6 Ways to Optimize for SharePoint’s Search Algorithm

SharePoint’s Search algorithm takes into account many factors when ranking search results for display. Some of these are inherent in the documents being searched or determined by the way users select and reference content. You can’t control those factors. Other SharePoint search ranking elements can be influenced by you, though. With some effort, you can improve your users’ ability to find the content they seek.

 

Keep your site structures shallow.  When you design your site, keep it to only three or four levels.  This provides both SharePoint search performance benefits and usability benefits. When your sites become very deep, the breadcrumb trail and navigation menus become unwieldy. If you are following best practices and using friendly URLs, sites that are too deep can also result in your hitting the limit for URL lengths. Aside from aiding navigation, large sites with deep hierarchies can also eat up resources when SharePoint fetches the data to populate the navigation menus, resulting in performance hits. Lastly, keeping your navigation to 3 or 4 levels makes it easier for you to proactively manage URL depth, which is another factor in search rankings.

Put important documents at higher levels in the hierarchy.  SharePoint’s search algorithm considers URL depth, which is how far a document is from the root or top level. Create an architecture for your site that allows you to distribute documents throughout the hierarchy based on importance, with the most critical documents at the top and the least important ones at lower levels.

Use friendly URLs. Just as with Google and Bing, SharePoint search prefers friendly, human-readable URLs. That means:,

  • Using words instead of abbreviations, unless the acronym or abbreviation will be commonly used as a search term.
  • Including keywords in the URL. If users will search for a document by title, then the URL should be the title. If users will search for it by certain keywords, consider including those in the URL.
  • Breaking words. Don’t run words together. Separate them with a hyphen or an underscore. This also helps with usability.

Declare authoritative pages, when appropriate. Similar to URL depth, SharePoint search takes into account the distance of a document from authoritative pages. Authoritative pages are ones you specify as important or influential. There are three levels of authority that you can declare, as well as declaring a page non-authoritative. This provides a way to help compensate if pages are deeper in the site structure than you’d like, as well as augmenting the ranking benefits already provided when a page is higher in the site hierarchy.

If you know that a particular page will act as a hub or otherwise link to important content, configure it as an authoritative page. To specify the authoritative ranking of a page, see this TechNet article. We highly recommend that you create a separate authority hierarchy map to plan and manage your authority rankings, and combine that visually with your site map in order to get a picture of how those two factors may influence ranking and results.

Create and manage metadata. SharePoint Search considers metadata and managed properties when finding and ranking documents. Some properties, crawled properties or metadata, are determined by SharePoint and picked up automatically when it crawls documents as part of its search process.  For example, Word document properties such as title and author are metadata that SharePoint Search automatically picks up. They provide important information about the document as a whole. One way to improve search is to make sure this data is regularly entered and updated. You can encourage users to do that by making the metadata columns in the SharePoint library and by using tools such as Vizit Essential to allow users to easily edit the metadata without having to open the document itself.

Map metadata to managed properties.  In addition to the metadata, you can create managed properties, which are, essentially, custom fields that you specify and use to categorize content. Managed properties can appear in refined searches, whereas crawled properties (metadata) does not. However, you can map metadata to managed properties in order for them to appear in refined search. This also helps to consolidate the metadata as different types of documents may refer to the same metadata by different names. For example, different types of documents might refer to the document creator as Author, Writer, or Creator. You can map all of these properties to one managed property called Author to allow a search on that field across content types. See this Technet article for instructions on mapping to managed properties.

These are some simple ways that a SharePoint administrator can improve the ability for users to find content. Watch for our upcoming post on ways to configure your network and hardware for improved Search performance.