Making Search a Best Bet

One of the things that can make or break a web site is how well the search works.  Five years ago, before we began our SharePoint implementation, our HTML web site had a horrible search engine.  You could search on anything and basically get the same result,… nothing!  So when we introduced SharePoint, even the out-of-the-box search was a great improvement over what we had before.  But it still wasn’t always giving us the results we wanted.  Of course part of the problem is that our website is huge compared to many companies.  Being the 10th largest school district in the country means that there are lots of departments and lot of documents stored in hundreds of libraries across the Internet and intranet sites.  In addition to those sites, we also have sites for over 180 schools.  Therefore, search often returns hundreds of results, all of which are valid, but not all equally relevant making it a challenge to find the one you want.

So what did we do?   We started looking at creating Best Bets in SharePoint 2007.  Basically a Best Bet is one or more keywords that when entered into the search box will return a pre-defined URL along with a Title and an optional description.  Best Bets appear at the top of the search result page and have a gold (yellow) star to their immediate left to call attention to them.

While they worked great, the problem in SharePoint 2007 was that they required first generating a search report which shows queries that were submitted over the report period ranked in order from the terms with the most occurrences to those with the least.  You then could take the terms you wanted to define as Best Bets and perform your own search to find where you might want to direct users when they entered those search terms.

Then you would go into Search Keywords of the Site Collection Administration group in Settings for the Site Collection site.  In the resulting dialog, you could define a primary Keyword Phrase along with multiple synonyms for the search term, each separated with a semi-colon.  You could then define one or more Best Bets or URL links for those terms.  Best bets could be created with no expiration, or you could place an expiration date on a Best Bet that might expire when an event transpires.

Sounds great?  It was, but it also was a lot of work that our small team did not really have time for.  Along came SharePoint 2010 which we finally installed this past summer (remember we are a school district and have limited times when we can update major software applications).  With all of the upgrade activity and all the new functionality of SharePoint 2010, we did not have time to look at Best Bets until just this past week.  What we found was much of the same infrastructure for building the Best Bets, but more importantly, we found a set of built-in reports that would help us choose which Best Bets to create.

To begin, open your top-level site and click on Site Actions.  At the bottom of the dropdown menu, find and click Site Settings.  Under the Site Actions group, look for Site Collection Web Analytics Reports.  (Note: If you click on Site Web Analytics Reports instead, you will not see the reports you need.)  Notice that there is a Search section with a group of reports (as shown on the right).  Let’s first take a look at a report named Best Bet Suggestions.

This report (a sample is shown below) shows search query text and common selected links based on user history.  This does not necessary mean that the Best Bet must use the suggested link, only that the suggested link has been selected by users in the past who entered the search query text.  You still need to determine whether to accept or reject the suggestion.

So what does accept the suggestion mean?  Perhaps you noticed the check box before each search query text.  The cool part of this report is that by checking the checkbox for the search query text that has a corresponding Search Result URL that looks correct to you, you can automatically create a basic Best Bet definition by opening the Analysis ribbon and clicking the Accept button in the Best Bet Action group. (Yes, there are other options in this ribbon to control the report’s output, export the report to Excel, and schedule alerts or reports on a regular basis, but we will not discuss those options here.)

If you have multiple pages in your report, you must accept best bets on a page-by-page basis.  If you move to another page, you lose the selections made on the previous pages.

After you create a basic Best Bet, you can edit it to add synonyms, descriptions, and even secondary URL links.  We will cover more on these topics next time.  But for now, let’s look at another report.

The Failed Queries report is a very important report because it tells you which search terms either did not return any suggested URLs at all and for those terms that did return one or more URL, how often did the user not select any of the suggested URLs.  The higher the Percentage Abandoned percent is, the more important the need is for a Best Bet for that search term, especially if the number of queries using that term is high.  The default order for this report begins with the search query text that users entered the most.  For that reason, terms near the top of the list are the most important to investigate, especially those with high abandonment rates.  The following figure is an example of this report.

As with almost all of the analytic reports, you can control the date range of the report which defaults to the last 30 days.  You can change the report period by clicking the Change Settings link in the Date Range bar at the top of the report.  You may find the top failed queries will change when you consider different date ranges for the report.  However, the top failed queries near the beginning of the report should always be your focus.  If you check this report monthly, you should see different failed queries as you add more and more Best Bets.

For failed queries that need a Best Bet and for Best Bets created using the Best Bet Suggestions report, you need to go to the Search Keywords page.  A link for Search Keywords also has been conveniently placed at the bottom of the Search section in the Site Collection Analytic reports left menu.  You can also get there by opening the Site Actions menu again and clicking on Site Settings.  You should see a section named Site Collection Administration.  Within this group are Search Settings, Search Scopes and Search Keywords.  Click Search Keywords.

The resulting list of keywords unfortunately is not sorted by keyword.  However, because best bets have not only a primary keyword, but also a set of synonyms, a better way to find whether a best bet has been defined for a keyword is to use the search option at the top of the report (see below).  For example, the search in the figure below shows a search for the word ‘Jobs’ in the list of Synonyms.  Note that you may also need to search the Keyword column (by changing the selection in the Find Keywords dropdown) to cover all possibilities.

To create a new keyword and set its properties click the Add Keyword link in the header of the report.  To edit a keyword and its properties, click on the keyword itself.

Next week in part 2, I’ll go more into some of the ‘rules’ of defining keywords and their synonyms.  Until then, have a great week.


One comment on “Making Search a Best Bet

  1. An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a co-worker who has been conducting a little homework on this. And he actually ordered me dinner because I stumbled upon it for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to talk about this subject here on your web page.

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