How to Extend the SharePoint Online Refinement Panel by Adding Your Taxonomy

Get the power of your taxonomy in combination with the SharePoint Online Search engine

Jasper Oosterveld

by Jasper Oosterveld on 3/27/2014

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Article Details

Date Revised:
11/17/2014

Applies to:
Microsoft SharePoint Online, O365, Office 365, Search


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The refinement panel was introduced with the release of SharePoint 2010. It's a great extension of the SharePoint search engine. The panel enabled business users to filter through the search results. Figure 1 illustrates an example of search results.

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Figure 1: Sample SharePoint search results

Just imagine: Search returns hundreds of results, and you have to browse through 10 pages to find your document. Apart from being time consuming, that scenario is also frustrating.

The refinement panel is your Search buddy, and it's here to help! With just one click, Word documents or PowerPoint presentations are displayed, and the results are narrowed down to  only 10 of the 250. You are now able to quickly find the document you are looking for.

The refinement panel comes with a pre-defined set of filters, but you can extend the panel. Let’s take a look!

Do you have a taxonomy in place that’s used to provide your content with metadata? The Figure 2 shows an example of a taxonomy.

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Figure 2: The taxonomy applied within the Contoso intranet portal

Let's expand Accounting and Finance, as Figure 3 shows:

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Figure 3: The terms related to Accounting and Finance

The Contoso SharePoint Portal allows the business users to add one of the terms shown in Figure 3. For example, a user can add Commercial Auto Insurance to documents stored in document libraries. Every SharePoint Document Library contains a column called Document Category, as you see in Figure 4.

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Figure 4: Document Category

By clicking on the symbol, the business user can select a term to connect to the document, as shown in Figure5.

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Figure 5: Selecting a term related to the document

The refinement panel doesn’t include a refiner connected to the Document Category. You have to create one, so let’s get started!

The first step is creating a site column. It’s very important to create the site column at the top level of your SharePoint Portal. Otherwise the column isn’t available in all the SharePoint sites. Click on Site Actions, Site Settings, and Site Columns, as shown in Figure 6.

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Figure 6: Creating a site column

After getting slapped in the face (this is a figure of speech of course) by the developers in my team, I learned to remove spaces in the column name. Using a space results in annoying symbols (x0020) in the internal name of the column. This results in a lot of issues for future design and custom development changes. I recommend putting all the custom site columns in one group, as in Figure 7. This makes it easier to find a custom column in case you need to change the configuration.

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Figure 7: Putting all the custom sit columns in one group

The final step is connecting the column to the Term Set, as in Figure 8.

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Figure 8: Connecting the column to the Term Set

The column is now ready to be used within the SharePoint Portal. Did you connect the column to your Document Libraries? Upload documents? Assign metadata to the documents? Good!

Refiners are connected to managed properties. To create a new managed property, you need to be the Global Administrator of your SharePoint Online Portal because you need access to the SharePoint Administrator Center. Click in the top navigation on Admin and SharePoint as you see in Figure 9.

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Figure 9: SharePoint admin center

Click in the quick launch on Search and Manage Search Schema, as in Figure 10.

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Figure 10: Click Search and Managed Schema

A managed property is connected to a crawled property. You first have to see if your new column, Document Category, is created as a crawled property. This only happens after an index of your SharePoint Portal has been executed. The major downside of SharePoint Online, at least at the moment, is the inability to manually start an index. You are dependent on the schedule Microsoft created for your Office 365 tenant. You have no insight into this schedule. My advice? Be patient. In my experience this takes no longer than 15 minutes. Did you wait for 15 minutes? Good. Click on Crawled Properties, as shown in Figure 11.

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Figure 11: Crawled Properties

Enter Document Category, and click on the green arrow, as you see in Figure 12.

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Figure 12: Click the green arrow

You see 12 results. Which one should you choose?

Did you really think SharePoint was going to make your life easy? Of course not! No need to try out all of the results because we need the ows_DocumentCategory crawled property. For every managed metadata column you need to use the crawled property with _ows before the name of the site column.

Within SharePoint On-Premise we would use this crawled property and connect it to a new managed property. Unfortunately SharePoint Online doesn’t allow you to create a new managed property that can be used as search refiner. Don’t worry! Microsoft solved this by providing a lot of out-of-the-box managed properties which can be used as a refiner. Close call right? Click on Managed Properties, as shown in Figure 13.

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Figure 13: Managed Properties

Because you're using a managed metadata column for your taxonomy, you have to connect the crawled property to a RefinableString managed property, as in Figure 14.

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Figure 14: Connecting to a RefinableString managed property.

Click on RefinableString00 to connect the crawled property to the DocumentCategory, as in Figure 15.

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Figure 15: Connect the crawled property

Next, click on Add a Mapping, and scroll to the top of the screen, as in Figure 16.

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Figure 16: Scroll to the top of the screen

You have to enter a Document Category and click on Find, as in Figure 17.

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Figure 17: Click on Find

You select your crawled property, ows_DocumentCategory, and click on OK, and also OK in the configuration screen of the managed property. You are now ready to use your new refiner! Let's go to the Search site and execute a search. Click on Site Actions and Edit Page, as in Figure 18.

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Figure 18: Executing a search

Browse over Refinement to open the web part properties, as you see in Figure 19.

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Figure 19: Opening the web part properties

Click on Choose Refiners as in Figure 20.

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Figure 20: Choosing refiners

You have to select your refiner on the left site under Available refiners, let’s look for RefinableString00 and move it to the selected refiners by clicking on Add >. Don’t forget to give the refiner a display name: Document Category. Save the new settings by clicking on OK, also press OK in the refinement panel web part settings, and publish the page.

I have to temper your excitement a little bit because there is a high chance the refiner won't immediately be available. Your SharePoint Online Portal needs a full crawl to process the new configuration. Unfortunately you aren’t able to execute a full crawl, so you have to be patient. How patient? This can be an hour, two hours or even a whole day. Frustrating? I totally agree. I really hope Microsoft resolves this in the future. Eventually your refiner will be available, as you can see in Figure 21.

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Figure 21: The refiner is available

In this example, the search returns 25 search results, but you have your Document Category refiner. So after clicking on Contracts, you get only one result, as in Figure 22.

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Figure 22: Results after clicking Contracts

You patience pays off because you can use the power of a taxonomy in combination with the  powerful SharePoint Online Search engine.


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  • Savvy analysis - BTW , people are searching for a DD 2807-2 , my colleague saw a fillable version here "https://goo.gl/BGW6Jw".

  • You can also add a managed property from within site settings on the site collection level. Choose site collection administration --> search schema --> click "new managed property". Permissions req.