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Essentials for Understanding SharePoint 2013 Search

There is a lot of SharePoint 2013 search information out there, but it’s often too simple to be useful or too advanced for someone without a SharePoint background. Here are the sources I used to get myself up to speed and work with developers on a new site. You’ll see a lot of technet in here (no surprise), but you’ll also find several people doing their best to make SharePoint concepts accessible without sacrificing usefulness.

There is a mix of coding and Site Settings configuration info here, so there should be something that you can do whether you are an admin, a developer or  a marketer. I start off with some background and conceptual articles. Hope this helps.

SP2013 Metadata, Lists & Content Types

So much of what you can do with search comes down to how you structure and organize your content. You’ll repeatedly come across mentions of properties and metadata as you learn about search, so it’s good to think about content attributes early and often.

1. Plan content types and workflows in SharePoint 2013 from technet

Start here because it’s going to explain how content type metadata translates to columns. You’ll see a lot of mentions of columns when you start looking at managed properties. I also think it’s a good place to get acquainted with OOB workflows.

2. [Video] Content Types, Managed Metadata, and You from Lori Gowin

A great video that explains content types in an easy to understand way, explains their components and shows you how to plan them for optimal usage. The first ~25 minutes are clutch if you are just starting out with SharePoint 2013. There is a smart introduction to the Term Store later in the video (starts around the 50min mark or maybe a little earlier).

3. SharePoint list, Content Types in SharePoint 2013 from sharepoint-journey

The post is about using Visual Studio to built lists. I like it because it does a good job of explaining site columns, lists and content types. And takes a very linear approach to developing each. You can use the same methodology in your planning to make sure you get the right columns. It’s important to think out your columns in detail because you can reuse them with different content types. Avoid duplication and also bad naming conventions.

4. 10 Sharepoint 2013 Taxonomy & Metadata Resources from Me

This is a list of resources that I put together a few months ago. If you go through the resources there, then you’ll find a lot of good info for setting up content in SP in general, as well as things to help you do a better job with site search.

SP2013 Search Processes & Planning

These are articles that give you a high-level understanding of how search works in terms of hardware, processes and features.

5. Search for SharePoint 2013 from searchtechnologies.com

This article gives a very nice overview of the processes involved in 2013 search. I wish I’d had this when I first started planning. Pay special attention to the process model diagram and the sections on Content Processing and Query Processing. These are the 2 areas where you can get the most leverage out of search customization.

6. What’s new with the integration of FAST in SharePoint 2013 from softeng

A short overview focusing on 3 facets of 2013:

  1. The Search Interface can be snazzy, but isn’t anything new if you’ve used Bing or Google.
  2. The Refinement options are a key feature: you’ll want to give searchers the ability to refine by file type, topic, author and other metadata that can be extracted. This is crucial for anyone serving a variety of file types or serving the needs a lot of different departments/business lines.
  3. The Tracker is what I think of as a crawler or bot. Fast search does a good job of keeping up with new content additions across content sources. You can customize crawl rates to make sure that the most important site collections, document folders, external content sources, etc are kept up to date.

7. Plan enterprise search architecture in SharePoint Server 2013 from technet

An essential article if you are handling the hardware side of search implementation. The article gives you a good guide for determining the size of your search farm based on the amount of content you expect to have in your index. There is a handy section on virtual vs physical farms and good advice on developing your testing plan. I especially suggest reading this section on planning storage performance

8. Create a high availability architecture and strategy for SharePoint 2013 from technet

Getting the most from this article is going to require a strong knowledge of servers and application deployment. I include it here because availability is going to be a concern for anyone running a high-traffic, high-demand website. SMBs or sites with smaller indices may not see much value in worrying about this.

SP2013 Ranking Models

Use these articles to understand why your search results look the way they do. In many cases, choosing a different ranking model may be all you need to improve site search performance.

9. How SharePoint 2013 Ranking models work from Alexey Kozhemiakin

Alexey dismantles a default ranking model for SP2013 and shows us what matters. This is a great exercise and can help you narrow down your model options. I especially like this post and Alexey’s work because he draws from the patents that Microsoft has filed and then shows hows to prove/exhibit their usage in the models. He also talks about the neural network a bit which is something I’m still figuring out. This post predates updates to SharePoint search that happened in August 2013, so he is missing the Linear 2-Stage ranking model, but this is still a great post.

Take note of the link to an article on extracting a rank log.

10. Sharepoint 2013 Search Ranking and Relevancy Part 1: Let’s compare to FS14 from searchunleashed

Having a side-by-side comparison between the 2 ways to implement search in SP13 is what makes this post worthwhile. The author took the time to create a great table that looks at key features: Rank Models, Freshness, Dynamic Ranking, File Type, Language, Social Distance, Static Rank Boost, Proximity, Anchor Text, URL Depth, Click-Through Weight, GUI-options, Rank Logging.

I think the key takeaway from this table is that SP2013 is much more customizable and powerful. That doesn’t mean it’s your best solution, but it gives you the most control and will let you make adjustments over time as you collect usage data.

11. Tuning SharePoint Search Relevance with Ranking Models from Steve Curran

A great piece by Steve Curran.  Read the 2nd paragraph of his post, then read it again. It is the best summary of ranking formulas that I’ve come across for a layman. After teaching us all some key lessons about the formula, Steve gives us some ways to edit/optimize ranking models using XML. Note that this is tricky stuff, you’ll want a programmer on-hand and you’ll need to test these implementations several times. I actually suggest working with the Query Builder‘s Sorting options features and OOB ranking models before trying any of this. But if you need more customization, then this is the way to go.

You should really follow Steve on Twitter

12. [Video] Developing Neural Networks Using Visual Studio by James McCaffrey

A significant portion of this talk went over my head, but it will get your developer salivating. The point for me is that you don’t have to accept the neural network built into SharePoint 2013. I think this is a pretty big move to make, but if you’ve exhausted your other options, then this might be for you.

Keep in mind that this video is from the 2014 Build Conference, so this is not for newbies. Make sure you’ve got the right development partner in place before even considering going down this road.

SP2013 Managed Properties & Query Rules

Get comfortable with managing what data influences rankings. Managed Properties and Query Rules give you granular control over ranking factors, sorting and result relevance.

13. Understand SharePoint Crawled and Managed Properties for Search from Benjamin Niaulin

Managed Properties and Query Rules are the key to getting the most from SharePoint search. You can play with the results interface as much as you want, but you’ll never get to the optimal results sets if you don’t dig in on these two features. The reason for this is that without managing properties and setting query rules, you get the “garbage in, garbage out” problem. SharePoint makes a lot of decisions about what properties to use for ranking and about relevance that you may not agree with. You’ll need to decide what columns should be included in ranking calculations.

This post by Niaulin will give you a good understanding of how managed properties work and some insight into how to work with them. I especially like this piece because he calls out the tendency of organizations to think search is a “set it and forget it” type of thing when it really needs continual work.

Follow Ben on Twitter

14. How To Customize SharePoint 2013 Search Results Using Query Rules and Result Sources from technet

This is the most straightforward explanation of setting up query rules that I’ve come across. It goes step-by-step through the different parts of a query rule (Condition, Action, Publishing) and has screenshots for each area in the admin. It also gives you some clarity on how powerful the Condition and Action options can be.

15. Manage query rules in SharePoint Server 2013 from technet

Think of this as the companion piece to the post above. I include it because it’s a good guide to the terminology and the settings you’ll see when you are in the Query Builder.

SP2013 Search Result Pages & Display

How to make the Result Display more useful and user-friendly

16. Creating customized search results in SharePoint 2013 from abelsolutions

This walks you through editing a search display template to include more information. It also shows some simple usage of result sources and query rules to improve the prominence of information.

17. SharePoint 2013 Search: Adding Managed Properties to Display Templates from Steve Mann

Think of this as a close cousin to Ben Niaulin’s post from earlier. Steve Mann gives developers some help with getting managed properties into their search display templates. This is for a SharePoint developer to do, but anyone in charge of search should make sure that developers know how to do this.

18. Customizing Search in SharePoint 2013 using Display Templates from justanothertechnologyguy

You may want to create a custom result display for certain stakeholders or customers. Here is a walkthrough of doing this. I haven’t had to do this yet, but I can see it being a great feature. You might use it internally to give different departments easier access to specific document sets or use it externally for logged-in user, members or premium account holders.

You can find all the articles listed here and more in my SharePoint Search link bundle. I’d also suggest subscribing to the blogs of Steve Curran, Alexey Kozhemiakin and Benjamin Niaulin. They’ve put a lot of time into these topics and I’ve found them to be the most helpful bloggers throughout my work with SharePoint.

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