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February 04
​Is Your Search Full of Weeds?

Search is still a pain point for users in SharePoint installations.  However, what users do not realize is that their ability to find information is not because Search is not powerful enough, it is!  The information is there, unfortunately this information is presented like the thousands of letters dumped on the judge’s desk in Miracle on 34th Street.  Overwhelming.

Configuring Search is a Power User function, not IT.  Much is written about SharePoint 2013 Search in terms of architecture and infrastructure configuration.  That information is typically targeted towards the IT department who implement Search.   But Search is a tool for the business user to configure and provide upkeep.  The best analogy I have heard in this regard is from Jeff Fried of BA Insight who remarked, "Search is like gardening.  It takes constant attention and pruning".

This post is focused on providing a high level review of the components that a Power User should be configuring to provide a great search experience.  Future posts will delve (excuse the pun) into each component.

Microsoft knows and embraces empowerment.  In other words, IT does not have to do everything.  As such, the management of Search is enabled to be delegated via Central Administration which put tools in the right hands.  In order for a Power User to do anything with search they need access to the Search menu under Site Settings. 


Once you have access to this that brings us to the question:  What are the building blocks to creating a great search experience?

It comes down to 5 elements:

      1.       Query Rules

      2.       Results

      3.       Filters

      4.       Analytics

      5.       Web Parts

I want to mention one very important item before explaining the building blocks: Planning.  Using our analogy again, one does not just grab seeds and plant a garden.  You plan out what you are growing and where.  Otherwise plants will overgrow one another or worse, not grow at all.  Weeds will form in places you did not expect obscuring the brilliance of organic food.  If you don’t plan Search before planting, the analogy is direct.   Concealed results, no results, results grouped in a manner that make no sense or provide no intuitive way to sort through.  Planning, enough said.

Query Rules

Remember this is SharePoint 2013 so:

Best Bets – DOA

Keywords – DOA

Ok, deprecated, but just like an excommunicated asset – one should not use these.  In their place are Query Rules, infinitely more powerful.  This is available via Site Settings as shown in the previous graphic. 

Query Rules allow you to set up promoted results (with fairly complex query conditions), add blocks of results and even tune ranking of results.  Also, you can publish the query rule to be active for a certain period of time.  

One of the more intriguing features of Query Rules is the ability to set up a condition based on the term store.


This ability gives you the flexibility of basing conditions off of the term store!  When new items are added there, the query just takes these additional terms into account.  Very powerful.


Search Scopes – DOA (Deprecated)

I am encapsulating two functions here: result sources and result types.   Result Sources speak for themselves – where are you getting the information from when a search is performed?  You build this out here.  Then the information is consumed via the Query Rule and Search web parts.  This replaces Search Scopes.

Result Types are a way to identify your result and then customize how the result appears.  Think about having a certain product in manufacturing and when that item is searched the results have a picture of that product by it.  This becomes very intuitive for the user looking at the results.


This is a huge topic and one that I will follow up on with an additional post.  The simple way of looking at this in SharePoint 2013 is to say this is the refinement panel.  But it goes a LOT deeper than this.   Filters are great and can provide much transparency into the data being shown.  Out of the box you can see Author, type of content, different office types, and then modify these attributes and add items (which are metadata) like Companies.

However, the user has a particular search in mind and it is our responsibility to help them get there.  This is where faceted search play a role.  This is a type of navigation by a set of data and then applying filters on various properties.  It makes it easy for users to navigate and explore and perform discovery on the data.  Where it really shines is when the user does not know the specific keyword they want to search.

Again, I will write up a separate post on this topic but suffice it to say you can do faceted search with SharePoint 2013.


A good garden takes time to grow and then pruning must take place to get rid of the dead stuff, cut back the weeds, and understand what grows best where.  This is exactly how analytics work.

Organizations, Power Users, must take the time to go through the reports supplied by Search to tune the results and get rid of the dead stuff.  SharePoint as a document repository takes on a lot of dynamic content.  If SharePoint has solutions (apps) built on it that takes the dynamic content to another level.  If you are not tuning Search the experience will be lacking for the end user.

Some of the supplied reports are Queries by Day, Month, No Result Queries, Query Rule usage, and Number of Queries.

Web Parts

Finally the last building block are the out of the box web parts that comprise Search.  The most popular is the Content Search Web Part.  There is much written on this and much you can do with it. 

There are also several other web parts as shown here:

Using these a Power User can create a Search application.  Questions can be easily answered about what is trending, what is being accessed and how many times it was accessed, how you get to your results and see how many results are in a particular category. 

These are the building blocks to take your Search out of the weeds.  They are effective separately but just like a collaboration, when used together an extremely powerful Search emerges.  We never want our users singing the popular refrain “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”


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