Drilling down with SharePoint analytics

Mine usage data with SharePoint’s in-the-box analytics tool to collect statistics on search queries and more

What’s happening in your SharePoint environment? Do you know how many users visited your corporate HR site? Have people seen the latest holiday schedule? Did that change in your computer security policy get viewed by enough employees? Will searching for “vacation policy” yield any search results?

These are some of the issues I’ve heard from clients. Few of them realized that the answers were already in their hands. SharePoint natively keeps track of all of these statistics and more. But not many organizations take advantage of the data.

If you’re interested in what’s happening in your SharePoint environment, you can take a look at usage statistics to get an immediate handle on what your users are seeing and what they’re not seeing.

Since SharePoint 2003, usage statistics have been a standard part of the SharePoint functionality. Although the 2003 version didn’t provide a ton of useful data, it did offer some of the basics. In the 2007 version, usage statistics got a major upgrade, which provides a good deal of flexibility. Here is a sampling of the specific statistics you can get straight out of the box:

  • Overall site usage statistics
  • Overall site collection usage statistics
  • Search query statistics
  • Queries that return zero results
  • Most searched best bets

Search is a much maligned feature of SharePoint. Many organizations feel as if SharePoint’s search capabilities aren’t sufficient for their enterprise. But in many cases, search success—or lack thereof—is the result of planning, data review and constant adjustment. If you want to get the most out of SharePoint search, focus on understanding what the SharePoint search analytics are telling you about keywords, best bests and result sizes. Once you have real data, you can begin to make adjustments like improving content positioning and titles, leveraging best bests for common searches and expanding your thesaurus.

One thing to remember is that SharePoint does not automatically gather usage statistics. When you set up your SharePoint environment you must enable this service. Regardless of what version of SharePoint you use, basic usage analysis is enabled within Central Administration. To enable data collection and analysis, go to Central Administration and:

  1. Click on Operations
  2. Choose Usage Analysis processing under the Logging and Reporting section
  3. Ensure that you’ve enabled both logging and processing. If either of these options is disabled, you won’t get statistics for your SharePoint sites
  4. Click OK.

When you’re all set up for gathering the data and you have enabled analysis, you can begin using this data to make better decisions about your SharePoint environment. Keep in mind that data won’t show up immediately because SharePoint will have to gather sufficient data in order to present something meaningful. Also, this data is just half the story. If you have Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS), you also have the ability to gather valuable data about user search behavior.

To enable search statistics, go to your Shared Services provider. From the Office SharePoint Usage Reporting category click on Usage Reporting. You must enable at least the search query logging.

Viewing the SharePoint data

Once you have sufficient data from the logs, you can begin to dig into user behavior. Although the data that appears is not as wide or deep as commercial analytics packages, you can get the following basic statistics on users:
• Hits by user
• Hits by browser
• Hits by page
• Hits by referring URL

Depending on the version of SharePoint you have, the data available to you will be different. What is represented here is the basic Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services data available to all SharePoint implementations.

You can get to all reports through the Site Settings menu. Under either Site Administration or Site Collection Administration, you’ll find a Site Usage option. Depending on whether you enter Site Settings at the Site Collection or Site level, one or both of these options will be available to you if you have permissions.

After clicking on the link, you’ll be presented with a menu. You can then filter the data based on what you’d like to see.

SharePoint search

Beyond basic page and user statistics, SharePoint also gathers search data if you have MOSS. Search data is particularly useful when trying to solve search challenges or ensuring that search is working as expected. SharePoint gathers data such as:

  • Queries executed
  • Queries that return zero results
  • Most Clicked Best Bets
  • Top keywords
  • Originating Site Collection
  • Top Search Scopes

To get to the search reports, follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to your SharePoint environment’s Central Administration site
  2. Click on your Shared Services provider
  3. Choose Search Usage Reports
  4. You’ll be shown the Queries reports, and you have option to view the results reports.

You can see a sample queries dashboard in MOSS.

Most organizations guess at whether their SharePoint implementations are successful. They tend to ignore the data freely available to them within the product. If you truly want to understand whether users can find content, how frequently that new HR policy is downloaded or what best bets are the most popular, leverage the reporting built into SharePoint. Even though the data collected and presented is basic, it can help enterprises get more value from their SharePoint investment.

About the Author

Shawn Shell is the founder of Consejo Inc., a consultancy based in Chicago that specializes in Web-based applications, employees and partner portals as well as enterprise content management. He has spent more than 19 years in IT, with the last 10 focused on content technologies. Shell is a co-author of Microsoft Content Management Server 2002: A Complete Guide, published by Addison-Wesley, and he is the lead analyst/author on the CMS Watch SharePoint Report 2009.

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