On a website that has different types of content on the same topic, how should this information be displayed after a user searches. Let's say a site's topic is "trees" and the content types are as follows:

  • Editorial Content: timeless content that is about a broad topic (i.e. an article about tree species).
  • User Content: user generated content about one specific thing (i.e. information about a specific tree nursery near London).
  • Events: time sensitive user generated content about a specific event (i.e. a tree growing course in Scotland in May).
  • Blog Posts: time sensitive content that is about a broad topic (i.e. a review of the state of Britain's forests in 2014)

There is a broad range of content but it is conceivable that a user would want to search through all of it. A user may want to search for "Pine Trees" for example. This should return any content that is relevant which may be any of the types mentioned above.

The challenges are:

  1. How to communicate what type of content something is.
  2. How to order the content.
  3. How to display a range of content types with as much diversity as possible.

Assume the website has a universal search bar across the site which only allows for keyword searches (no additional options). The results page is the first page they see after searching from this context. What should they see?

How should search results for different content types be displayed?

6 Answers 6


The convention on search result pages is to present the actual content looking almost the same. The reason behind it is that's it easier to scan content and find keywords representing the thing the user is searching for.

Filtering search shouldn't be done in the actual result list but in a faceted navigation tool to the left of the search result listing.

Control features

  • Faceted navigation menu for content type, date, etc.

  • Search tools menu (sites with images, visited pages, etc.)

  • Pagination

  • Options for advanced search and help

Ref: Designing Search: Result Page

That way you separate tools from the list of results, making it easy for the user to select multiple filters at once implementing a faceted navigation design. Not only can the user filter on content type, but also author, date range and other metadata.

You could also implement different views based on content format (image and video) to enable quick filter options. But the main tool here is the faceted navigation allowing users to select multiple filters narrowing search results to be more accurate to the user.

  • @benjaminjosephw Glad I could help! Jan 28, 2015 at 12:50

There are 2 main ways for showing search results for different content types:

  • Single search result listing
  • Discrete result sections for each item type


Single search result listing

Used when users want to find something but don't know or are less concern about the item type. This approach better suits browsing of search results and is favoured by e-commerce sites & blogs.

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As described in Benny Skogberg's answer, here, search results for different content types are grouped together, and sorted by relevance to allow for easy scanning. You may put in identifiers to indicate which content type it is, but it should be subtle so it does not distract the user from finding what they need.

Additional filtering capabilities like faceted search is helpful in case user needs to further narrow their search results.


Discrete result sections for each item type

Used when users know exactly what they want and the item type is highly relevant. This approach is used in Mac and Windows operating system for file searches.

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Flushing out BDD's answer, the purpose of this style to allow user to quickly find a specific item they know exists in the system. The user knows exactly what they want, including the item type. Grouping results by item type makes it easy zoom into to the right item. Additional meta-like categories like "Top Hit" may be introduced for facilitate the process.


Well, I guess it depends on how simple you want this search to be. Are users going to be able to filter? Is it going to be a drop down search or a something like Google, where if you search, the whole page becomes your results? Is the website going to be responsive and allow users to view the data on their phone or is it strictly a desktop website?

I'm making a few assumptions here, (On a desktop application and drop down style search), but this sounds similar to what Apple did with Spotlight on iOS and MacOS and I would consider following their format that can be seen below. It is an easy interface for the user to understand and gives them a wide variety of results back.

MacOS spotlight search
image credit

When the user searches for a tree type (e.g. Pine), they would be given a Top Hit that is the best guess as to what the user was the user might be looking for when they type "Pine", whether that be a definition, the most current event about Pine trees, or the Wikipedia page on Pine trees.

After the Top Hit, I would group based on your four categories provided above and inside of those categories, sort by current date/closest to the user's location (more recent posts, closest nursery, upcoming events in the area, etc.)


I would consider returning all the different types of results in a list.

    • Each content type should have unique appearance and be easily identifiable. To assist users with this type of identification you could consider using labels (label with the appropriate content type). Another identification aid could be icons (if you can find/design meaningful icons for the different content types?)
    • If the user has reached the search results via the universal search bar, then I would match on relevance of the search term(s). For example: If the user has searched for "Pine" then the content with "pine" in the title should probably be returned before content that only includes "Pine" in the body.

You could provide the users with further functionality, allowing users to filter the results via the type of content and/or sort by other facets such as date.

Note: Ordering by date could be tricky - The issue here is different content types may have different types of "date", or not even have a date.

    • see 1. :)

I see two situations here:

  • If the search is for an exact term and all search results are equally value, I would show several lists -- one list per content type (similar to the OS X spotlight search that was mentioned by BDD)

  • If, however, search is inexact and you can order your results from "best match" to "worst match", then it makes sense to show all results in a single list ordered by the applicability of the result to the user search criterion.


+1 for faceted filtering. Just throwing another idea out there in case it tests well: in some cases, since you know what the four data types will be, tabbed results might also benefit you. You could think of these as "quick filters", because they filter down at almost the highest possible level, but should be consistent for the user (vs something like Amazon, where this wouldn't necessarily work because your data types would be all over the place). If users will want to get to all results, you could start in an "all" result tab.

A lot of this, for me, would depend on how likely your users would want to see results "side-by-side" with all four different data types, or if they more commonly want to see them isolated.

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