SharePoint 2010: Using Taxonomy & Metadata to Improve Search & Discovery

4 minute read
Jeff Carr avatar

A good content taxonomy goes hand in hand with good enterprise search, and SharePoint 2010 has made some improvements to their basic search experience with the help of taxonomy and metadata. Here's how.

Taxonomy Is Fundamental to Enterprise Search

Search is typically thought of as a black box, with functionality that is commonly misunderstood by most users. People often turn to search as a result of a breakdown in information architecture, and tend to have high expectations based on experience gained outside the organization through the use of technologies such as Google.

Unfortunately, inside the firewall, search quite often develops into more of a random document generator than a useful tool, as heaps of unstructured content are crawled and added to the index.

The catch here is that the development and application of good taxonomy to content is a prerequisite, foundational element of good enterprise search.

SharePoint 2010's Refinement Panel

A key new search feature offered in SharePoint 2010 is what’s known as the Refinement Panel, which is a web part displayed on the search results page along the left hand side of the interface. The purpose is to offer searchers the ability to easily refine a result set based on metadata properties.

Out-of-the-box refinements include refinement by metadata attributes such as File Type, Site, Author and Modified Date, along with Managed Metadata that has been tagged to content returned in the results.

Managed Keywords are offered in an alphabetical listing as an additional refinement option, appearing at the bottom in a section labeled Tags, and further configurations of custom metadata fields may be added based on managed properties.


SharePoint 2010 Search with Refinement

The familiarity of the refinement function will certainly be of added value to searchers, as it is akin to faceted search and query refinement through the presentation of metadata attributes.

To accomplish this in SharePoint 2007 more often than not required the use of Codeplex’s MOSS Faceted Search web part, but unlike the Codeplex solution, the Refinement Panel does not display the total number of documents per facet or provide the ability to drill into the taxonomy hierarchically.

Using the Refinement Panel

Unlike a true faceted search interface that displays refinements separately, incremental query refinement in SharePoint 2010 is identified by a subtle visual change in the user interface.

Learning Opportunities

Selected metadata values remain in their original location, and are only visually integrated with the result set through an outline and opening on the right hand side, as illustrated here:


Keyword Refinement Panel

The immediate ability to remove a selection is hidden from the user, and is only revealed to the user when the cursor hovers over the selected value, marked by the appearance of an X. Users are un-intuitively forced to reselect the same value to remove it from the refinements.

Caveat: No Direct Relationship Between Search and Taxonomy

Although the ability to define descriptions and synonyms for taxonomic terms exists, there is no connection between these and the search experience. As described earlier, the purpose of these items is to be surfaced through the type-ahead suggestions as a support to the tagging process in the form of informational or instructional text. Search Administrators are still required to manage search keywords, definitions and best bets separately.

An Improved Search Experience

Regardless of some of the limitations outlined, this functionality will improve the basic search experience enough for most organizations, without resorting to heavy customization.

Taxonomy and Metadata in SharePoint 2010

This was part four of a series on Taxonomy and Metadata in SharePoint 2010. The first three posts in the series — if you haven't read them — are:

In our next post we’ll take a look at overcoming one of the biggest obstacles in SharePoint 2007, sharing content types across site collections.

About the author

Jeff Carr

Jeff is an Information Architect and Search Consultant with Earley &Associates specializing in user centered information design. With a strong multi-disciplinary foundation across taxonomy, metadata, information architecture, search marketing and business analysis, he has been involved in the design, development and integration of web-based solutions from intranets and extranets to public facing websites for a variety of large enterprises across a wide range of industries.