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SharePoint 2013 Search

Search is an area of SharePoint that has been greatly improved with the forthcoming SharePoint 2013 release from Microsoft. The changes range from a new richer user interface through to a completely revamped back-end architecture.

The old features that we have come to expect from SharePoint Search are still around – full document and content searches, people and profile searches, and connecting Search to external systems with BCS to name but a few – but Search in 2013 has been enhanced to provide a more scalable and highly configurable platform.


SharePoint 2013


So what are some of the big changes in SharePoint 2013 Search?

  • Search user interface improvements include a Search hover panel that provide us with full content previews for Office documents and rich assets. The Search refinements have also been enhanced with the inclusion of a visual refiner that provides greater context and refinement options. The Search interface improvements warrant some more attention and are looked at later in this post.
  • Architecture has been simplified with the consolidation of previous Search products – Search Server Express, SharePoint Enterprise Search and FAST Search Server – into a single SharePoint Search platform. The new architecture of 2013 Search has been designed to include the best components of these previous products along with options for better  scale out of environments providing both redundancy and performance benefits.
  • Administration options for Search 2013 are now available at both the site collection and an individual site level. This includes being able to define local Search metadata, the sources of Search results and configurable display options. There is still a need to globally manage Search but this more multi-tenanted approach to Search administration opens up the ability for organisations to delegate many aspects of day-to-day Search administration to site owners and site collection administrators.
  • Content model changes are delivered through Search Content web parts that leverage the Search index for performance and allow the content to be sourced and shared across site collections. These Search-based web parts are found in many areas of 2013 such as the new WCM capabilities, the Product Catalogue functionality, and in My Site content roll ups. This is a highly customisable and high performance method of presenting content which will be beneficial for many WCM and ECM scenarios in 2013.
  • Search Result Customisation is no longer dependant on XSLT but instead is built using ‘plain-old’ HTML and JavaScript based Display Templates. This change aligns Search and the rest of SharePoint 2013 closely to these common client-side technologies for the development of customisations.
  • Analytics brings better relevance to 2013 search results through advanced content and usage analysis. “Popular Results” and “My Previous Searches” are examples of what the new analytics processing component of Search adds to the Search experience in 2013.


The Search Interface

The SharePoint 2013 Search interface has been refreshed and includes elements that are more familiar to users of popular web search engines. We still have the key functional aspects from earlier versions of SharePoint but the 2013 Search results provide a richer UI than what we have had previously.

Search Refiners were a welcome addition to 2010 that allow us to take a set of Search results and “refine” them based on metadata associated with the content E.g. Authored by Nick Hadlee or Result Type is a Word document

The 2013 refiners have been given further enhancements:

  • Entity Extraction introduces the ability for entities such as people’s names or company names to be extracted from the contents of documents and made available as a metadata selection in the refiners. This was previously only available in FAST Search.
  • Deep refiners are another capability taken from FAST that ensures the entire Search index is used to calculate the refiner information. SharePoint previously trimmed the dataset used in the refiners.
  • Visual Refiners provide a way of visually seeing the information driving the refiner, complete with an interactive slider to do the actual “refining”. See the Modified Date in the screenshot as an example of these new visual refiners. Visual refiners are extensible and customisable as well.


SharePoint 2013 search interface 


New to our kitbag of Search customisations are Query Rules. These allow us to define 1. Promoted Results and 2. Result Blocks. We can also use rules to directly manipulate the query itself.

  1. Promoted Results were formerly known as Best Bets in 2010. These allow us to define a link to be shown for specific Search terms e.g. ‘developers’ shows a link to the SP2013 training on MSDN.
  2. Result Blocks are an inline set of results that effectively provide “results-within-results” based on the query. This could be rich media content previews e.g. images for the current search, content from external systems e.g. a Wikipedia search or any other useful “snapshot” of content from the Search index.


SharePoint 2013 search interface


The new hover panel is shown when users hover over a results item. It provides more content about our Search result: 1. Search popularity and view counts from the analytics component 2. A preview for Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents as long as we have Office Web Apps available* or some other rich preview such as an image or video 3. Additional actions i.e. Follow, Edit or View this content… * Note: Office Web Apps is a separate product in 2013 and it needs to be installed in its own Office Web Apps server or farm.


SharePoint 2013 search interface 


Search Architecture

The Search architecture has undergone major change when compared to its SharePoint 2010 predecessor and includes two new components – content processing and analytics processing.


SharePoint 2013 search architecture

Source: Search architectures for SharePoint Server 2013 Preview


This new architecture provides flexibility to scale out any of the individual Search components to increase performance or redundancy for that specific Search function:

  • Crawler component – responsible for acquiring the content that will be processed by the Search service and extracting any metadata properties from documents. Because there is a greater emphasis on the Search index to support the new content model and content web parts, a new Continuous Crawl option has been added to the Search management. This will ensure the Search indexes are continually refreshed and up-to-date for the SharePoint content delivery.
  • Content processing component – performs the actual content parsing to extract the Searchable content as well as any entities, e.g. a company name from within the document’s content. The content processing in 2013 includes a number of high performance format handlers for many standard file types and now also includes some that weren’t supported by default in 2010 (PDF files and Images are the notable inclusions).
  • Analytics processing component – performs analysis and processing of the content history (how many times was it opened, edited etc.) to determine popularity-and usage trends.
  • Indexing component – the indexing component is responsible for storing the Searchable index which is returned via user queries.
  • Query component – this is the component that will request Search results from the index and then return them to the users.
  • Administration component – is responsible for provisioning the other Search components, managing the services and the service applications configuration data.



SharePoint 2013 is an exciting release and Search 2013 is just one of the overhauled areas of SharePoint that promises some great improvements in both out-of-the-box functionality and a huge range of flexibility and options for architects, IT professionals and developers who work with Search.

Posted by: Nick Hadlee, Practice Manager | 21 September 2012

Tags: SharePoint, Search, SharePoint 2013

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