Microsoft Search – The Ultimate Guide

During my long tenure as a SharePoint consultant, one of the most common complaints regarding SharePoint is “I can’t find what I need.” There are probably several reasons this may be the case that are unrelated to the platform itself (lack of search training, search optimizations, etc.). But Microsoft has listened and introduced Microsoft Search. Not only does this provide an enhanced search experience for SharePoint, but it is also designed to be a global search aggregator for all Microsoft 365 workloads.

Currently supported applications include:

  • SharePoint
  • Outlook
  • OneDrive
  • Word
  • PowerPoint
  • Office 365

Microsoft Search

With Microsoft Search, each search result is scoped to the application where the search was originated. For example, Outlook will return emails, Word will return Word documents, etc.

In addition to the expanded search options, the results are unique per user. Microsoft’s AI engine delivers links that are targeted to user activity as well as content that may be pertinent based on other key factors.

Microsoft also provides other mechanisms to increase the relevancy of search results. The following configurations can be tuned to your organization’s needs:

  • Acronyms
  • Bookmarks
  • Floor plans
  • Locations
  • Q&A

Read on for a review of Acronyms and Bookmarks.

Microsoft Search: Acronyms

Every organization has internal “lingo” that employees must adopt in order to speak the same language. Having an efficient way to provide definitions is critical for fast employee indoctrination. Microsoft has addressed this by introducing acronyms search functionality.

I spent many years as a defense contractor for several different military commands. Each had its own extensive list of acronyms that spanned all levels of the organization. It would take me an average of up to 6 months to become familiar with their meanings due to the lack of a central reference location.  Microsoft Search Acronyms could have cut my ramp time substantially. I used to create spreadsheets of definitions for tracking purposes. I could have simply uploaded these files and the entire command could have benefited. Knowledge is power!

Microsoft Search queries two data sources to provide Acronyms answers to users’ searches:

  1. System-curated. Acronyms are automatically discovered by Microsoft Search from the following content:
  • Users’ emails
  • Documents in SharePoint, Microsoft OneDrive, and Microsoft OneNote
  • Public documents within the organization that users have access to in SharePoint, OneDrive, or OneNote

Acronyms found in a new email or document take up to seven days to appear in Microsoft Search results.

Organizations may want to employ strict governance over official acronyms. In this case, Microsoft has provided the ability to request the system-curated option to be turned off. You must create a ticket. It will take up to 48 hours to take effect and have all system-curated acronyms removed from the search results.

  1. Admin-curated. Provided by configured acronyms the Microsoft Search and Intelligence admin center.

How to configure administrative curated acronyms:

From the All Admin Centers menu select Search & Intelligence.

Microsoft Search

Select the Answers tab and then Acronyms.

Microsoft Search

You have the option to Add acronyms individually or bulk import.


Microsoft Search

Simply download the template and populate. Once complete, upload the worksheet as a .csv file.

Microsoft Search

Rather than adding items one at a time, we have found that the most effective way to populate acronyms is to have each content owner complete an Excel import template and consolidate the results into one worksheet for import.

Acronym availability in search results:

It might take up to three days for acronyms added to Published state to become available in Microsoft Search.

Discovering acronyms:

To find the acronym definitions, users have the following search options:

  • Bing
  • SharePoint Online
  • M365 Search

To target acronym answers, users must use a certain query pattern:

  • Define . . .
  • . . . definition
  • Meaning of . . .
  • . . . means
  • Expand . . .
  • What is . . .

Bing search example:

Microsoft Search

Notice that when selecting the All tab, the configured definition is highlighted at the top of the search results obtained from the Web.  Selecting the Work tab will present only results deriving from your organization.

Microsoft Search

Client Success Story

FMT had the opportunity to work with a top tier national recruiting firm’s search optimization. Due to their industry’s heavy use of acronyms, they wanted to implement a solution that could speed up employee acronym understanding while providing the organization’s official definitions. We worked alongside their content managers in order to determine an initial list of acronyms to configure. Once applied, a proof-of-concept group gave the results a thumbs up and now the solution is being used in production and is actively curated.

Microsoft Search: Bookmarks

Bookmarks highlight specific content based upon parameters configured by an administrator. These are the next evolution of best bets and promoted results from previous versions of SharePoint. In fact, if your organization has utilized promoted results, Microsoft has provided the capability to import them.  The bookmarks are displayed at the top of the search results when a keyword is used when searching.

Most common use cases:

  • Frequently used applications like Help Desk, Timesheet, Reporting, etc.
  • Organization forms and templates.
  • Policies, procedures, and calendars.

Quintessential example: Calendar names can be a matter of personal preference to the content owner.  Employee time-off calendars can come in a variety of names (Holiday, Vacation, PTO, etc.). In order to drive users to the time-off calendar, a single bookmark can be used by applying common keywords.

There are several ways to add bookmarks to the search experience:

  1. Manual entry

From the Search & Intelligence administration screen, select the Answers tab and then Bookmarks.

Microsoft Search

Click +Add.

Microsoft Search

For the time off calendar example, you would enter PTO, Holiday, vacation in the Reserved keywords field.

FMT Tip: Identify good bookmark candidates.

Search Insights provide several search related metric reports that offer a look into how search is being used by the organization. The Top queries report displays the most searched for key words. These have the potential to be added as bookmarks in order to drive these searches to the most relevant content.

Microsoft Search

Microsoft Search

  1. Import bookmarks

CSV file

Simply download the .csv file template, populate and then upload.

Microsoft Search

SharePoint legacy Promoted Results

Microsoft Search

  1. Publish recommended bookmarks

Microsoft Search will automatically recommend bookmarks based upon its AI engine. You can configure them to be published manually or automatically.

Manual publishing:

Click on the Status: box and select Suggested.

Microsoft Search

Select Publish.

Microsoft Search

Once published, bookmarks are available immediately on the search results.

Recommended bookmarks can also come in the form of crowd-sourced input. Users can submit suggestions by performing the following:

On the Bing search results page, click on the Send Feedback link and select “I want to suggest a link.”

Microsoft Search

Complete the form and submit.

Microsoft Search

This suggestion will now appear in the bookmark suggestions list.

Microsoft Search

Example of a bookmark as it appears in a search result:

Microsoft Search

BONUS Feature: PowerApps can be added as bookmarks!

With the advent of PowerApps, custom applications can be created that provide front end user interfaces that can serve as database forms or replace default SharePoint list forms. These forms can be added as bookmarks! Depending upon the purpose of the application, it may warrant driving search results to them.


Microsoft has come a long way from its humble search roots. Users are reaping the benefits of easier and faster access to the information that they need. I anticipate even bigger accomplishments as Microsoft’s AI engine continues to evolve (I’m looking at you SharePoint Syntex!).

View the impressive Microsoft 365 roadmap here, or contact us if you'd like to talk about how Microsoft 365 can streamline your business processes with tools like Microsoft Search.

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