx

http://slsna/p_wdgts411.docx

The first document has a URL which has actual words used for
the sites and document where the second one has some shorthand for the sites
and document names.  The first one is far
more effective because the URL and file names for a document in SharePoint are
a heavily weighted component of the relevancy algorithm. If you were to type a
search query of “sales presentations widgets” SharePoint would be able to
determine clearly that the first document was relevant to the query.  Although the second document might have some
of those words typed somewhere in the content, and would likely still show up
somewhere in the results — the first one will be considered more relevant
simply because of the way it is named.

It should also be noted that in order for this to work as
effectively as possible it is important to NOT run your words together.  This is because SharePoint doesn’t know where
words break unless you’ve got something between them that it identifies as a
“wordbreaker.”  Although spaces are
recognized as a word breaker in SharePoint, my recommendation is to use “-“
between words instead.  The main reason
for this is because if you use spaces in things like site or page names when
SharePoint will automatically remove them and you’ll lose out on the relevancy
benefit you’d get otherwise. Other common word breakers that get used are
things like underscores (_), periods, semi-colons.  If you happen to be using these, they are
also all valid word breakers. 

Supply metadata for
your files
— If you aren’t familiar with the term metadata it basically
means “data about data.” If you were talking about a car some common pieces of
metadata would be make, model, color, mileage — think about the types of
things you’d use to find a car on a web site. 
All of those pieces of data describe the car; they are its metadata.

For your files in SharePoint, by tagging them with
descriptive metadata you can make it easier for your users to find what they
are looking for.  Remember, that metadata
is always going to carry a heavier relevancy weight than content in the body of
a document.

How much metadata do you need?  Generally I recommend 5 to 10 fields that
would be useful for categorizing a file. 
Common examples would be: department, product name, type of document,
client, etc.  The key to metadata is that
it needs to be clear and consistent.  Here
are a few metadata recommendations:

  • Use managed metadata fields, choice, or lookup
    fields so your users don’t have to manually type in metadata to ensure
    consistency.
  • Make as much of it required as possible – if you
    don’t your users likely won’t fill it out!
  • Resist the temptation to add too many fields.
    The idea is to make it easier for your users to find things, not make them have
    to take an hour to upload documents.

Summary

This article covered just a few basic tips, but even though
they may seem small, they can have a huge impact on search relevancy for your
users. And the best part is that it doesn’t take any custom code or even a lot
of effort. The end result should be that users will spend less time looking for
things in SharePoint which can add up to tons of ROI.  Managers like things that bring ROI and it
usually puts them in a better mood when it is time to do performance reviews!

Comments (1)

  1. Khan Saheb says:

    Great Summary. Thx