Customizing search in SharePoint Online

Search in SharePoint 2013 – Part 3: Customizing search in SharePoint Online

This post is the third in a series of four articles providing several best practices on how to implement and customise search in SharePoint. In the first post, we provided a brief overview of the differences in terms of search between the on-premise and cloud versions, and in the second blog post we discussed several things you should consider when migrating to the new SharePoint. In this post, we will mention several search features that can be configured in SharePoint Online, and we will be specifically referring to those available in the Enterprise Plan. If you need more information than is provided in this blogpost, feel free to visit our website or contact us!

Here is a summary of what customisations for search in SharePoint Online will be discussed:

  • Defining your own custom result sources, and hiding any that you are not using
  • Setting up hybrid search if you chose a hybrid solution
  • Defining which refiners to show and how to display them
  • Adding query suggestions that are related to your organisation
  • Adding query spelling corrections
  • Changing how the search results are displayed to show previews and additional metadata

Get ready to search ‘everything’

This is the uncustomized search box that you will see on your search center page. Please note that in some SharePoint Online plans the ‘Videos’ vertical is not available.

This is the uncustomized search box that you will see on your search center page.
Please note that in some SharePoint Online plans the ‘Videos’ vertical is not available.

Everything is the default scope when performing a search in the SharePoint search center and is returning every type of result from all of your site collections. There are a few other scopes (search verticals, or so-called Result Sources) that are included by default, People, Conversations, and Videos, and these are preconfigured to search on what you would expect.

  • You can add new result sources, say for example Reports, that shows only search results that are tagged with the keyword ‘Final Report’. You define yourself what the criteria for a result source should be.
  • If there is a result source that you are not using, say for example if you have no video content and don’t plan to have in the near future, it’s less confusing for the users if you simply not show it for now. It’s easy to add it back if you will need it in the not so foreseeable future.

If you choose a hybrid solution, your content is split between the online SharePoint and the on-premise SharePoint Server.

  • It’s possible to have one search that displays results from both locations. For example, to show results from the on-premise installation in SharePoint Online, you have to define a new result source that is able to retrieve the results from the on-premise. Then you can configure the search results page to show results from both result sources (everything from SharePoint Online plus everything from SharePoint on-premise that matches the search query).

Screenshot from the post Hybrid search by the Microsoft SharePoint Team Blog showing how results from the cloud are integrated in the search results page when the user searches from an on-premises SharePoint 2013 site. Notice also the new visual refiner for date interval in the refinement panel on the left.

Screenshot from the post Hybrid Search by the Microsoft SharePoint Team Blog showing how results from the cloud are integrated in the search results page when the user searches from an on-premises SharePoint 2013 site.
Notice also the new visual refiner for date interval in the refinement panel on the left.

Drill down into the search results

The search Refiners allow the users to drill down into the search results. There is a new type of refiner in SharePoint 2013, a visual refiner, by default used for the ‘Modified Date’.

  • The way in which the visualisation of the refiners is made has drastically changed, and you can define your own visualisation of the data if you want to. For example, what about a map as a refiner, instead of a list of city names?

By default, the refiners you will see would be the Result type (example values: Excel, Web page), Author (example values: John Doe, Jane Doe), and Modified Date (shown as a distribution of values).

  • If you edit the web part responsible for the refiners, you will be able to add other refiners as well. For example, company names are automatically extracted from your content, so it is easy to simply add that to your refiners.
  • Also, another useful refiner to show to your users is the Content Type, offering one level of detail more from the Result Type refiner.

Search guidance

Query suggestions are displayed as the user types.

Query suggestions are displayed as the user types.

As the user types a query in the search box, SharePoint is able to show Query Suggestions that help complete the query. SharePoint automatically creates a list of suggestions based on previous searches. When at least 6 search results are clicked for a specific query, that query will be added to the list of suggestions.

  • Besides the list that SharePoint creates automatically, you are able to add your own list of suggestions. This is especially useful when starting fresh with your installation, since a fresh installation will come with no query suggestions. You could help the users by adding your company name, product names or similar to the initial list of suggestions. You will also find manual adding of suggestions useful when reviewing the search logs, since these can give you a new perspective on what the users are looking for, and based on that input help guide your user to the relevant results using query suggestions.
  • You are also able to import a list of suggestions that are not intended to be shown in suggestions. Say for example that your testing team uses a specific keyword for testing content. In this case, it is very probable that the test keyword will soon appear as a suggestion for all users. To avoid this, simply add the keyword to the query suggestion exclusion list.

Similar to the query suggestions, another functionality whose purpose is to help the user in formulating the query is the Query Spelling Correction. An inclusion and exclusion list is used in this case as well, the only difference is that these are managed in the Term Store, while managing query suggestions is made by importing a plain text file.

  • You can add your own terms in the query spelling correction inclusion and exclusion lists. Probably one of the most often misspelled words is the word ‘business’. Or was it ‘bussiness’? After adding this term to the list of words to be included in the spelling suggestions, the correct form of the word would be shown under the ‘Did you mean’ functionality if the user misspells it.

Change how the search results are displayed

Screenshot from an Office Blogs post showing the hover panel for a PowerPoint document.

Screenshot from an Office Blogs post showing the hover panel for a PowerPoint document.

A final item on our list of proposed customisations for your search results is to change how the search results are displayed. In SharePoint 2013, it is the Display Templates that define how each element in the search results page is displayed. For example, there is a template for the refiner, another one for the hover panel of a PDF item, another one for the hover panel of a Word item, and so on.

  • A simple fix would be make sure that you have previews for PDF files in the hover panel. It is the Office Web Apps that power the previews for Office documents (such as Word, PowerPoint, Excel), but the preview for PDF files might not be visible for you. If so, what you can do is change the display template that is associated to the PDF result type.
  • You can also define what metadata to show for each result type. For example, for a Word document you would by default be able to see the Title, a text snippet and a URL, and in the hover panel the document preview, Last Modified date and author, as well as probably a list of the main headings from the document. However, if you have added additional metadata to your document, such as Location or Keywords, you can display these in the search results as well by modifying the right display template.

You can find more information about how to administer many of these search functionalities from this Microsoft Office page and from our search experts. Let us know how far you are in implementing SharePoint online for your organisation – we sure have a few more tips to how to configure and customize the search in SharePoint!

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