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Search innovations for site and portal design in SharePoint Online

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Mark Kashman (@mkashman) is a senior product manager within the SharePoint team.

In February 2013, SharePoint Online in Office 365 introduced full enterprise search technology. Today we’re announcing the latest search-based innovation rolling out to SharePoint Online over the next few days.

The Content Search Web Part (CSWP) and Cross-Site Collection Publishing both enhance the number and quality of search-driven solutions you can build into your sites and portals. CSWP uses SharePoint enterprise search technology to display dynamic results on a page. The Cross-Site Collection Publishing feature enables you to create and manage content from one location, and publish across and to numerous sites without duplicating or replicating content-content stays in place as a single source of truth.

Introducing the Content Search Web Part

The Content Search Web Part (CSWP) uses search technology to display content.

Most of us use search technology on a daily basis. Think about how many times a day you enter query terms in a search box-for example, on how  you scan the search results that are almost immediately displayed.

When you browse to a page that contains a CSWP, you’re actually issuing a query. What’s different with CSWPs is that instead of you entering query terms in a search box, the query is contained within the web part itself. This means that when you browse to a page that contains a CSWP, a query is automatically issued.

Another way a CSWP search differs from a search is that search results aren’t displayed on a separate search results page, but within the CSWP. In most cases, you don’t even know that search technology is being used to display the content you’re viewing. The page looks and feels like any other webpage.

You can configure a Content Search Web Part to show specific content on a page, like the “Highlighted Videos” shown on this example Knowledge Center page.

By configuring the query in the CSWP, you define which content visitors see when they browse to a page that contains a CSWP. By default, the query in the CSWP is configured to show the three last recently changed items within the site. By configuring the query, you can change both the number of items that are shown in the CSWP, and also which content is shown. For example, you can configure the query so that the CSWP will show nine list items from a particular list, or the last six documents the visitor created in a document library.

You can add a CSWP you’ve configured to a SharePoint Online page right from the Insert menu when you’re editing the page, which makes using the power of search on your sites and portals simple and convenient. 

You can now insert a Content Search Web Part from the Insert menu when editing a SharePoint Online page.

Learn more about how to configure the CSWP.

Introducing cross-site publishing

Cross-site publishing is a publishing method that lets you create and maintain content in one or more authoring site collections, and publish this content across one or more publishing site collections, by using Search Web Parts. Cross-site publishing makes publishing easy, because it:

  • Can be used across site collections.
  • Separates content authoring from branding and rendering, which means how you author content has nothing to do with how it is displayed to users.
  • Allows you to mix pages and catalog content.

Cross-site publishing uses search technology to retrieve content. Here’s how it works in five simple steps:

1.       You create content in lists and libraries. Site columns are used to store values, or in other words information, about each item in a list or library. On these lists and libraries, you select a setting that enables them as catalogs.

2.       The content in your catalogs is crawled. During crawl, site columns and the site column values are added to the search index.

3.       In the search index, site columns are “transformed” into managed properties. Site column values are “transformed” into managed property values.

4.       You add one or more Search Web Parts to the site collections where you want to display your catalog content. The Search Web Parts use display templates that specify which managed property values should be displayed.

5.       When visitors view a page, the Search Web Parts issue queries to the search index. Query results are returned from the search index, and shown in the Search Web Parts.


When you change content in a catalog on the authoring site collection, the changes are shown across all publishing site collections that are using that content.

Learn how to activate the Cross-Site Publishing feature.

Powerful, easy-to-manage solutions

The power of search enables you to bring rich, dynamic solutions to life for your users without the overhead of manually managing duplicative content in multiple locations. Create once, publish multiple times. Search-driven solutions provide a whole new method to avoid being static, providing a leap forward in your company’s agility.


–Mark Kashman, @mkashman


Q: Which SharePoint Online plans include the search-driven publishing features?

A: The Content Search Web Part and Cross-site Publishing are available for Office 365 for Enterprise plans. Specifically, these plans are:  Office 365 Enterprise E3 and E4, Office 365 Education A3 and A4, Office 365 government G3 and G4, and Office 365 Enterprise E3 for Nonprofits.

Q: Will Content Search Web Part and Cross-site publishing be available to SharePoint Online Dedicated customers?

A: This is planned for the future, but it will not immediately be available to SharePoint Online Dedicated customers.

Q: Can I use the Content Search Web Part for my internet public Website?

A: No. The CSWP is supported only in intranet and external sharing portals.

Q: Are all search-driven features available in SharePoint Online?

A: The features introduced in this blog are available both in SharePoint Online and SharePoint on-premises. The following features are available only in SharePoint on-premises:

  • Anonymous access.
  • The Product Catalog Site Collection template.
  • Refiners for faceted navigation.

The Taxonomy Refinement Panel Web Part.

  1. @Nigel_Price

    Its a shame the CSWP is not available on E1 and E2 plans.

    • Mark Kashman User">

      Understood. There is a ton of value in E3 beyond CSWP. CSWP and xSite Publishing represent premium SharePoint Online Search experiences/features.

      • Great to finally have #CSWP in SharePoint Online.As its only available for E3 & E4, whats the user experience of CSWP for E1, E2 & K1? See nothing or cannot edit?

    • @bniaulin

      Don’t forget that for those on E1 and E2 or any other SharePoint 2013 that does not have the CSWP available, almost 95% of the same features can be obtained using the Search Results Web Part. The Interface to build the Query is exactly the same and you can use Display Templates to display the results you want. Only difference I have seen is the lack of Property Mapping in the Search Results but this can be done in the Display Template itself.

  2. Oliver Bartholdson

    Big news for SharePoint Online! Excited to start using the CSWP.. Thanks Mark!

    • Mark Kashman User">

      You bet. We love when four-letter acronyms get people excited! :-).

  3. Sean Wallbridge

    Big news. Been waiting/hoping for this for some time. Good stuff folks

    • Mark Kashman User">

      We aim to stay in the "good stuff" business. Glad you like it and thanks for your support.

  4. Great news! Looking forward to it when The Product Catalog Site Collection template becomes available for O365.

  5. sion.lewis

    Over all this is great news, however it would appear that #Microsoft continue to treat public websites as second class citizens and I believe we are all missing out. Granted SharePoint Online only gives you one public site per tenant, however there are cases where companies need to publish content on their intranet and public site. In the current scenario this content will continue to be duplicated…
    I guess it must be an infrastructure issue..?

    • Mark Kashman User">

      Fair enough. We start with intRAnet, and don’t stop there. Please keep an eye out for future announcements.

  6. Very cool – great to see the CSWP available! Any thoughts on how long items will take to be indexed? Items won’t show up until indexed, correct?

    • Mark Kashman User">

      Correct. Search crawler will be triggered to crawl fresh in 5-minute intervals, and depending on how much content there is to crawl (which may take longer than 5-minutes), the actual freshness may be longer than 5 minutes. AKA, the next crawl is not triggered until previous is complete.

  7. Kevin Crossman

    Can the destination site collections have different permissions setups, or do the permissions need to be consistent across the source and destination collections?

    • Mark Kashman User">

      I believe it’s purely based on perms of the user. If they have rights to view and/or edit doc/content, then it’ll display.

  8. Robert_Stark_

    How does this work if I have both E3 and E1 licenses? Because I currently do not see the CSWP available.

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