As a consultant and trainer, I often get feedback from users of enterprise search solutions. We can learn about their pain points and their expectations, and act accordingly to improve search.

What can you do if your users are complaining about search?

Users will tell us when they can’t find the results they need or when the results are outdated. When users are unhappy they will abandon search altogether. When they do, users end up asking their colleagues for information and fall back on old habits like sending documents by attachment in an email instead of sharing them on SharePoint or OneDrive.

This requires specific actions.


What Most Search Users Complain about

We can categorize the most common complaints from users about search in two groups: search results and user interface (the third is performance). They are equally important, so let’s look at them in more detail.

For search results they are:

  • getting no result at all
  • not enough results
  • too many results
  • not finding the documents they created (“where is my content?”)
  • irrelevant results
  • outdated results

For user interface they are:

  • too much information
  • not enough information
  • filters/facets/refiners
  • how results are sorted and ranked

Not Getting Any Results

There are several reasons why some content might be not displayed by search:

First, you have to make sure that the proper content is in the search index. Crawl the content source and ensure it’s refreshed on a regular basis.

Also, make sure the users have access to the content. When you log in and you can’t find something, you may not have access to that content because of security settings (search always provides security trimmed results). Access needs to be allocated to the relevant members of staff.

Check the query – for typos and misspelled words, for example.

Check the Result Source and the Result Set Web Part settings because they can contain filters that can remove results, so make sure you don’t have filters that will not produce all available results.

Make sure you pay attention to your search analytics. They can help you to identify the zero results queries and give you insights into how to improve search.

You can also add a short feedback form asking your users if they found what they were searching for. Analyse the feedback on a regular basis too.


Not Getting Enough Results

If users are getting only a couple of results and they know the organization should have many more,  identify the user intent and the search patterns: once you can identify patterns, you can improve the search experience.

Again, make sure you have the proper content in the index and that users have access to the proper content. Analyze the query and check the Result Source and the Result Set Web Part Access settings.

Finally, add more content to the index but make sure you minimize the garbage that is added with every new content source.


Outdated Results

In many cases, we have enough results but they are outdated. If you are searching for a template, for example, you want to see the most recent version, not the one from three years ago. This is a big problem in many organizations and it’s one of the first things we need to fix. What you can do:

  • filter out old content by removing it from the search index;
  • have different search verticals with new content highlighted;
  • demote old content and promote new content to the top and you can also use different colors to display old and new content.


“Where Is My Content?”

When users know they have created a document earlier but they can’t find it in search now (see my blog post from a few months ago), you can do the following:

  • add options to re-order the results;
  • provide search-driven search pages/dashboards;
  • check the permissions;
  • in Office 365 use Modern Search and Delve.


The User Interface

Have Custom Display Templates to make it easy to parse information, on both the result set as well as on the Hover Panel.

Many users complain about filters and refiners in Office 365 and SharePoint. In most cases, the first thing you need is more or different refiners. You have your custom document types, customer or product information, or any business-specific metadat – so a custom refiner would be ideal. Remove default filters and add custom properties. But keep in mind, you need to have the metadata ready for that!

Sorting the results is another source of complaints, and there are several options: various sorting options (even custom!) can be added to the user interface to choose from on the fly, or you can use Query Rules, as well as custom ranking models if you have advanced needs.


Watch my video to find out more about what else you can do. You can also take my “Search User Interface BUNDLE” on-demand course if you want to learn how to improve search.

The most important take-away lessons, in my experience, are:

  • collect as much user feedback as possible, ideally within your enterprise search interface to help improve search and make your users happy;
  • analyze your search on a regular basis;
  • check what you can improve and define clear responsibilities;
  • use Custom Display Templates;
  • take care of your metadata.

I also recommend you subscribe to the Search Explained channel on YouTube for the latest webinars and more.