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New search features in SharePoint 2013 and Office 365

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It’s no secret, everyone that knows me has come to realize that I’m a big fan of the new Search in SharePoint 2013. When people ask me whether or not SharePoint 2013 is worth migrating to, I tell them that Search makes it worthwhile. Our quest is simple; we are constantly looking for the right information. It’s one of the main drivers to leave File Shares and migrate to SharePoint. Search in SharePoint helps us solve some of these problems with its new features.

A new SharePoint Search engine updated by bringing FAST to everyone

It was a hard sell, after spending more than anticipated on your SharePoint project, you were told to look at an extra search module called FAST. I have rarely seen SharePoint 2010 projects that included FAST Search, and the reason was often the price.

Good news: SharePoint 2013 has absorbed FAST and integrated it to its enterprise search, available out of the box. Obviously, if you purchased FAST for SharePoint 2010 you may be a little sour about this. The benefits, however, are enormous. The new algorithm, topology architecture, scalability, query suggestions, and many other things it brings to the table make it undeniably the best update in SharePoint 2013.

Continuous Crawl wants to be the reason you upgrade to SharePoint 2013

When SharePoint 2013 was released, this was one of the main selling points and I bought into it. But first, we need to understand some search basics. First, there is a crawl where the indexer goes through your “Content Sources”, like your SharePoint sites, and finds out what you have, or don’t anymore, to properly organize it in what we call the Index. This crawling process ran on a schedule and could last minutes or even hours. It was one of the main factors that explained the lack of “freshness” in search results, as the indexer would not launch a new crawl until the last one was finished – even if it was on a schedule.

Crazy enough, I assumed that something called Continuous Crawl surely continuously crawled, keeping my search results as fresh as possible. Well, it’s not really the case. The new SharePoint 2013 Continuous Crawl actually runs every 15 minutes and that schedule can only be changed through PowerShell. So what’s the difference between the regular Incremental Crawl and the new Continuous Crawl they are telling us to migrate to SharePoint 2013 for? Well, it’s relatively simple: at the cost of CPU, RAM, and other server resources, the continuous crawl will launch a new search process ,as per the schedule, if the last crawl did not yet finish. Do I recommend turning on this new feature for every single Content Source in your SharePoint? Absolutely not. This should only be used for specific needs, like making sure a public facing site, or the company intranet, has only the freshest results. It’s particularly useful for those search-driven sites where the relevance of the content shown is extremely important.

New SharePoint Search Web Parts added in 2013 are worth the upgrade

My passion lays here: new SharePoint 2013 Search Web Part. I know, sounds a little geeky; but the new or updated web parts really make the difference, and allow me to rethink my architecture. One of my biggest issues with SharePoint while building solutions, whether it was an Intranet or a Collaboration site, was finding and displaying information from other Sites or Site Collections.

SharePoint 2013 introduces a new Web Part, also available on Office 365, and that’s the Content Search Web Part. Dropped on the page, it allows the power user to build a query using a wizard, or manually, and choose how to display the results with Display Templates. It is very similar to the Content Query Web Part, except that it asks the Search Index instead of querying directly, which allows it to go beyond Site Collections.

Updates have been made to do Search Results Web Part in SharePoint 2013, making it just as powerful as the new Content Search Web Part. There is now an easy query builder, and display templates, to show the results differently, without requiring any XSLT knowledge like in SharePoint 2010. I have compared the Search Results Web Part vs Content Search Web Part so that you can easily see which one fits your needs best, and when to use them.

Another updated Web Part I’m glad to see is the Refinement Web Part also called the Refinement Panel. This is what you usually see on the left side, by default, to filter the currently displayed results. In SharePoint 2010, you had no choice but to know XML, XSLT, as well as how search works, to be able to make changes.

Cross-Site Publishing and Search-Driven Pages Made Possible with SharePoint 2013

Though these are more concepts than actual features, they change the game for us. I have covered these possibilities in SharePoint 2013, but the one that I get the most questions on is “What is Cross-Site Publishing and how is the Catalog feature different from it?”. I invite you to check out the article that goes in depth on the subjects but, in short, one is simply writing content in one place and showing it in another. The catalog feature is more the consumption of a list as a tool to build search-driven content.

The combination of the new features allows us to build Intranets, or any other web-based solutions, where the content is delivered based on the context of the user visiting. Combined with Analytics integrated to SharePoint Search, it now becomes possible to really deliver what the visitor wants, without having to look for it through hierarchies and navigation.

Changes Making the Migration to SharePoint 2013 or Office 365 Worthwhile

There are numerous other changes to Search in SharePoint 2013:

  • -Query Rules
  • -Result Types
  • -Result Sources
  • -Site Collection Search Schema
  • -List or Library on demand full crawl

Each bringing even more value to you and what you can do with them. The important part is looking at whether or not it is worth upgrading to. It goes without saying that this helps us solve the famous problem of “I can’t find what I’m looking for” though a lot of configuration and continuous control on what is happening with search is necessary. What I often mention to those that ask is, the supported SharePoint migration scenarios allow us to run our SharePoint 2010 inside of a SharePoint 2013 farm. This allows us to take advantage of many of these new features to surface content still in SharePoint 2010 mode. In fact, you can even index a separate SharePoint 2010 farm and not migrate it right away, as well. Though not all Search features will function for them, it is still very helpful. If you’re interested in SharePoint 2013, check out these 30 helpful links on SharePoint to learn more through videos, webinars, presentations and blog posts.

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