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Introduction to Azure Search

Azure-Search-logo-bigPull out your cell phone, go to any app, and chances are that app has a search box. The same is true of most websites. Our ability to find information in a cloud-first, mobile-first world is driven by search capabilities.
Azure Search is a search-as-a-service solution that allows developers to incorporate great search experiences in applications without managing infrastructure or needing to become search experts.
Because of Google, Yahoo, and Bing; users are accustomed to a minimum level of quality with their search experience. If your application does not provide that base level of functionality, your users might get frustrated and leave, then your application could be headed for failure.
For example: type ahead. Every user expects to be presented a list of suggestions in the search box when they begin typing. In addition, users have expectations for search results. Facets, or refiners, are common on most web applications. The ability to drill down into your results based on color, type, or size is crucial to a positive search experience.
Azure Search provides all of these capabilities and more! Relevance, suggestions, hit-highlighting, paging, sorting, and solid linguistics that effortlessly handle spelling mistakes, near-instantaneous responses, and multiple language support are all available with Azure Search.
Search tuning is also very important for the owner of the search service. If I’m a retailer and a user searches for a green dress. I might have 1000 green dresses, so I want to boost the results of the dresses where I have the highest margin. This allows me to tailor my search service for maximum profitability. Azure search provides a full range of configuration options for tuning your search results.
Azure Search also supports Geo-Spatial search – which visualizes your results against a map. This can be a very user-friendly way to drill down into your results. One example is with real estate applications. There are apps that allow the user to draw an area on a map and that feeds a search query, returning only houses in that geographical area.
When would I use Azure Search?
eCommerce – Most customers of ecommerce applications/sites will find products by using search first. The product catalog is what is indexed, sometimes expanded to include tags, descriptions, feedback from users, etc. This scenario is characterized by fine-tuned ranking models that take into account aspects such as star rating, price/margin and promotions. The search experience often includes faceted navigation (totals per category), filters and various sorting options. Frequent updates are also common. While the product catalog does not change that often, product prices, stock levels and whether items are on sale are attributes that can change many times within a day and need to surface quickly in search results.
User Generated Content – There are many different flavors of user-generated content applications, but most share similar requirements when it comes to search. Examples of these kind of applications include recipe sites, photo sharing sites, user-contributed news sites and social network applications that have a Web and mobile presence. These applications deal with a large volume of documents, sometimes many millions, particularly when they allow users to comment and discuss on items. Geo-spatial data is often involved, related to location of people or things. Relevance tends to be driven by text statistics in addition to domain-specific aspects such as document freshness and author popularity.
Business Applications – Users of line of business applications often navigate through their content using pre-defined menus and other structured access paths. However, when search is incorporated into these applications a lot of friction can be removed from general user interaction making it quicker and more efficient to retrieve this information. This type of application typically has many different types of entities that need to be searched together, providing a single entry point to discover content throughout the system.
For more information, visit the Azure Search technical documentation here. Contact us here at Perficient and one of our certified Azure consultants can help architect your Search application!

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Joe Crabtree

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