Improve the findability of documents

To help users find documents quickly and effectively in SharePoint, first, we need to look at improving and leveraging document properties.

Document properties are details about a file that describe or identify it. Document properties are also known as metadata.

Native properties

Every document has these properties by default.

Native properties are universal and provide general information about a document. The most common native properties are:

  • Document name
  • Document title
  • Author
  • Date created and modified
  • Document format (Word, PDF, Excel, etc).

Most of these properties are created automatically by the system and can’t be changed (e.g. author and date of creation).

But the most important properties (document name and title) are entered manually by document publishers, so it’s important they are aware of and follow best practice principles for document naming. Users uploading documents also need to know about the difference between document name and title and why it’s important for SharePoint search results.

Custom properties

In SharePoint we can add custom properties to documents. Custom properties help organise and categorise documents and provide more details about the content of the document.

Unlike native properties, custom properties are specific to the nature of documents and should closely relate to use cases. Some common examples of custom properties:

  • Topic and subtopic
  • Keywords
  • Description
  • Document type (report, policy, form, template, notes, etc)
  • Status (draft, published, archived)
  • Review date
  • Approved by (username).

An almost unlimited number of custom properties can be applied to a document, but it’s important to keep it practical.

The best way to identify useful custom properties is to talk to end users and understand how they search or browse for documents; what information helps them distinguish one document from another without opening a document.

Keep in mind that custom properties are added manually to each document, so it might be time consuming to fill out all details. If too much information is required, document publishers are more likely to skip it.

Improving the quality of document names and titles along with useful custom properties will radically improve the searching and browsing experience.

Next steps

Consider taking the following next steps if you want to improve document search in SharePoint:

  1. Talk to end users:
    • What processes do they follow to find documents?
    • What information would help them to find documents quicker that can be used to create custom properties displayed in the interface?
  2. Review your documents to ensure:
    • Document names are clear and informative.
    • Document names follow any naming conventions or principles. (Consider whether naming conventions or principles should be developed if none are available.)
    • Document titles are added correctly.
    • Any useful information from a document name (e.g. policy) could be used as a custom property.
  3. Review your documents’ custom properties to ensure:
    • Custom properties have been applied correctly.
    • Custom properties are still meaningful, valuable and relevant.