This post is the fourth in a series of four articles providing several best practices on how to implement and customise the search experience in SharePoint 2013. The previous posts listed the differences between the cloud and on-premise SharePoint, provided considerations when upgrading to SharePoint 2013, and dealt with the practicalities of configuring search in SharePoint Online. This fourth post handles the more advanced topic of ranking results and the future of search in SharePoint.
We’ve previously mentioned the query rules as a way to change the ranking of the search results based on your requirements. These allow the promotion of certain search results or search result blocks on top of the ranked searched results, and more advanced query rules allow even changing the ranking of the search results based on what the query terms are.
By using query rules, customising the search results web part, and a few content by search web parts, you can change the behaviour of the search depending on what user is accessing it. That is, you would also need good metadata to make this work, but having a complete user profile (including the job title, department, and interests) is a good start. Based on such user information, you can define how the search experience for that user will be.
Changing ranking using query rules, however, requires a query rule condition, which describes the prerequisites that the query must fulfil in order for the query rule to fire. For changing the results for all queries, you can use the next approach.
If the default ranking does not satisfy your search requirements and you want to change the order of the ranked search results, SharePoint provides the possibility of changing the ranking models. It is a feature available in SharePoint Online as well, as described in the TechNet documentation: “SharePoint Online customers need to download and install the free Rank Model Tuning App in order to create and customize ranking models.”
A ranking model contains the features and corresponding weights that are used in calculating a score for each search result. Changing the ranking models might require a deeper and theoretical knowledge of how search works, and those that take the challenge of changing the ranking model are often dedicated search administrators or external specialised consultants.
The Rank Model Tuning App provides a user interface for creating custom ranking models, and can be used for both SharePoint Online and SharePoint Server, though in SharePoint 2013 Server there is also the possibility to use PowerShell to customise ranking models. New models are based on existing ranking models for which you can add or remove new rank features and tune the weight of a rank feature. It also allows for evaluating the new ranking model using a test set of queries. The set of test queries can be constructed from real queries made by users that can be gathered from previous search logs, for example. How to use the tuning app is explained step-by-step in the documentation on the Office site.
Changing the weight of certain file types (say for example for PowerPoint documents compared to Excel documents) might be enough for many search implementations, but depending on the content, the features that influence the ranking of the search results can become more elaborate. For example, a property defining whether documents are either official or work-in-progress might become an important factor in determining the ranking of search results. SharePoint provides the liberty to create new properties, so it makes sense that these can be used in search to improve the relevance.
It should be pointed out, however, that changing the ranking model influences all searches that are run using that ranking model. Though the main idea of changing the ranking model is to improve the ranking, it can become much too easy to make changes that can have an undesirable effect on the ranking. This is why a proper evaluation of ranking changes needs to be part of your plan for improving search relevance.
The office graph and the future of social
The social features introduced in SharePoint 2013 provide a rich social experience, which is interconnected with the search experience. Many social features are driven by search (such as the recommendations for which people or documents to follow), and social factors also affect the search (such as finding the right expertise from conversations in your network).
In the month of June 2012 Microsoft acquired the social enterprise platform Yammer. The SharePoint Server 2013 Preview has been made available for download since July 2012, and it reached Release to Manufacturing (RTM) in October the same year. The new SharePoint 2013 implements new social features (see for example the newsfeed, the new mysites and the tagging system), many of which are overlapping with those available in Yammer! This brings us to the question on everyone’s mind since the acquisition of Yammer: what is the future of social in SharePoint? Should you use SharePoint’s social features or use Yammer?
In March 2014, Microsoft announced that they will not include new features in the SharePoint Social but rather invest in the integration between Yammer and Office 365. The guidance is thus to go for Yammer.
“Go Yammer! While we’re committed to another on-premises release of SharePoint Server—and we’ll maintain its social capabilities—we don’t plan on adding new social features. Our investments in social will be focused on Yammer and Office 365” – Jared Spataro, Microsoft Office blog
Also at the SharePoint conference this March 2014, Microsoft introduced the Office Graph, and with it Oslo as the first app demo using it. During the keynote, Microsoft mentions that the Office Graph is “perhaps the biggest idea we’ve had since the beginning of SharePoint”. The office graph maps relationships between people, the documents they authored, the likes and posts they made, and the emails they received; it’s actually an extension of Yammer’s enterprise graph. The Oslo application is leveraging the graph, in a way that looks familiar from Facebook’s graph search.
The new Office Graph provides exciting opportunities, and has consequences for how the search will be used. Findwise started exploring the area of enterprise graph search before Microsoft announced the Office Graph – see our post about the Enterprise Graph Search from January 2013.
Reluctant to go for the cloud?
Microsoft has hinted during the SharePoint conference keynote in March that they will be adding new functionalities to the cloud version first. Although they are still committed to another version of SharePoint server, new updates might come at a slower pace for the on-premise version. However, Microsoft also announced that with the SharePoint SP1 there is a new functionality in the administrative interface: a hybrid setting which allows you to specify whether you want the social component in the cloud/Yammer, or your documents on OneDrive, so that you don’t need to move everything to the cloud overnight.
Let us know how far you’ve come with your SharePoint implementation! Contact us if you need help in deciding which version of SharePoint to choose, need help with tuning search relevance, have questions about improving search, or would like to work with us to reach the next level of findability.