How Does SharePoint Search Work: The Beginner’s Search Guide

How Does SharePoint Search Work: The Beginner’s Search Guide

How powerful is the search feature in SharePoint?

You may have seen the search box right on the home page of a site in SharePoint and wonder how it works.

Well, it will take a lot more than a sentence to answer that question (which is why we’re having this article today).

In this article, let’s talk about SharePoint search and how it works. This guide is perfect for beginners who want to understand the search feature.

Let’s get started.

How searching in SharePoint works

Think of the search feature in SharePoint as a search engine that goes through all your sites, pages, files, and everything in between.

Like Google, SharePoint indexes everything you have on your site. It’s like the system taking notes of everything you have and making a record (an index) of it.

Here’s a good representation (from Microsoft) of how the search works:

How SharePoint search works according to Microsoft

This means:

  • The search feature goes through the list and libraries first and adds the metadata columns and values to the search index.
  • In the search index, the metadata columns are linked to managed properties.
  • When you search for something in the search box, the keyword(s) are matched with the contents in the search index.
  • The search engine then finds matching results and shows you what those are.

Metadata simply refers to the data attached to any file on SharePoint, whether it’s an image, document, or spreadsheet (which I touched on in a previous article).

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    What are the methods of searching in SharePoint?

    Over the years, the search engine in SharePoint has become so powerful that you can basically search for anything right on the home page.

    Wherever you go, you will see the search box located in the site navigation header.

    But did you know that it changes a little bit when you’re on the home page and when you’re in a list or library?

    Searching in the homepage

    While you’re on the home page, focus on the search box in the site navigation header and you will notice it has a text overlay “Search this site”.

    Search this site on the home page

    To test it out:

    I created a new list of sample insurance policies by uploading an Excel file. What will happen if we try to search for policy #100314?

    Returning the results when searching for a policy number in the site

    As you can see, it returned to use both the list and the Excel file. That’s because the search we did is site-wide.

    But what happens if we search in a specific list or library — like in the site assets page where the uploaded Excel file is automatically saved when I created a new list out from it?

    Searching in the document library (or list)

    Once you move into a library or list, the text overlay in the search box changes.

    One of the changes with the modern experience is that you will not see a dedicated search box in lists and libraries right in the command bar.

    Instead, the site navigation search box will remain with the overlay “Search this library (or list)”:

    Search box with overlay search this library

    The same with the previous section, let’s search for the policy number:

    Returning the results when searching for a policy number in the library

    As expected, it only returned the Excel file that matches the search query.

    That’s because searching inside a library or list automatically limits the search only to the contents of that list or library.

    If you want to conduct a site-wide search instead, you can click on the “Expand search to all items in this site” button at the bottom of the search results page.

    What if you don’t know the whole keyword to search

    So much has changed with the search feature in the modern experience. Currently, there’s no way to create search alerts and use an advanced search feature anymore.

    Fortunately, you can still make use of the wildcard feature if you don’t know the whole keyword to search for.

    Basically, you use an asterisk (*) at the end of a few characters to signify that what you’re searching for starts with those characters.

    For example, if I don’t know the exact insurance policy number but I know it starts with 100, I can simply search for “100*”:

    Varied search results using the wildcard function

    As you can see, it returned all the policies that started with “100”.

    Now, a few reminders about using the wildcard feature:

    • Only the asterisk is the designated wildcard character and nothing else.
    • You need to put the asterisk at the end of some characters instead of starting with it first (it’s 100* and not *100).
    • This means you need to at least know a few characters at the start of the file, document, or even text that you want to search for.

    It’s a good feature to use if you forgot the whole keyword you’re searching for.

    But anyway, do you have some questions? Write them down in the comment section below.

    For inquiries and other concerns, please use the contact form here to get in touch and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

    About Ryan Clark

    As the Principal Solutions Architect at Mr. SharePoint, I help companies of all sizes better leverage Modern Workplace and Digital Process Automation investments. I am also a Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP) for Office Apps & Services.

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