Microsoft Search vs SharePoint Search

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Practice Lead, Digital Workplace

Search is an integral part of any Intranet, Employee Portal, or Digital Workplace, and Microsoft Search vs SharePoint Search has been a recent discussion. While small companies can be successful with design-centric user experiences mixed in with sound navigation choices, the larger your organization, the more imperative an excellent search engine experience becomes. 

In many cases, search experiences are more robust when you build your Intranet with Microsoft 365. It provides results based on user behavior in Teams, Outlook, SharePoint, OneDrive, and more, paired with machine learning assisted results and the latest discovery and integrated search options.   

However, should your organization use Microsoft Search or SharePoint Search? 

Should We Use Microsoft Search vs SharePoint Search Experience?  

We recommend that organizations should primarily leverage, invest, and build search experiences and solutions with Microsoft Search. The main reason is that the Microsoft Search box is visible to users across Microsoft 365, making it a quick escape route for lost users.  

Using Microsoft Search in OneDrive
Microsoft Search in OneDrive

Search capabilities across Microsoft 365 are critical for medium to large organizations and new employees, especially. 

The core experiences organizations look for can be created in Microsoft Search, such as search experiences for relevancy, monitoring, and more that your organization will invest against in the years ahead. Microsoft Search is powered by one of the latest Microsoft technologies, Microsoft Graph. 

For a deeper dive into the modern search experience provided by Microsoft Search, keep an eye out for our upcoming blog. 

However, if you are looking for a tailored search experience, you will still need SharePoint Search for a more in-depth search, at the time of writing this. 

Leveraging both experiences in harmony  

While a contained search experience within SharePoint, the SharePoint Search engine still provides further flexibility and customization potential than Microsoft Search. An excellent example of this is the type of search that allows you to break down results by region, department, et cetera. 

Some filtering is possible in Microsoft Search but only by ‘last modified’ and ‘file type’. 

Using Microsoft Search Filtering
Filtering in Microsoft Search

However, that will rarely cut it in scenarios where your suggested results are the same file type.  

Metadata level filtering is valuable for a few key scenarios. Today, I will be using policies as an example. Policies are housed in your digital workplace, often de-centralized across digital spaces based on who is authoring and maintaining them, and are something every organization needs to share with its employees. 

As your company grows, you will have more and more policies, and these will become increasingly differentiated by key business verticals such as location, language, line of business, et cetera.  

Bringing them together  

After being unable to find what they are looking for, or out of the need to get it quick, employees will flock to the Microsoft Search bar for results. In doing so, they may come across the wrong policy, which could lead to misinformation or denied user access. So, how will you bring them together? 

First, you will need to create your more tailored search experience for Policies within SharePoint. Luckily, it is not too difficult to develop a modern search results page with the right planning. For this example, I have built a Policy Hub using the latest (v4) of the modern search web parts available in PnP. 

Using SharePoint Search to build a policy hub
Policy Hub using SharePoint Search

Now, you will want to ensure that even employees who are unaware or have forgotten about the Policy Hub can still find it when searching for a policy. Otherwise, you may end losing a significant proportion of your potential users of the Policy experience you have crafted. For instance, a new employee is liable to run a search like shown below, never realizing a Policy Hub exists for their benefit. 

Microsoft Search Results Page

The goal should be a frictionless experience, and the ideal place to provide this reminder is within the search context users are already using. In this case, we will leverage a ‘Bookmark’ (previously known as Promoted Result or Best Bet) to flag users to the fact that a tailored search experience exists for Policies.  

To do so, you will need to navigate to the ‘Search and Intelligence’ section of your Microsoft 365 Admin Center. Here you will create a ‘Bookmark’ for the Policy Hub you created. Think of this as a manual intervention you are making into the ordinary search results ranking by placing a custom “call out” at the top of the results section when specific criteria are met.  

Policy Hub Bookmark - Microsoft Search
Creating a bookmark for your SharePoint Search Policy Hub

Include as many variations of the keyword as you can think of to ensure successful searches.   

M365 Bookmark Keywords
Bookmark Keywords in Microsoft Search

Users will now see a useful reminder of the Policy Hub in search results when they type in the selected keywords.  

Bookmarks show up in Microsoft Search if the right keyword is entered
Bookmarks show up in Microsoft Search if the right keyword is entered

While SharePoint Search has the one feature over Microsoft Search, overall, I still recommend Microsoft Search as the best place to start. If limitations with Microsoft Search frustrate your attempts to deliver a tailored experience, consider using SharePoint Search. However, we recommend ensuring that there is a meaningful way to stitch the two experiences together, at least until these needs can be bet with Microsoft Search alone. 

The search is over for the definitive guide to SharePoint Online  

Now that you can make an informed decision on Microsoft Search vs SharePoint Search in your organization, we would love to help you improve your Microsoft 365 digital workplace even further. We are eager for you to learn why in our definitive guide

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