SharePoint Online and SharePoint 2013 were the first versions to come with Microsoft’s FAST search out of the box (OOTB).

SharePoint 2010 allowed users to integrate FAST search, but now the search engine implementation has become that much easier. Search on SharePoint is now an incredibly useful feature that increases the quality and efficiency of user experience greatly. The annual cost of finding content per information worker is $5,000. If that ability to find is increased by 50 percent, that means that $2,500 is saved per worker. This means that in an organization that has 2,500 intranet users, an organization could save $6.25 million annually. Crawling files, sites, libraries, people, conversations, and more make this now-out-of-the-box feature an integral part to any site collection.

Although this feature is easy to get going, many organizations find that the OOTB search configurations work, but aren’t the best at surfacing the most relevant content. There are several strategies to making search work for your organization, including scalable initial term set-up, auto-tagging, and search refiners.

Scalable Initial Term Setup

The term store is where metadata is defined to be used in lists, libraries, URLs, and more. This can be as expansive or minuscule as the term store administrator defines, but what makes the term store valuable is its ability to provide a comprehensive structure to an organization’s SharePoint elements. To access the term store, go to the site collection root settings, and select “Term store management” under “Site Administration”. Once there, there are two targets to aim for when initially defining terms: make them scalable and useful.

Making term sets scalable means that terms are set up in such a way that the buckets they are in, called term sets, are conceptually very high level. For example, one could create the term set “Marketing”, with terms underneath, such as “collateral,” “branding,” etc. This could work, but what happens when the marketing department is merged with another department? Or if other departments use the term “collateral” as well?

The best practice in this case would be to name the term set “Departments,” to house all departments, and another called “Type” to define the purpose of the file being uploaded. Capturing the majority of terms to be used at a high-level in the beginning of your site collection will ensure that tagged documents will be much more easily found throughout the life of your SharePoint environment.

Another goal to keep in mind when setting up your term store is to make the tags useful. Many organizations come into defining their term store with the mentality that every particular aspect of files being added to SharePoint must be captured. This is a bit unrealistic, but furthermore causes unnecessary clutter in the term store, and potentially for the site as a whole. Metadata was established to provide information about the file it is attached to, and (as almost anyone who has used spreadsheets before knows) there is such a thing as information overload. That being said, if you feel your list must be truly expansive for whatever reason, maintain scalability and make finding each bit of information accessible to anyone who should come in to the term store at a later point. Also, the usefulness in the terms comes in how they are incorporated to data, as well as how they are utilized in search.


Now that you have the foundation for all of your metadata, it is time to put it to use. First, you must add the content column to the applicable lists and libraries. Many organizations can get to this step of the content tagging process. If this is the only step taken, it leaves the content to be manually entered by the user uploading the file or entering the list item, which often falls by the wayside. The best way to ensure that documents are tagged correctly is to enable auto-tagging.

Auto-tagging ensures that any file or list item added to a library or list is automatically tagged with the proper metadata. This can be done at the library/list level, or at the folder level. To do this, simply go to the library or list settings and select “Column default value settings.” Here, you will be able to adjust which columns in this particular library, list, or folder populate automatically for files/list items. Now, once a file is uploaded, the uploading user will have one less step in making search more valuable.

(Hint: If you do not want to auto-populate column information, but still want to enforce metadata tagging, simply select the “yes” radial for “require that this column contains information” when adding the column.)

Search Refiners

Search refiners aren’t anything new, conceptually or technologically, and while the standard refiners of result type, author, and modified date are useful for a barebones refiner model, many organizations may want more to keep up with the numerous different areas of use (adding a refiner for “departments” for example). Many may want to use custom columns to refine searched items, which only takes a few steps and a little know-how. WARNING: This gets a bit involved, but if you follow the steps, it should go by with relative ease.


To use refiners, you must first incorporate the site columns you wish to use to data in a library or list. Test data works perfectly fine for this, but remember to delete the data at a later point (as not to get crawled by search).

Mapping Properties

Now that you have content tagged with metadata from the desired term set, we need to map the “crawled property” – meaning the property that SharePoint discovered in its last performed crawl – to a “managed property.” First, there are a few things you should know. Depending on the data type of the property, the managed property you will want to use will change. Below shows each managed property and its data type.

Data Type                                  Managed Property

Text (String)                               RefinableString00**

Date                                          RefinableDate00**

Decimal                                     RefinableDecimal00**

Integer                                      RefinableInteger00**

**The number following text expands upward depending on SharePoint version, meaning you can have multiple custom refiners (using RefinableInteger02 and RefinableInteger03, for example).

First, navigate to the root’s site settings, and select “Search Schema” under Site Collection Administration. Select “Crawled Properties” and search for a keyword from the column name used previously. Alternatively, you can search for the site column name crawled property by adding “ows_” to the begging and substituting “_x0020_” for spaces (i.e. ows_Practice_x0020_Area).


Once the crawled property has been located, navigate back to managed properties and select RefinableString00 (or whichever managed property fits best) to edit. Give the property an alias to help identify it (including only letters and/or numbers), and select “Add a Mapping” to associate the desired crawled property with the managed property. Once done, select “Ok.”


Adding Refiners

To include this managed property in your search refiners, navigate to your site search results page. To configure the search refiners, select “Edit Page” from the Office 365 Settings Menu and edit the “Refiners” web part. Select “Choose refiners in this Web Part” and “Choose Refiners.” At the dialogue, you can select the managed properties you want to include, add a display name and template, and choose how you want the refiners displayed. To commit the changes, select “Ok.”


Alternate Tactics – Managed Navigation Term Set

If you prefer to use the Managed Navigation Term Set, you can select the radial button to create refiners based on that term set. This feature is useful for a quick setup to allow SharePoint Elements to be located based on their managed navigation URL terms. This feature must be turned on via the site settings, and it shortens URLs based on the terms specified under the Managed Navigation Term Set. If this option is selected in terms of refiners, one can then refine results based on URL navigation terms, which is useful in terms of ease in setup and scalability, but loses the customizability and effectiveness that custom managed properties.

Setting up your term store properly, auto-tagging files and list items, and adding custom refiners for your search can bring the already-powerful OOTB FAST search to a new level of value for your organization.

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