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4 Levels of Search in SharePoint Online

Posted on April 23, 2020

As a SharePoint consultant, I get this question all the time (and I quote): “Now that we have uploaded all of our documents to SharePoint, how the hell do we find them?”. This is a very reasonable and valid question. It used to be that we had a dedicated department or project folder, and at least we knew where to look. In SharePoint, the task is much more complicated since we now have files and folders spread among many different sites. Add to this the proliferation of Office 365 Groups, each with its own site and a document library. So how can users find the information now? Let me use this opportunity and explain to you how you can search in SharePoint Online.

The truth of the matter is – users might need to execute their search from multiple places within SharePoint and Office 365. The analogy I always use is if you, say, lost the car keys and have to find them in a house. Your search would probably be faster and more efficient if you knew the keys were in one particular room. So, naturally, you would start looking in a given room where you last remembered seeing them, then expand the search to all the rooms in the house. With SharePoint, it is not any different. You might need to search in a few places (levels) as I like to call them. I described some of them in this post previously and now would like to summarize for you here as well.

“Now that we have uploaded all of our documents to SharePoint, how the hell do we find them?”

— Any SharePoint User

Level 1: Library Search

If you know that a file is somewhere in one specific document library, use the Document Library Search as it will give you the most relevant results.


Level 2: Site Search

If the search above did not yield any results, you would now need to execute a Site search. A site where your document library resides might contain multiple document libraries, and the only way to search them all at once would be to execute a site-level search.

Search in SharePoint Online

Level 3: Hub Search

OK, if you are reading this, that means that the above two searches did not yield any results you were looking for. At this point, you need to execute a Hub Search (assuming you created a Hub). The beauty of the Hub Search is that it searches all the sites associated with the Hub. You would execute the Hub search from the Parent Hub Site (the site you used to register a Hub)

Search in SharePoint Online

Since you are now searching globally multiple sites, you will also get results that are not just documents (your results will include news posts, pages as well).

Search in SharePoint Online

Level 4: SharePoint Start Page Search

OK, honey, this does not look promising… If you got this far, that means you now have to execute a global search in SharePoint Online. You can use SharePoint Start Page to do just that. The above post is pretty outdated, and Microsoft just renamed this page to SharePoint Start Page. It is the page that you get when you click on the SharePoint link from the Office 365 App Launcher.


This page shows you all the sites you follow and visit regularly.


However, this page also has a Search Box. This is the most powerful search box you can get in SharePoint as it searches any SharePoint site you have access to (whether it is part of the Hubs or not) + it also searches your OneDrive for Business (private files) as well.

Search in SharePoint Online

Of course, since it searches everything, be prepared to go through pages and pages of search results, just like in Google.

Search in SharePoint Online

About Me

I’m Greg Zelfond, a U.S. based SharePoint consultant, and I provide affordable out-of-the-box SharePoint consulting, training, and configuration assistance to small and medium-sized businesses all over the world.

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