Search Components - What can be customized?

Search Components in SharePoint (and Office 365)

Source Systems and Content Sources

Source systems store and manage all the data that can be integrated into SharePoint Search. The most important types of data sources in SharePoint Search are SharePoint sites (obviously), file shares, and database content (through direct DB access or Web Services). You can also connect to Exchange Public folders and websites (for example, your company’s public website, competitors’ sites, etc.). If you have some very specific line-of-business systems, you can also write or buy a third- party custom connector (for example, to SAP) to be able to connect them to SharePoint Search.
The connections can be defined by creating Content Sources in the SharePoint Search Service Application (on-premises or hybrid).

Crawling and Indexing

The process in which the Search Engine in SharePoint or Office 365 enumerates and gets the content from the content sources defined above is called Crawling. The crawled items will then be indexed into the index.
The index is stored on the SharePoint farm in on-premises environment, and in the cloud in case of a hybrid environment.

Result Sources

With Result Sources, we can create pre-defined segments of items in the Search Index, by aggregating and/or filtering them from one or more Content Sources. We also can define which ranking model to use, to re-order the items in the result set. For example, a Result Source can be “Documents” from “everywhere”, or “Old content” including everything that is older than three years.

Search Federation

The other way to pull content into SharePoint Search is federation: you can define Result Sources to use a remote index to provide the results from, instead of indexing content into the local Search Index. With this option, you can provide results from large websites like MSDN or Financial Times, or from places that use different security options, etc. You do not have to build the index and don’t need to allocate resources for it, but you need a solid and reliable Internet connection, and there’re some other limitations too.


Besides the content itself, a lot of metadata is also stored in the Local Search Index. Metadata is the most important basis of the user interface: can be used for the Search Refiners (facets), we can sort the results by them, we can display them on the Result Set and/or the Hover Panel, etc. Don’t forget: metadata is the “glue” of Search, and despite the fact that it is a relatively small part of the picture, this might be one of the most important things in the whole Search story!

Query Rules

Query rules are pre-defined query transformation rules which can help to meet the user’s intent better. They are used to transform a query, to change the ranking of the results, to display various Result Blocks, etc. They are crucial for customization and personalization of the Search Results.

Result Sets

Result Sets are basically everywhere where we display the results. They are responsible for displaying the results to the end users, as well as provide the features on which they can interact with. Result Sets use Result Sources to define where the results should come from, and can use Query Rules as well. They can also display various metadata from the Local Search Index.

Result Types

Result Types are to define which item should get displayed in what way (for example, a Word document will be displayed differently than a Calendar item).


Search facets are called Refiners in SharePoint and Office 365. They allow the users to filter (refine) the displayed Search Results by further conditions.

Hover Panel

Hover Panel gets displayed when the user hovers the mouse over a result in the Result Set. Hover Panel is the flyout card with the document preview (if it is available), with some metadata, and with some actions to take on the results (for example, open the item, open its location, send it to someone, start a workflow, etc.) Again, Hover Panel is tied to Result Types – different types can have different Hover Panels.

Display Templates

If everything is all together, the results are ready to be presented – the last question we have left is the How. The answer is formulated in Display Templates. They define the way the results have to be displayed (by Result Type, of course) as well as how the Hover Panel will be displayed. Moreover, we use Display Templates for the Refinement Panel as well.

How to customize Search? - Your Action Plan

As you can see, Search has many components and features in SharePoint 2016 and Office 365. Each of these is a small element in the big engine, but each is needed to make Search successful in an organization. Understanding them helps to define the needs and requirements, as well as to plan the Search Application and drive it to success.

When working with customers, one of the most common question I get is "How to start?"

This is the primary question I am providing answer to in this course. By the end of the last lesson, you will have an action plan in your hands which you can start implementing.

Meanwhile, download the infographic that drives you through the components we are going to discuss in this course: