If you've spent any time researching SharePoint 2013 you already know that one of the most exciting components was Microsoft’s integration of FAST Search features into the product. Microsoft purchased FAST Search in 2008 and while it was possible to use a lot of the features with SharePoint 2010, the implementation was often time-consuming and costly. Having so many of these features integrated directly into SharePoint 2013 has been a huge win for the product and for its users.

These features make up a large part of SharePoint 2013, so considerations need to be made around the logical architecture of your SharePoint farm. 

As a Power User of SharePoint what do you need to know to make the absolute most out of these features? There is a lot to learn, but in working with SharePoint 2013 over the past two years I have identified three areas that are a great place to begin your search journey.

Keep Things Up to Date with Continuous Crawl

There are several different components of the search architecture in SharePoint. To start, the two big things to understand is that content in SharePoint is crawled and then its indexed. The crawl processes and pulls all new content and metadata and hands it over to the index. SharePoint 2013 gives the ability to crawl content outside of SharePoint including file shares, web services, etc. With that power comes great responsibility. A full search crawl can be time consuming and resource heavy. In a very active environment a full crawl typically may only run every hour or as little as once a day.

The Continuous Crawl is essentially an incremental crawl that updates any content that has been added, changed or deleted since the last full crawl. By default the Continuous Crawl will run every 15 minutes, however this interval can be adjusted if needed. The Continuous Crawl feature will ensure that the search results stay as fresh as possible. Having up to date results will ensure that users get the most out of all the other search features in SharePoint 2013.

One Content Search Web Part to Rule Them All

The Content Search Web Part (CSWP) can be most accurately compared to the Content Query Web Part (CQWP) in previous SharePoint versions. There are several big differences between the two, including that the CSWP allows queries of anything that is being crawled. This could be content from different web apps or content that lives outside of SharePoint. Another big difference is the issue SharePoint users experienced with CQWP running queries as the page loads, specifically when CQWP was surfaced on a home page. As the CSWP gets its content from the search crawl, the page load should no longer be a problem.

The greatest part about the CSWP is that a user can build queries with a couple of clicks. When editing a CSWP with the Query Builder, there are options to use basic or advanced mode. You can easily craft a query in the basic mode and can do things like rollup all items of a specific content type that have been tagged with a specific tag. For example, if you had created a form content type that was being used throughout your site collection and you wanted to roll up all documents of that content type that had been tagged with the term “fillable PDF” the basic query builder makes that easy. The advanced screen gives the option to write query statements and get more detailed with the content needed in the web part.

Once the query is configured there are several out of the box display options to choose from. These display templates can be easily customized by anyone with basic HTML skills and uploaded to SharePoint in the Master Page Gallery under Display Templates.


Control Search Results with Query Rules

In previous versions of SharePoint we had Best Bets and Search Keywords that allowed us to customize the way content was returned to a user searching for specific words or phrases. That ability still exists, but now with added functionality. Best Bets and Search Keywords have been replaced with Query Rules. Query Rules can be configured globally, on the site collection or subsite level.

Query Rules gives the ability to promote or demote specific results depending on the text entered in the search box. For example if you wanted discussions about Biology to always appears in a block above other search results whenever some searched “Biology,” you can easily configure that with a Query Rule. Copy and modify existing Query Rules when starting out to get familiar with how they work. Similar to a SharePoint Workflow there are three steps to building a Query Rule:

  • Determining the condition when the rule applies (e.g., when someone searches Biology)
  • Determining the action that needs to happen (e.g., all discussions appear in a result block above other results)
  • Determining when the rule should be active (e.g., immediately or after a specific date)


These are just three of the many new functions and capabilities of SharePoint 2013 search. In my next article we will explore the Refinement Panel, Search Schema and Faceted Navigation. Happy Holidays!

Title image by timlewisnm (Flickr) via a CC BY-SA 2.0 license