One of the most powerful features of SharePoint 2013 is its search engine. Extremely easy to use and able to index a wide variety of data (including that not stored in SharePoint itself) SharePoint search makes it easy to find the right content quickly and easily.
The search process always starts with content, and specifically indexing that content to make it available to end users. The following content can be crawled and indexed by SharePoint ‘out of the box’:
- Office documents, text files, and PDF files. SharePoint captures file names, any stored metadata, as well as the actual file contents. Documents can be stored in SharePoint itself, in separate databases or in external file shares.
- Microsoft Exchange mailboxes and Lync instant chat conversations
- Web pages hosted by SharePoint, or content on other web servers (that have been correctly configured for inclusion)
- ‘Line of Business’ systems, using Business Connectivity Services
- Microsoft CRM systems
SharePoint can also re-index content according to a predefined schedule. Full or incremental updates can be used to refresh the index. SharePoint 2013 also introduced a new type of update called ‘continuous crawl,’ which is actually multiple incremental updates running at the same time. Continuous crawling makes sure that the very latest content is always available to the search engine for display to users.
Conducting and Refining a Search
Once a search has been conducted, the ‘out of the box’ search results page offers users the following features:
- Document preview: This powerful feature gives users the ability to see a preview of the search result by simply hovering over it. There is no need to download or open the file.
- Refinement panels: Positioned on the left side of the search results page, refinement panels allow users to filter results based on metadata. This can include things like ‘author’, ‘created by date’, and ‘category’. In SharePoint 2010 these refinement options were based on the first 200 results only, in SharePoint 2013 the values are based on all search results.
- Personal search results: Search results can be tailored to the user performing the search. The search engine is capable of promoting personal favorites and learning from previous searches - both help to make a given set of results more relevant.
Search Results Configuration
The search experience can be tweaked, via Administrator configuration options, to offer a more tailored experience to users. These options include:
- Specific results can be explicitly promoted: If users tend to search regularly for ‘Leave form’, a promoted result for that query can be added prominently to the top of the search results page.
- Adjust result ranking based on URL: The deeper the links of a search results, the lower its ranking will be ( and vice versa). This helps promote certain types of content over others.
- Adjust ranking with query rules: Query rules let Administrators specify the logic for search queries e.g. set a lower ranking for specific content types, or for search results from certain content sources. See here for a complete explanation of this powerful feature.
- Show or hide properties in the refinement panel.
- Change the layout of the search results: This includes things like introducing extra buttons on the ‘Search vertical’. This type of customization mirrors public search services like Bing and Google, by allowing Administrators to add large ‘Images’ or ‘Documents’ tabs to the search page. Clicking one filters and groups search results appropriately. See here for more on this feature.
Search That Just Works
A lot of the new functionality in SharePoint 2013 is provided by the previously separate add-on ‘FAST Search,’ developed by a company Microsoft bought in 2008). Until SharePoint 2010, this was a separate product, but Microsoft has now integrated it fully into core SharePoint functionality.
With the exciting new developments of Office 365 and the cloud, we expect search to become even more powerful and user friendly in coming years. All of which is good news for the most important SharePoint audience of all - end users.
If You Can’t Find it, It Doesn’t Exist
Of course, the importance of search goes beyond mere user convenience. The ability to find important documents and email messages lies at the core of a successful records management, knowledge management, or enterprise content management initiative. Assuming that documents and email messages are classified correctly (the topic for another post), effective search can leveraged for discovery and for audits. So understanding how search can be used to further your business initiative is time well-spent.
But as good as search may be, it will only be used if it is intuitive. harmon.ie makes search easy by surfacing the power of SharePoint search capabilities in the email window and in the harmon.ie mobile app. Searching for documents, list content, and people is now possible in the places you spend your work time. Plus, harmon.ie surfaces SharePoint search ‘scopes,’ so searching can be done as efficiently as possible…wherever you are.