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Replace The Default WordPress Search Engine With Something Better

Posted on March 17 by in Resources | 31 comments

Replace The Default WordPress Search Engine With Something Better

Search has come a long way since WordPress was launched in 2003. In WordPress 3.7, some long-overdue search improvements were finally made to the system, however the default search functionality of WordPress still leaves something to be desired. I am sure you have all noticed that doing a search on a WordPress powered website does not always bring up relevant results. Sometimes the article you are looking for is buried beyond page three of the search results.

Due to WordPress’s search functionality being criticized so much by its users, many alternative search solutions are available that replace it with something better.

In this article, I would like to show you a selection of the best plugins and solutions available for giving visitors a better search experience. The majority of these solutions are free, however some services charge for more advanced features.

1. Relevanssi

With around half a million downloads on WordPress, Relevanssi is one of the most popular search engine solutions available for WordPress. The plugin was originally designed to replace the abandoned plugin WP Search, and soon picked up a loyal following due to its unique features.

As the name suggests, Relevanssi tried to place an emphasis on relevance rather than date order. It allows visitors to use OR and AND operators to improve search results. It also allows search terms to be highlighted in results. A premium version is available for $39.95 per year that boasts advanced features such as throttling to improve efficiency and the ability to change the weight of ranking factors.

Relevanssi Search

Relevanssi offers relevant search results and a lot of customization options.

2. Dave’s WordPress Live Search

A Javascript powered plugin that offers the “Live Search” functionality that Google is known for. This allows users to see search results as they type and then skip directly to an article if a desired page appears.

In addition to live search, the plugin also offers a lot of customizability for search results such as meta information, thumbnails and different styles.

Dave's WordPress Live Search

Dave’s WordPress Live Search provides suggested pages to visitors quickly.

3. Better Search

Better Search is a great search plugin that provides relevant search results. Through the plugin settings area, you can adjust the weight of ranking features to either title or post content. The plugin supports all caching plugins such as W3 Total Cache and it includes an option to display popular search terms.

Better Search

A good option that has comes packaged with widgets.

4. Search Everything

Search Everything lives up to its name by allowing you to filter results by search comments, tags, taxonomies, pages, categories and more. The plugin also allows you to highlight searched terms. It also has a feature entitled “Research Everything” that allows you to search for your posts and link to them while writing an article.

Search Everything

Search Everything allows you to control what is included in search results

5. WordPress Sphinx Search Plugin

Whereas Search Everything allows you to control what is searched, Sphinx gives visitors the option of also searching posts, pages, comments and tags. Results can also be displayed by freshness (i.e. date order), relevance, or both.

The plugin comes packaged widgets for top searches, latest searches and related searches. A statistics tool to help you analyze search terms is also included.

WordPress Sphinx Search Plugin

WordPress Sphinx Search Plugin has great features for visitors and for administrators.

6. Swiftype Search

Swiftype is a search service that is used by many large companies. All searches are performed on their servers, which reduces load on your own website. It’s dashboard displays a range of statistics such as top queries, top content by click throughs, search trends, and more. One of its best features is the ability to reorder search results; which is useful if you do not like the results of a particular search term.

The service allows a website with one thousand pages or less to use the service free. Plans for websites with more content start at $49 per month.

Swiftype Search

The free version of Swiftype is suitable for websites that have less than one thousand pages.

7. Google Search

To improve their website’s search functionality, many people turn to the most popular website in the world. Google’s Custom Search option offers relevant search results, image searching and speech input. You can display search results ad free or display advertisements and earn 51% of any revenue that is generated from visitors.

The default code that Google gives you generates search results on the same page or frame. The downside to this is that if you placed the search box on your sidebar, search results would be displayed there too. Thankfully, it is very easy to display search results on a dedicated page. All you have to do is grab the code from this page and add it to a dedicated search results page on your website (e.g. create a page entitled “Search Results”). Just remember to modify the code with your website’s Search Engine ID (given by Google) and search engine results page URL (i.e. the URL of the search results page you created).

Google Search

Google Search can be used to earn additional revenue from your traffic.

8. WordPress Google Search

I have always found Google search to be straight forward to configure; however I appreciate that many people are looking for an easier solution. One plugin that simplifies the process is WordPress Google Search. Once installed, all you have to do is drag and drop its widget into your widget zone. That is all there is to it.

You do not need to enter your Google account information for the plugin to work. The downside to this is that the plugin does not allow you to earn extra money through Google Adsense.

WordPress Google Search

The easiest way to add Google Search to your website.

9. Custom Google Search

WPMU sell a custom google search plugin with user-friendly options for $19. In order to work correctly, the plugin requires the code that Google gives you through their Google Search page. This means that your Google Adsense integration is still controlled through your Google account.

The plugin was designed for novice users. It allows you to choose the style of results, choose where results are displayed, and whether a sidebar is displayed on search result pages. If you do not need any of these features, I recommend entering your Google Custom Search code directly yourself.

Custom Google Search

Custom Google Search makes the process of styling Google Search more user-friendly.

10. Highlight Search Terms

Highlight Search Terms does not replace the default WordPress search engine, however the plugin does enhance the search experience by highlighting the searched terms on search results pages. It also counts phrases wrapped in quotation marks as a single search term. The plugin is compatible with caching plugins, BuddyPress and bbPress.

Highlight Search Terms

Highlight Search Terms

Some people like WordPress’s search functionality, others find it frustrating. If you fall into the latter group, I recommend you try one of the solutions detailed in this article.

Last but not least, I encourage you to subscribe to Elegant Themes to get instant updates about our new articles.

31 Comments

  1. Hey, fantastic post. How add google search code on the ‘search results’ page (divi theme)? Thanks

    • Kevin Muldoon

      No problem Gianluca. You can see how to add search results to a dedicated page through the link I added in the article.

      I can speak to Nick about maybe writing a more detailed tutorial on that particular issue.

      • Agree. I’ve tried “Google’s Custom Search” which is connected with google adsense. Very profitable for the publisher. However, I can’t submit it in elegantthemes search page, I must to create one new page and copy-paste the code.

        Hopefully nick want to add this functionality in the Divi version 2.0. Thank you.

  2. Great post Kevin. I’ve been a little frustrated with the WP search from time to time. I’m glad to see some viable alternatives. Especially like the highlighted search terms eventhough it leverages the standard search function, at least the user experience is much more useful.

    Thanks!

    • Kevin Muldoon

      Agreed. It’s such a simple change but it does make search results look a lot better.

  3. Thanks for this list of search extensions Kevin, its a great help. Do any of them integrate directly with the search on the Divi header search?

    • Kevin Muldoon

      Most of these simply utilize the existing WordPress search template. Essentially, the front end is the same, however the backend is powered differently (if that makes sense). Therefore, you shouldn’t have to change anything. It should all work.

      Just to note, I haven’t actually used the Divi theme myself as yet, so I cannot comment on whether they will work with a 100% guarantee :)

      However, I see no reason for them not to work.

      • I see. Thanks for that. I will give it ago and let you know

  4. We use some complex searching on our directory site, http://www.validbrands.com, so robust searching capabilities is mission critical. We bailed on the standard WordPress functionality fairly quickly and turned to Jonathan Christopher and his plugin, http://www.SearchWP.com.

    SearchWP allows you to build custom searches with weighted algorithms that gives a lot of control.

    Not sure if there is a free version.

    • Kevin Muldoon

      Thanks for mentioning that Brian. I did a bit of research into the subject but did not come across that. It looks like a great solution. $29 a year seems like good value too.

      • Hi Kevin,

        We use SearchWP because one can create unlimited “supplemental search engines” so different pages on a site can search for specific items. We created a custom post type with custom fields and SeachWP can search everything perfectly well. The problem is how to integrate a supplemental search, i.e. not just a single search for the entire site, within ET theme logic.

        For example, one of our sites uses Nexus. We wanted to create a page that searched the custom post type and custom fields but to integrate it within the Nexus theme we had to hack the Nexus Search template which is very difficult. We got it to work but it is not integrated within the ET search logic so it does not format correctly and many search features are missing such as when searching for something that does not exist it does not respond with the standard “no results found.” I’ve tried discussing this in the support forums several times but this is a ET theme design issue.

        There are two issues.

        1) ET Themes don’t support custom post types and fields in their themes. I, and others, have asked about supporting custom post types ad fields in both of the Divi posts and never received any replies from Nick or anyone else. Why no replies to long time customers?

        2) ET Themes don’t support integrating the most intelligent search out there, SearchWP. SearchWP’s supplemental search engines are fantastic. They allow a site to have unlimited customized searches throughout their site.

        The problem in both cases is that I am not an expert coder and one would have to be an expert to deconstruct ET theme search logic to incorporate a supplemental search engine or custom post types and fields into an ET theme.

        I, and others, feel it would open ET themes to a much wider market if ET integrated custom post types, custom fields, and supplemental search engines into Divi. Of course I would also appreciate it if you could integrate them into Nexus as well.

        Anxiously awaiting your reply.

        Thanks Kevin.

  5. Thanks Kelvin, your post came at the right time. I used divi to build a medical community website and they requested for a research page for infectious disease guide which I know that Et and WP native search cannot singularly query. I used Google custom search, and Google search but didn’t get close to what they want and Swiftype monthly payment freaked out our budget. Since divi is powerful to manipulate and create widget and add it to any page, I resulted to creating custom post types with custom taxonomies using CPT plugin then used the sidebar module to get the native search widget into the page, fine-tune the search codes to query just the custom post types and I got the disease guide queried excluding posts, archives, tags and other pages from search result. I ‘d have love a custom search engine page with ET search form to be integrated into the page but I didn’t see the search.php and don’t wanna dig into the template files yet. Now, the search works for the custom post types disease guide and queried the database table accordingly. This may not be a standard solution but got the medical research page going, moving to the next task but hope to perfect it soon. Peep http://deefrentng.com/thum-new/research. Cheers

    • Hey BB,

      Sorry to hear our old pricing was too much for you, we now have a Hobbyist plan starting at just $20 a month designed specifically in response to feedback like yours!

  6. Another awesome post! You guys are simply the best!

    Here’s my two cents: The WP Search [ http://wordpress.org/plugins/wpsearch/ ] is compatible with WP 3.2.1 only and hasn’t been updated in the last two years. I think it is always a good idea to use plugins which are regularly updated and compatible with the later versions of WP [ if not the latest version ].

    Thanks a lot for this informative post!

    • Kevin Muldoon

      I didn’t list that plugin for that very reason.

      Glad you liked the post :)

      Kevin

  7. i use defaul search in wp with genesis themes…i think it is very good

  8. Greets! I have tried Dave’s Live Search, along with some more, and worked great with the Harmony theme! However, now that I’m using Divi for my websites, none of the plugins I tried works out of the box with the top nav search. Any extra advice would be appreciated :)

  9. Thanks for this post. It has come at the perfect moment for a project I’m doing. Can I make a suggestion for this post and future ‘list’ style blog posts? Your impartiality here isn’t helpful. You, being the expert, and us, being the learned, are looking at this and asking ourselves, ‘So, which one should I pick?’. They are all great and wonderful and full of features, however, there isn’t any recommendation other than to go through them all and try them out.

    So, my question to you would be (forget the project, forget specific features – lets just think about simplicity and ease of use), which one would you recommend?

    Thanks – Mark

    • Kevin Muldoon

      Hi Mark,

      Sorry for the delay in replying. I was swamped with work for a week so I am trying to respond to everyone now.

      I appreciate the comment. It is a valid point.

      For me, I believe it is less about impartiality, and more about how relevant a plugin is for a website. I realize that you said for me to forget the specific features etc; but I don’t think that we should forget that fact that every project is different.

      I use some plugins on websites that I don’t on others. My friend Sam, from http://www.wpsquared.com, probably has as good as experience with WordPress as me; yet we use different plugins on our websites. This illustrates that the plugins we use is sometimes about personal preference over anything else.

      I do agree that giving my own recommendation as to which plugin is best could help a lot of people, however I also feel that by doing this, I may inadvertently give someone bad advice. There are a lot of things to consider such as performance, design layout, technical knowledge of the user etc.

      I also believe that users should get in the habit of testing plugins. Ideally, WordPress users should be testing every plugin they install on their website in a test WordPress installation first so that they can check it out. I don’ think that’s too much of an inconvenience. At most, you would have to test three or four plugins. It’s a small price to pay for getting the right plugin for your website.

      I do understand your view on this so will try and keep this in mind in future. If you are ever unsure, just leave a comment explaining your situation and when I have time, I will do my best to give you advice on the issue (though due to freelancing and my own projects, I can never make that kind of thing a priority – but I will do my best) :)

      Kevin

  10. Be sure to list your favorite paid options too! Like you did with the learning WP post. We love ET, that means we love powerful tools and extra goodies. :)

  11. Thanks for posting this wonderful post Kevin, I am using Genesis framework and is thinking to replace Default WordPress Search with Google Custom Search. Do you know how to integrate Google Custom Search in Genesis 2.1 ??

    Have A Awesome Day !!
    Regards
    Deepak

    • Kevin Muldoon

      It’s not something I have tried yet. I was thinking of doing it on my own blog soon just to see if it does improve search results for my website.

      I imagine you would have to use a function in functions.php to modify the search form in some way. Though I’ll probably query this when I attempt it :)

  12. Hey Kevin thanks for a good read – I often see lists like this which improve WP search, but I rarely see anything which adds to the frontend UI (such as giving users filters to search within categories/taxonomies etc) – which obviously greatly improves WP searching in general for your users.

    I built one which I use on a number of sites which works great by allowing your users various parameters for searching your content – wordpress.org/plugins/search-filter – I actually use it in conjunction with Relevanssi to get all power included in search results.

    Regards
    Ross

  13. This is truly awesome to know I can actually replace my website searching bar. These are some great and exciting recommendations and I’m looking forward to adapt one of these options for website search bar. Thanks.

  14. Hey Kevin,
    Thanks for the kind words about Swiftype! We’ve had incredible feedback about our WordPress plugin, and we now have dedicated resources to help getting set up that you and your readers may be interested in!

    Some general information: https://swiftype.com/wordpress
    Tutorial with video: https://swiftype.com/documentation/tutorials/wordpress
    Relevant page on WordPress: http://wordpress.org/plugins/swiftype-search/

    Also, another note for your readers – we now have a Hobbyist plan starting at just $20 a month!

  15. Hi Guys,

    Great article. We use the WP post functionality to create password protected content and want to set up a search functionality that draws exclusively on tags that we’ve pre-populated. We would some level of predictivity and relevancy (i.e. display the relevant post, even if they don’t get the tag right). Our library is relatively small (250 posts) and we have some pretty deep insight on the relevant tags.

    So far from your list it looks Sphinx may be the only option, assuming we can configure it to only search tags (and remove the optionality to the user).

    Any guidance would be deeply appreciated.

    Kris

  16. Just what I was looking for – thank you for this – has helped me look good in the eyes of my client now I sorted out their very bad search results :)
    Used Dave’s search in the end. Nice plugin

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