If you use Office 365, you must also know the feeling of confusion when it comes to the various Search experiences. We still have the classic search center, but also more and more modern search experiences.

Sounds exciting, but in practice, it can be very confusing.

When to use which one?

How to explain to the end users?

Understanding the user interfaces, and the processes behind is essential.

Unfortunately, Microsoft communicates only the excitement but hasn’t provided any overview so far which could help eliminate the confusion.

Let me help with that – by summarizing my real-world, unbiased experiences.


First of all: The primary motivations of searching

During my experiences, I’ve found that there are four main patterns of information seeking:

Information Seeking Patterns


1) “I know what I’m searching for and I know how to find it.”

This behavior can be supported by Search applications.

2) “I know what I am searching for, but I don’t know how to do that.”

In this case, what the user needs help with is to Find the proper information.

3) “I don’t know what I am searching for.”

What this user needs is Discovery.

4) “Am I searching?…”

A classic use case for Search-Driven Applications.

To learn more about these patterns, please read my former blog post here: Information Seeking Patterns

Classic search experience

The “classic” search experience can be found in SharePoint on-prem as well as in Office 365. Its official name is “Search Center”, and provides results from the search index.

Out-of-the-box search user interface: Everything, People, Videos, Conversations

This means we do have full control on the searchable (and findable) content. We can:

  • filter out what’s not needed;
  • define what results to be displayed (result sources)
  • define what facets (refiners) to be used;
  • customize the user experience, by display templates;
  • use SharePoint search query rules to promote or boost results, as well as to modify the query.

These user interface customizations make possible to provide branded and unified experience. I’ve created a new infographic about the full customization process (SharePoint Online and on-prem), you can download it HERE If you follow my guidance, the search results will be presented in a way that makes sense to our users – and they’ll respect it.

Classic search experience can support Search (1) and Search-Driven Apps (4) from the list above.

Search & Search-Driven Applications - classic search experience


Modern search experience

“Modern” search experiences have been popping up in Office 365 for a while (but they’re not available on-prem).

Microsoft Office Delve

They provide new ways of displaying relevant content, moreover, suggesting what is supposed to be useful to the current user. It is possible by Office Graph, which provides the content to be presented by these user interfaces.

Thanks to the way the Graph provides its content, the experience is always personalized. What I can see is suggested based on my previous activities and relationships. Anyone and everyone else in the organization will see a different set of content in a different order. Because everything I see is presented to me – and everything they see is presented to them.

At the same time, we don’t have real control on what is in the Graph, hence what’s displayed to our users. Of course, everything is security trimmed, and privacy is also fully respected, but what content is in the Graph is out of our control.

Also, we cannot define how the items are displayed, since the modern search experience UI is not customizable.

These modern search applications obviously don’t provide the same “controlled” search experience as the classic search center does. But this doesn’t mean they are useless! Moreover – they do have a very well defined place in the toolkit of every information worker: these modern search experiences help us to get back what we’ve been working on recently, to find content even if we don’t know how to find it. And also, to discover content, that we might not even know about.

FInd & Discover - modern search experience



To conclude, here is a table that summarizes both experiences:

Search Experiences in Office 365 summary

Having both the classic and the modern experiences in Office 365 has unquestinnable benefits. However, it’s also true that this mix might be, and probably is confusing for most of us. But if you know these characteristics and how they work behind the scenes, it’s much easier to understand why they provide the content the way they do.

I’m not saying it’s not confusing anymore – but maybe makes more sense.

I truly wish Microsoft brings these experiences closer to each other, and the end result will be a clear, straightforward  modern search experience for all.