Modern Search in SharePoint Online: The Search Administrator

In our previous article, Modern Search in SharePoint Online: The User Experience, we explained how the Modern Search experience provides powerful search capabilities for users to curate relevant, important, and personalized content to the user while the Microsoft, or Classic, Search experience provides organization-specific information.

From an administration point of view, deciding when to use which one of the search experiences is a consideration when planning the implementation of Modern Search. Both search experiences require content that has been indexed but because Modern Search uses the same index as Classic Search, nothing is required to be done if your organization is already using Classic Search. Additionally, the modern search boxes are defaulted to appear on the SharePoint homepage and modern sites, eliminating the need for configuration by a search administrator.

There are two options when it comes to the launching portal into different search experiences. Where to launch the portal from is directly related to the end goal of what is being achieved. Launching from the Search Centre will provide different results than from the SharePoint homepage.

Launching from the Search Centre (Classic Search) will allow custom refiners and search verticals for organization-specific content. This also provides the ability to display organization-specific content results differently than other content for it to stand out. The second method of launching is from the SharePoint home page and this can be done by encouraging and promoting users to use the SharePoint start page to initiate Microsoft Search (Modern Search in SharePoint Online). By launching from the SharePoint home page, content delivered will be user-specific.

Migrating from a classic to a modern site will impact the search experience if you have a customized search. Remember that a classic site has a classic search box while a modern site will have a Microsoft search box. With classic sites, the search box can be customized, such as redirecting to a custom Search Centre to display filtered and formatted results that are organization-specific based on content types. The Microsoft search experience cannot be customized in this fashion and it is recommended to use modern sites if the search box does not need to be customized. This method would provide user-relevant content.

An efficient way for users to search across all sites of an administrative unit is to use a hub site to organize the sites. Hub sites use Microsoft search boxes which means that searches target people, files, news, and sites across all associated sites of that hub. This can also be achieved with the classic search box, but it would be time intensive and not the most efficient method.

On the plus side, Microsoft search can be used in combination with cloud hybrid search. On-premises and online content for cloud hybrid search are indexed in the same index that is accessed for classic and Microsoft search experiences.

Keep in mind when migrating or deciding when to use the Classic Search or Modern Search experiences that the Modern Search experience shows results only from the default result source. If the default result source is changed, then both search experiences are impacted. Likewise, removing a search result, even temporarily, will remove it from both search experiences.

Earlier, we discussed how a search administrator can use Microsoft search to promote information and answers that are targeted to specific groups or teams. For the Classic Search experience, search administrators define the promoted results that provide users with relevant and important content. Unlike the classic search experience, Microsoft Search experience requires the search administrator to use bookmarks to achieve the same result.

Promoted results can be created at an organizational level. At this level, if a user was to search across the whole organization, the promoted results might appear in the All tab on the Microsoft search results page.

As an example, let’s say a user searches from the search box on a hub site. Performing a search from the hub site garnishes results from sites associated with the hub only and will not see any of the promoted results in the All tab. However, if the user had performed the search from the SharePoint home page, then the promoted content may appear on the All tab. If the promoted result was defined and the same content was bookmarked with the same URL, then only the bookmark would appear in the All tab.

As one can see, planning the implementation of Modern Search with Microsoft Search requires a thorough understanding of the relationship between them as well as how sites function, particularly hub sites, classic sites, and modern sites.

Modern Search in SharePoint Online brings personalized content to the user while Classic Search provides the ability for search administrators to customize promoted content that can be targeted to specific groups or teams within the organization. Microsoft is rethinking, redefining, and changing how search is used by combining Modern Search in SharePoint Online, Microsoft Search, and AI.

Modern Search in SharePoint Online: The User Experience

What is Modern Search? SharePoint Online users will experience Modern Search, which is Microsoft search in SharePoint (the classic search experience). Modern Search results, generated from the insights of Microsoft Graph, are relevant to each user whereas Classic Search generates results that are geared more towards the organization.  With Modern Search, daily tasks are simplified by relevant content curation for users. For example, users can easily find the correct version of a document to edit, a document that is being worked on collaboratively, or even a presentation to continue editing.

Let’s take a step back and review Microsoft Search. Microsoft Search brings together the action of searching the web and work as one experience on any device and on any browser. Microsoft Search brings the right information, at the right time to the user, including people, groups, conversations, locations, resources and tools, files, and SharePoint sites. Microsoft Search is powerful and the safest way to share information across an organization. In our article, Microsoft Search and SharePoint Search, we delve deeper into the relationship between the two.

By default, both search experiences are enabled. Even though both search experiences implement the same search index to find results, users will experience the different search experiences based on where they are searching from (the launch portal). Users will experience the Classic Search on publishing sites, in the Search Center, and on classic site teams. The Modern Search experience for users will be found on the SharePoint home page, hub sites, communication sites, and modern team sites. A visual cue as to which search is being experienced is the location of the Microsoft search box, which appears in the header bar at the top of SharePoint plus it produces customized content for the user for both Modern and Microsoft Search.

One of the key features of Modern Search is the ability to get back to a previous task quickly and easily. This is done by providing a list of results based on recent activities in Office 365 and they appear in relevant order within the search box, even before any typing begins for the search. As the user types, the search box will update the suggestions automatically. Finding shared files that are used for collaboration are easily searched, discovered, and displayed with the application of advanced query understanding.

Another useful and intelligent feature of Modern Search is the simplicity of placing your cursor inside the search box and then pressing Enter to discover new information. By doing this, the search results will bring the most relevant information to the user. The results are based on the user’s previous activity in Office 365 with the most relevant at the top. Without leaving Search, the user has the capability to explore results to assess if the information is relevant and what they are looking for before accessing it.

Modern Search is dynamic. Leveraging AI, the relevant content harvested will grow, and as the user utilized Modern Search, the more relevant and the more accurate the results will become.  Not only will the content grow over time, but the set of content types that users search for will also dynamically grow, continually evolving to meet each user’s needs.

As a search administrator, Microsoft search can be used to promote information and answers that are targeted to specific groups or teams. Promoted information or answers may include resource tools to complete tasks, policies, company benefits, collective agreements, and more. By showing relevant content, it promotes the successful completion of tasks amongst teams.

Modern Search offers the user a personalized experience with a great user interface, all without the need of it being configured by a search administrator. Rather, any search administration applies to Microsoft Search across all apps.

One key point that differentiates the Classic Search from the Modern Search is that Classic Search can be customized to curate organization-focussed content. The search administrator, by adding custom refiners, can produce customized content on the search results page. On the other hand, the Modern Search experience cannot be customized but it can be tailored so users can find relevant content easily while meeting the needs of the organization.

To customize the Classic Search experience, you would access the SharePoint Admin Center but for Microsoft Search, access would be through the Microsoft 365 Admin Centre. Even though customizing and tailoring are done through two different admin centres, certain aspects of the Classic Search settings will have an impact on the Modern Search experience. Details and explanations of these impacts are discussed in our article Microsoft Search and SharePoint Search.

With Modern Search in SharePoint Online, collaboration on the go is extremely portable. Modern Search is fully mobile-friendly, displaying result pages that fit onto any portable device screen.

Without a doubt, users will have an exceptional experience with Microsoft Search and with Modern Search in SharePoint Online. Which search experience users will have is totally dependent upon their organization’s use of classic or modern sites.

In our next article, Modern Search in SharePoint Online: The Search Administrator, we will review the differences between Modern Search and Classic Search along with the impacts of planning and/or migrating to Modern Search from classic sites.