The Impact of Good Intranet Search: The Top 5 Issues With SharePoint Search And What You Should Know

Apr 2019
Mins read

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“Business professionals spend an average of 23% of their time searching for information.” - Enterprise search and discovery capability: The factors and generative mechanisms for user satisfaction

Searching for information within your SharePoint Intranet and not being able to find what you want is a lot like scrambling around your house on the way out the door trying to figure out where you left your keys. If you’re not able to locate what you’re looking for straight away, you’re left scurrying back and forth on a mission that can take up valuable time.

The same can be said for a poor Intranet search experience. When files are easy to find, it’s a breeze. But when they’re not, employees can be left wasting time entering terms and trying to dig into file systems to find what they actually want.

1. Time spent searching the Intranet can be like sitting in traffic

“Half of private and public sector organizations face significant difficulties to find internal information”

Note: This stat comes from a 2019 literature review of enterprise search capabilities published in the Journal of Information Science that we mentioned at the beginning of this article. It’s an amazing, up-to-date insight into the field and well worth a read if you have the time!

Every time we search for information or files and can’t find what we want quickly is time wasted. While this might be fine in personal time (albeit frustrating), when it’s happening at work it’s paid-for hours that are going into this process.

Customers often come to us because they’re fed up with search and discovery experience within SharePoint. It’s a sore point discussing that their users are spending too long trying to find what they want because they can readily identify it within their Search Usage Reports.

They’re hearing complaints from users that SharePoint search doesn’t work quickly like Google, Amazon or Facebook does. User expectations are high - they’re used to being able to find what they want fast via alternative platforms.

2. Enterprise search and search literacy

The only people that might be able to use your SharePoint Intranet search capability effectively are power users (aka those with advanced ‘search literacy’): people who are aware they can use things like wildcards (*), quotation marks for direct terms, boolean operators, or type syntax such as filetype:docx. While having cheat sheets next to everyone’s desk could help out in this regard, wouldn’t it be better if things were just easier, more intuitive and delivered effective results?

Instead of having to increase the search literacy of users, can’t we simply increase the intuition of the enterprise search engine itself?

It’s impossible to build a search capability to match that of Google - but we can certainly refine enterprise search to actually be useful. In fact, there is an entire field cropping up dedicated to this function - relevance engineering.

Relevance engineering: Search engineering 2.0

Relevance engineering works on determining what the user is trying to find, rather than their actual input. For instance, if a user inputs girl who sings havana into Google, the top result is Camila Cabello (the artist who sings the song). However, matching the actual text of the search probably wouldn’t surface this result. Instead, Google needs to determine what the user actually means.

If your users are inputting terms like this into your SharePoint search, then they’re definitely not going to find what they want.

SharePoint doesn’t even offer the flexibility to search the outside internet should it fail to surface results within your intranet.

3. What’s making SharePoint search so tricky for users to work with?

Lots of people use SharePoint for their Intranet and as such it becomes their default search experience as it comes bundled with business Office 365 in many cases. “Well, we already have it, we may as well use it,” is often the statement.

But choosing a tool simply because it’s there isn’t looking at your problem/solution space effectively from an employee productivity perspective.

There are many shortcomings to SharePoint search, particularly if only basic search capabilities have been rolled out.

Poor file naming conventions

This is a fault of users of the system, but one which they shouldn’t be punished for in search results. For instance, if you have multiple files called ‘Onboarding Checklist,’ across different departments and different years, which one comes up first? Users might have to sift through pages of results to find the correct Onboarding Checklist they’re looking for, or in specific Document Libraries (which they’ll have to remember to do rather than searching globally).

Having a more tailored approach, such as searching within work group first, and finding the most recent file, presents the user with a far better set of results - but in SharePoint this is nearly impossible.

SharePoint may not be automatically indexing content

Not finding what you’re searching for may be a case of SharePoint not actually having the content itself indexed. This means that it has not “discovered it” - so it’s not in the database at all and subsequently won’t be able to find it. Content should be indexed automatically on creation as well as on updates to ensure search results are always up to date.

Full-text search capabilities not working as expected

Perhaps you want to find a PDF report that you remember contains the words “79% of clients saw improvement.” If your SharePoint search capabilities aren’t tuned to search through PDF documents for specific text, then you won’t be able to find that report.

This is an issue that SharePoint customers often get stuck on.

When full-text works in SharePoint, it may not highlight all the results within the given document either.

Permissions complexities

Depending on the configuration of your SharePoint Intranet, various results will only be visible to various people, as defined in Microsoft Active Directory. Then there is also the added complexity of file owners setting their own file permissions - are they private by default, shared to work group, shared globally? This two-fold problem can cause search issues if default permissions and identity management isn’t set up in a logical fashion.

Personalization of results is a complex feature that needs to be specifically built in

Personalized search is definitely not a default option in SharePoint. This is functionality that needs to be built in, requiring developer input and detailed user profiles to work correctly.

Searching by tags or metadata requires configuration

In real-world applications we’re used to searching by tags or metadata, whether it’s a hashtag on Twitter, or by ‘Groups’ or ‘Pages’ on Facebook. Tags (aka metadata) allow users to narrow down results to a specific field.

Inbuilt tags such as time and filetype are simple enough to search by in SharePoint, however setting up custom tags for files and allowing search by these tags is another feature-set that needs to be built on top of SharePoint - it’s another one not enabled by default.

Setting up SharePoint best practices to ensure heightened search capability is hard

To set up SharePoint to allow users to search like an expert, but simply, takes a lot of work, that needs to be completed with components called webparts, set up by a SharePoint developer.

Out of the box, SharePoint search capabilities are basic and not suitable for modern workplaces, unless you have a team who are experts in search literacy and follow file structure/naming conventions.

4. Enterprise search shouldn’t require users to be doing the heavy lifting

If SharePoint Intranet search isn’t working for you, and your users are wasting time, then it’s because you haven’t evaluated the product to suit your users and/or haven’t built in the functionality to help them.

It may be that SharePoint actually isn’t the right solution for your business.

While SharePoint can be a fit for many companies, for others its shortcomings are simply too difficult to overlook.

5. CentricMinds Enterprise search is built for the modern digital workplace

At CentricMinds, we considered search and have considered how we could deliver a personalised experience for both the end user and making it easier for administrators.

We specifically went about solving the pain points that came up time and again in search capabilities, as an out-of-the-box solution.

But it’s not just the out-of-the-box functionality that we offer. We sit down with each client and find out exactly what they want from their search, and help to re-engineer existing system configurations that get the right information to users exactly when they need it.