SharePoint 2010 : The Search User Interface - The Search Results Page (part 1) - Search Suggestions

9/20/2013 4:36:55 AM

Once a query is executed, either through the query box or a search center, the user is navigated to the corresponding search results page. The search results page is comprised of a number of Web Parts that, when combined, allow users to view and interact with the search results. The search results page presents a set number of results per page, and then allows users to move to additional pages by way of a navigator located at the bottom of the results page.

As shown in the screenshots in the previous sections, the results page for searches entered through the query box and search center vary slightly in the out-of-the-box configuration. The default search results page for queries entered through the query box does not provide access to the Advanced Search page or Preferences pages. It does, however, provide the scope picker drop-down. The features discussed in this section are available for searches made through the All Sites search page. These features can also be made available for searches entered through the query box.

The search results page is composed of many different components brought together by a collection of Web Parts. A Web Part is an ASP.NET server control that allows a designer to modify the content, appearance, and behavior of a web page directly from a browser. Web Parts are the building blocks that provide the wide range of customization allowed in SharePoint 2010. They present data, allow for interaction with pages, and control the design of a page. In SharePoint 2010, there are over 75 Web Parts that come with the platform, and additional custom Web Parts can be created. There are 17 Web Parts dedicated to search. Each can be enabled or disabled to change the available functionality, moved around the page to change layout, and reconfigured to change behavior. The key Web Part components of the search results page are labeled in Figure 1.


Figure 1. Labeled search results page

Figure 1 displays features and Web Parts that may not be enabled in every environment. The following settings have been made to provide the broadest overview of available features.

  • The Search Actions Web Part has been set to display the “relevance” and “modified date” view options.
  • The Top Federated Results Web Part has been enabled.
  • The Federated Results Web Part has been enabled and set to display results from the location Bing.com.

Search results pages may include Web Parts additional to those shown. Individual Web Parts may also be located in different zones on the page, or be configured to act differently than shown. This figure shows most of the standard available search Web Parts in the All Sites scope, with their default settings.

Starting from the top zone, the Search Box Web Part provides the ability to execute a new search query.When triggered, the Search Summary Web Part displays alternative query suggestions for the current search query below the search box. As shown in Figure 2, this Web Part provides query suggestions based on SharePoint's dictionary to provide users with alternative query options.


Figure 2. Search Box and Search Summary Web Parts

Directly below the search box, the Search Statistics Web Part displays the numerical portion of the result set being displayed on the current page. It also provides the estimated number of results in the entire result set. Adjacent to the right of the Search Statistics Web Part, the Search Actions Links Web Part provides the ability to set alerts and create RSS feeds on the result set. If enabled, users can change the order of the search results by selecting a different sorting option from the “Sort By:” drop-down. Users can also use this Web Part to connect Windows Desktop Search to the result set. This provides the ability to search the result set at a later time without manually opening SharePoint again.

Note Due to security trimming, the search engine generally is unable to determine the exact number of results in large results sets. This is the reason the phrase “about” is used when displaying the total number of results. When a total result count is exact, the term “about” is omitted.

To the right of the Search Actions Links Web Part is the Related Queries Web Part. If available, this provides a list of suggested alternative search queries based on the aggregated experiences of users in the environment. Below the Related Queries Web Part is the People Matches Web Part. This Web Part, shown in Figure 3, displays the first three people that would be returned had the query been executed through the People tab. This is a useful tool that allows people to not be included in the All Sites results set, while still being able to see some of the top people-related results.


Figure 3. People Matches Web Part

Users may also find the Federated Search Results Web Part in the right zone, which presents results from a federated content source such as Bing.com or blogs. To the left of the Search Statistics Web Part, the Refinement Panel Web Part allows users to drill into search results by selecting known metadata such as result type, the site the item is located on, or the author of the item.

Below the Search Statistics Web Part, the Best Bets Web Part can be found, which, if enabled, provides suggestions for the most likely items users may be looking for in a result set. Below the Best Bets Web Part, the Top Federated Results Web Part displays the most relevant search results from one or more federated environments. The Top Federated Results Web Part is not enabled by default, and if enabled, will be shown only if a farm is pulling content from federated content sources.

The focus of the search results page is, of course, the results themselves. The results can be found in the Search Core Results Web Part located in the center of the page. Each result contains several components, as shown in Figure 4.


Figure 4. Individual search result

Each result contains a clickable title, which, if clicked, will provide the ability to interact with the search result. Depending on the type of search result, the action taken when the title is chosen will change. If the item is a Microsoft Office document, a second window will appear, which provides the ability to save the document or open it with the corresponding Microsoft Office program. If the result is a document other than Microsoft Office, only the option to save the document is provided. If the result is not a document, choosing the result title will navigate the user to the location of the result. Examples of non-document results include SharePoint sites, lists, or web pages. The icon to the left of the search result title indicates the item type for the result.

Below the result title, a description is displayed. The description contains what the search engine believes are the most relevant blocks of text from within the content of the item. The blocks of content are not necessarily the first block of text in the result or adjacent to each other. The keywords from the search query are found in bold within the result description. Under the description, there is a list of key properties associated with the item. By default, the displayed properties are authors, date of last published edit, and size of the file. Finally, below the properties, an actionable link to the result's location is shown.

The final Web Part in a standard search results page is the Search Paging Web Part, found at the bottom of the page. This Web Part provides links for navigating to additional search results pages. By default, the number of results returned per page is set to ten, but this number can be adjusted by the administrator.

Depending on how an environment is being used, it may be advised to increase the number of results per page. Providing more results per page allows for faster browsing of large search results, but it does affect performance. Since SharePoint's search engine is returning information only about the results displayed on the current page, increasing the results per page will consequently increase the amount of information that needs to be processed and returned. Both the user experience and server performance should be taken into consideration before adjusting the results per page.

The final major factor that contributes to the search results page is the order of the results. The order of returned results is determined based on document relevancy and SharePoint's ranking formula. SharePoint ranks documents based on the frequency of query terms within the file as well as the overall comparative document value. Various ranking considerations are applied based on several values such as keyword matches, query proximity, static document properties such as file types, and user-driven weighting such as popularity. The result is that a single document becomes a collection of differently weighted ranking considerations. These weighted values are then used to produce the order of search results.

The topic of relevancy is one of great importance as it greatly affects the search user experience. The phrase “garbage in, garbage out” is quite applicable to the topic of search relevancy in that if users do not provide SharePoint with accurate properties, then SharePoint will produce bad search results. Insuring that users correctly tag, store, and rate documents will greatly contribute to successful relevancy. If users do not consistently attach properties to documents or store files in illogical locations, then the number of values SharePoint can consider for relevancy decreases along with accuracy. Companies should implement simple and consistent practices for tagging and storage so that users can contribute to their own success.

It is also important to understand that while the front-end diligence of document management is the shared responsibility of every user, the ranking formula is outside of end-user control. There are, however, many steps that SharePoint administrators and designers can take to improve result ranking. 

The combination of the various Web Parts discussed in this section create the net end-user search experience. To successfully leverage SharePoint's search experience, users must be comfortable with the use of most of these features. Each feature contributes to search success through a different function. The following sections drill into each of these features and their purpose within the search center in more detail.

Search Suggestions

If enabled, SharePoint 2010 can provide search suggestions on any query box or search center dialog field (Figure 5). Search suggestions (called query suggestions on the Search Box Web Part) work similarly to Bing or Google search fields. As a user enters a search query, SharePoint presents suggested terms below the search box based on the partial entry of a query. By selecting a presented search suggestion, that query will be automatically initiated and the corresponding search results page will be returned.


Figure 5. Search box with search suggestions

Search suggestions are provided based on past user experience. Over time, SharePoint tracks search queries that result in a user clicking a result. Once a minimum number of clicks occur for a particular search query, it becomes an available suggestion. Only search terms that yield results that actually get clicked will go into the search suggestion pool. A minimum of six clicks per year is required for the term to show up as a search suggestion. As a result, search suggestions become more abundant and relevant over time.

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