I have the pleasure of traveling out to Washington DC this week for SharePoint Saturday The Conference.

The talk that I am presenting is called "Why Your SharePoint Search Sucks" and discusses why many organizations are simply not investing enough time and resources in order to provide an effective search solution in SharePoint 2010.

For those who want a sneak preview, my argument on why search is ineffective includes:

  1. Unclear or no quality requirements
  2. Not leveraging metadata effectively
  3. Limited knowledge of out of the box search configuration options
  4. No governance of search
  5. Not training users
  6. Not constantly refining and improving your search

However, in this article I am going to concentrate on point 2 — not leveraging metadata effectively. It still shocks me that the vast majority of SharePoint implementations pay so little attention to information architecture, taxonomy, and metadata.

It's more interesting with search because many people assume that the default set of metadata that SharePoint extracts (locations, modified by, modified date, author and so on) are going to be sufficient to allow search to be effective. I totally disagree with this and think that you need to define your own business specific taxonomy, thoughtfully applied through metadata, to have a great search.

How is metadata used in search?

The interplay between metadata and search is subtle and varied. If you do not think that metadata is important for effective search in SharePoint then the simple fact that there is a whole database devoted to storing search related metadata might convince you to think again.

Let's take some simple examples that end users would see:

Property Search

First, you can use metadata in property searches in the search box. Instead of searching via keyword you can specify to only search via property. In the example below I am looking for any content authored by "Erika Cheley".

Search Scopes

You can use metadata to define your own search scopes such as 'Engineering Documents' or documents authored by a particular author.


Advanced Search

You can also add or leverage metadata for advanced search to allow people to create complex queries.


You can also sort by metadata. Whilst a little bit limited in SharePoint 2010, FAST provides you with the ability to sort on any piece of metadata!


Refiners are the most well received new feature in search from an end user perspective. Once again metadata drives the creation and display of refiners. This is where leveraging your own metadata is extremely powerful as you can control which refiners appear, in what order and a whole host of other things.


Results Display

The actual results that are rendered to end users contain a combination of metadata and full text index content that is displayed. With the ability to alter how results are displayed, and what metadata is displayed, you can create targeted results pages to different types of content.

If you still aren't convinced of how important metadata is to search consider this: Below is a default FAST search result page with all the goodness that metadata provides.

Now let's take away all the stuff that metadata provides: scopes, refiners, metadata information in search results, people results, and sorting.

Hmm, pretty crappy hey?

However, if this is how much value metadata provides out of the box, imagine how powerful it can be if you define even a couple of pieces of metadata of your own and leverage this in search! This is what many organizations aren't doing, and is one reason that their search sucks.

If you want to know more about why your search sucks, and more importantly how to fix it, come and say hi at my session, and simply look for the angry young man below.