A piece of content well delivered to your users can greatly increase the adoption of your SharePoint. By leveraging SharePoint Search, you can take content and display it beautifully almost anywhere within your sites. This allows you to control how your users will interact with their data and provide them with an overall better user experience.
See how it all works together and how you can turn your SharePoint into something a little more appealing and easy to consume:
The steps to use SharePoint to display content to your users on the whiteboard.
1 – Make your SharePoint content easy to find
It’s not because we’re going to display the content differently that we can skip a good Information Architecture.
In SharePoint, content is stored in Lists and Document Libraries. This helps you store and manage your data using additional information also called Metadata. In the Information Architecture world, they’ll tell you it’s vital that everything be properly tagged and they’re right.
The problem is that, as we move towards this, we lose our users in complexity and poor user experience. Instead, we find them on Dropbox, or bypassing IT altogether.
Before we start worrying about that however, we need to make sure we put what’s needed in place so that our content can be found and used by SharePoint Search afterwards.
Columns: These make up your SharePoint lists and libraries to add metadata. Unfortunately, by default, creating columns directly in a list or library makes the information stored in them unusable by search. That’s right. Though there’s one exception and that’s if you create a Managed Metadata Column.
Site Columns: Starting in SharePoint 2013, every time you create one of these and add them to your lists or libraries, they’re automatically available to the SharePoint Search. This was available in SharePoint 2010 as well, but not enabled by default. This makes a big difference for your content’s “findability”.
Content Types: Though there’s a lot to say about what SharePoint Content Types are, I’ll summarize it as a group of Columns and settings you can reuse. I also have a recording on SharePoint Content Types that should help.
Content Types include Site Columns and allow you to package them and use them. Since it uses Site Columns, your content and all of its metadata will be usable in Search as well.
2 – Understand how Search works when it crawls SharePoint
You’ve got your content ready, perfect. But do you know how SharePoint Search crawls your content and how it makes it all available for you to play with afterwards?
Take a moment to understand the differences between a Full Crawl and an Incremental Crawl. Then explore the new Continuous Crawl that isn’t so continuous after all.
Knowing how SharePoint Search Crawls work will help you troubleshoot and understand how your content gets to the end when displayed on your page. And when it doesn’t appear, you’ll be able to trace the steps back easily.
I’ve got a good list of resources on SharePoint Search to help you get started or get back in it if it’s been a while.
See when you use search to find and display your content, you don’t actually ask for the columns in the list or library to display or sort by. That’s just not how it works, otherwise it’d be a live query.
SharePoint Search is a lot like going to your local library.
You don’t actually visit every single row at the library to find your books right? No there’s what we call an index. You look through categories and find the right index card that has all the information on the book without you having to go and get the actual book.
And that’s exactly how it works, the Crawl stores the information you asked for in an Index. All your properties (or columns) are stored as what SharePoint calls “Crawled Properties”. But the only type of properties that shows up on these index cards so to speak are what SharePoint calls “Managed Properties”.
Learn more on SharePoint Crawled Properties and Managed Properties before you continue.
3 – Querying the SharePoint Search to find information on your content
There are a few SharePoint Search Web Parts that allow you to interact with this Index of content we were talking about. The Search “Crawled” everything, stored it in an index and now you need to query it to later display what you want.
All of these use a Query Builder that allows you to fetch the content you want by mentioning a Managed Property and saying what value you’re looking for in it.
For example, I’d look for all content within a site by writing the following query:
Before the colon is the name of my Managed Property and, of course, afterwards is how I want to filter by it.
Though the Query Builder is nice to get started and quite helpful, it’ll take a lot of practice before you become comfortable with it.
A fellow MVP, Mikael Svenson, has written an amazing book on just these SharePoint Search Queries and if you’re up for it, I strongly recommend you read it.
4 – Displaying the SharePoint Search Results using Display Templates
Display Templates have completely changed my life when working with SharePoint. Instead of torturing myself learning XSLT to somehow display the results of the Content Query in SharePoint 2010, I now use HTML. Refreshing!
They always come in two, the Control Display Template and the Item Display Template. Together, they form a way of looking at your content or rather looking at the information on the Index card.
Control Display Template: Is the container of what’s about to be displayed by the Search Web Part. It usually defines what CSS or JS will be used and how big the container should be. Usually, anything in your design that doesn’t get repeated with each Search Result Item goes here.
Item Display Template: As the name suggests, this is the design of an individual item. You take the Managed Properties of each item and display them the way you want using HTML, CSS and JS.
If you want to test it out and at the same time learn how to build them, I’ve created two Display Templates you can download and use. The step by step is also included so you can learn as you go.
- A Slick SharePoint Display Template you can use
- A Cool Animated and Responsive Menu SharePoint Display Template
To be honest though, there’s yet another fellow MVP that has much better understanding of Display Templates. His name is Elio Struyf and he has a great blog for those of you who need to dive in deeper into this topic.
Better SharePoint adoption by changing how they view their content
The Prettiest Picture Wins the Funding – Unfortunately that’s the way it works. SharePoint or Office 365 and in fact anything in life. You’re likely to hire someone over another simply because they present themselves better. SharePoint out of the box is a platform not a tool.
Though many will acknowledge this today, they’ll still give you a SharePoint site without reworking anything within.
Are your users directed to your actual SharePoint Lists and Libraries to interact with the content? Would you tell someone to go directly to the tables in a database to get their information? So why make an exception in SharePoint, take the content and display it in a way that’s easy to consume by your users.
I assure you, you’ll quickly notice a difference in their adoption of this platform. What do you think?