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SharePoint 2013 Content Search WebPart and Search Results

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I have been meaning to write this for a while, what is the difference between the Content Search Web Part and the Search Results? If they both have an easy Query Builder and use Display Templates while still leveraging the same Search engine.

Articles referenced in the video:

Rollup my SharePoint Sub Sites using Search 
– Build an Image Slider with SharePoint 2013 Search Results Web Part

Why should I care?

The Content Search Web Part is actually only available for the Enterprise version of SharePoint 2013. That’s right, not Foundation nor Standard but really Enterprise. Nothing for those on Office 365 either, though a release is expected at some point in time. The fact that this Web Part is only available for the Enterprise version leads me to believe it won’t be on the base Office 365 plan, but we’ll see. *Note, Office 365 has released the Web Part for E3 plans.

And in 2013, you architecture will need to change, especially if you’re migrating from 2010. Since the Search has Continuous Crawl now, we can completely redesign our Farm and leverage Search to get our content. That’s where the Content Search comes in.

Is there an alternative?

Of course you could continue to use the Content Query Web Part, but it’s limited to the Site Collection it was added, not to mention it’s still using XSLT…

Another option, and a very viable one at that, is the Search Results Web Part. It has been completely re-written in 2013 to use the same features as the Content Search Web Part, or almost. When I first opened SharePoint 2013, it’s one of the first things I checked.

They both have:

  • A Query Builder
  • Display Templates
  • And all the usual Web Parts stuff

So what was the big deal with the Content Search?

It turns out; it allows the Power User using it to choose which Managed Properties, from a dropdown menu, to use in the results. This means that the user can easily choose a Display Template and from a menu select the Properties to show in there. That’s amazing! The Search Results however, does not allow this. One must manually edit the HTML in the Display Template to choose the Managed Properties available. So if you don’t have access to the Content Search, the Search Results is a very good option but isn’t the same.

I hope the video gives you a good perspective on the difference between the two.

Video Transcript

Hi, my name is Benjamin Niaulin, and recently I’ve been getting a lot of questions around the content search web part, and how they could use it, and how should they change their architecture. What I would like to focus on today is to talk about the difference about the content search web part and the search result web part.

See, often we want to use the content search web part, but then we realize oh wait, that’s just for the enterprise version of SharePoint 2013. It’s not available on Office 365 yet, though we are expecting it pretty soon. We don’t know when soon is. The content search web part is very, very cool because it leverages search to present the information to the user.

Think of it this way. Do you remember the content query web part? Yes? Well, in the content query web part we would build a query, then we would choose a style to display the results. It was in XSLT and we were limited to our site collection.

The content search web part really allows us to search anything, build a query, for example. Give me all the tasks for a specific user or for the currently logged on user for these four site collections, for example. That’s pretty interesting. Then, we can use a display template to say how we would like to display by creating an HTML in Javascript. Easy to use, not like XSLT template.

The difference with the content search web part is that the power user is actually going to be able to choose which property he wants to place in your template. If in your HTML template how you want things to look like, there’s a big rectangle on the left and a square on the right. Well, maybe you want the rectangle on the left to have the title and the square on the right to have an image. The beauty of the content search web part is that the power user can use a drop down menu to choose which property from the results to put in each of these, the rectangle and the square.

Whereas if you don’t have the content search web part, you could always use the search results web part which comes in every version. It’s just as good. It allows you to build an easy query. It allows you to choose a display template, though you can not reuse the same. You have to create a new one. The only difference is that you’ll have to specify which properties you want in the display template. You cannot have the power user choose from a drop down menu which properties he would like to show. There are other little differences, but this is really the main one.

I really encourage you to use the content search web part. However, if you do not have access to it or cannot use it, then try the search results web part. It’s just as good, just as powerful, with just a little bit of limitation. You’ll have to know how to create your display template. I hope this helps.

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