Those of you who have been using WordPress for some time now know that its default search engine just doesn’t cut it once you have a few hundred articles posted on your site. One of the best ways to improve the user experience is to help your regular visitors find what they’re looking for as easily and quickly as possible.
Thankfully, there are several search plugins out there that will boost your site’s search experience and throw in some extra perks along the way. In this article, we’ll put some of the best search plugins for WordPress through their paces to help you make an informed decision when it comes upgrading your site’s search module.
Let’s put all of this into context before we dive into the list of plugins.
What’s Wrong With WordPress’ Default Search?
The default search engine integrated with WordPress is far from ideal. It has undergone significant changes over the years, but it still doesn’t provide the premium search functionality most users expect.
WordPress’ default search implements a simple searching algorithm which is known to display irrelevant results every now and then. Furthermore, it doesn’t allow users to limit searches to pre-specified items and it doesn’t excel at listing results by relevance to the search query that was entered by the user.
In the age of Google and being able to search the internet for information on any topic and nearly always finding what we are looking for, your website visitors are probably expecting the same sort of experience when searching your website. So why disappoint them?
Benefits of Enhanced Search
Search is one of the primary modules that should work flawlessly on every site. Think of it this way: if your visitors can’t find what they’re looking for on your site, is there a point of putting years of effort into creating content for them?
A subpar search module flushes all your (and your team member’s) hard work down the drain almost instantly. A well-implemented search module can:
- Reduce your site’s bounce rate.
- Improve user experience.
- Help visitors find relevant content easily.
- Save visitors from manually going through the archives.
Let’s go through some features that a good search plugin has for those of you who have been using the default search on WordPress up till now.
Features To Look For In a Search Plugin
Everyone has their own evaluation criteria for determining the best plugins in any category. When it comes to search plugins, some of the features you should look for in a good site search plugin are:
- Easy to install and setup
- Display search results based on both relevance and date
- Support for Boolean expression based search
- Searches everything from pages and posts to categories and custom fields
- Perform a dynamic search (using Ajax technology) to prevent having to refresh the page
- Options to exclude certain content from search results and assign weights to fresh content
Now that we’ve established the fact that replacing the default WordPress search plays a crucial part in improving user experience and set an evaluation criteria, let’s take a look at some of the best search plugins for your WordPress site.
The Best Search Plugins for WordPress
Replacing the default WordPress search with a plugin will do wonders for your site’s usability. It will enable visitors to find exactly what they’re looking for in a timely fashion and prevent them from leaving your site because it was simply too difficult to find what they are looking for.
Our list is by no means exhaustive and there are a ton of search plugins out there with outstanding functionality. For the purpose of this post, we’ve narrowed it down to six.
Let’s get on with the plugins.
Relevanssi is one of the most popular and robust search plugins for WordPress. It replaces the default search with partial-match search and sorts results by relevance (and that’s how Relevanssi got its name).
The plugin’s search engine implements the fuzzy search algorithm and offers a better presentation of search results. Its fuzzy search feature sets it apart from other search plugins. Basically, if a user searches for “cat” results for “catapult” will also be displayed. And now you’re thinking of a catapulting cat.
Another standout feature that Relevanssi offers is that it lets you search with Boolean expressions (does Google search ring a bell?)This feature lets you add Boolean expressions such as AND and OR to narrow down the results. For example, if you were looking for this section in a site, you would type “search plugins AND Relevanssi” in the search box.
Here’s a list of some of the powerful features it offers:
- Implements fuzzy matching algorithm to display partially matched words
- Search results displayed in order of relevance
- Results that highlight the searched word or phrase
- Results that match keywords in comments, tags, categories and custom fields
Relevanssi offers a premium version with three pricing plans to pick from:
- Standard License for $49.95
- Developer License for $79.95
- Permanent License for $219.00
In the premium version, you get all of the features listed above plus some advanced features including:
- Support for Multisite WordPress installations
- Search and index user profiles, taxonomy term pages and arbitrary columns in wp_posts MySQL table
- Weights for post types and taxonomies and extra weight to new posts
- Highlight searched keywords for visitors from external search engines
You’ll find much praise of Relevanssi’s search experience across the WordPress community and its 80,000+ active installs with ~100 5-star reviews speak for themselves.
SearchWP is another popular upgrade for your WordPress website and it’s been my plugin of choice for improving the search capabilities of my own blog. If you are looking for a premium option or want the best of the best then SearchWP is hard to ignore.
However, that’s not to say it’s the right choice for everyone. For starters, this is a commercial-only plugin. There is no free option available.
After activating the SearchWP plugin on your site, the existing search boxes of your theme will continue to work. Only now they will return improved results. This helps your visitors to find more of the content they are looking for. Depending on how you’ve configured SearchWP, this could include posts, pages, items from the media library, and even products from your online shop.
There are a number of optional extensions available for SearchWP, which you get access to once you’ve purchased any of the licenses for this plugin. This is great on two counts. Firstly, you don’t have to purchase extra features after you’ve made the initial payment. Secondly, you need only install the extensions you plan on using, keeping the plugin as lightweight as possible.
Some examples of the optional extensions include bbPress and WooCommerce integration, live search, search term highlighting, fuzzy matching, and manual synonym definitions.
Setting up SearchWP really is like the sales copy claims and does instantly improve the site search capabilities of your WordPress site. Through the plugin dashboard, you can choose which content from your site to include in the index and display in the search results. This covers everything from posts, pages, and media, through to slugs and custom fields. You’re also able to easily give each item a custom weighting to determine how the search results are calculated.
From the dashboard, you can also quickly see the search stats for your site. This includes the keywords your visitors have been searching for, which can be a great source of inspiration for new blogs post topics.
With an affordable unlimited developer plan available, if you’re creating WordPress sites for clients, installing SearchWP is an easy way to avoid being inundated with queries about why the search functionality of a site you’ve developed isn’t working as expected.
Notable features of SearchWP include:
- Instant integration with your site
- Keyword stemming
- PDF document indexing
- Fine-grained control over the search algorithm
- Exclude or attribute results
- Multisite support
When it comes to pricing, SearchWP is available on the following plans:
- Single: $49 (use on 1 site)
- Business: $129 (use on 5 sites)
- Developer: $249 (use on unlimited sites)
SearchWP is a feature packed commercial plugin that you can have up and running on your site in just a few clicks. If you need your site search upgraded today, you can’t go wrong with SearchWP.
If you’re looking for a premium search experience for a reasonable price then Ajax Search Pro for WordPress is the logical “go-to” option. Most of you are familiar with Ajax technology but for those who aren’t let me refresh it for you. Ajax performs tasks (in this case searching) dynamically without having to refresh or reload the page.
In order to avoid a flat search experience, the developers behind Ajax Search Pro for WordPress designed search results to be presented along with featured images to make it visually appealing. The plugin offers a fully configurable relevance search for developers to fine-tune it and full-text search for database experts using MyIsam engine.
Ajax Search Pro for WordPress is one of the most customizable search plugins out there in terms of displaying search results. It features four built-in layouts with over 60 pre-defined themes for each.
Here’s a quick list of some additional features that Ajax Search Pro for WordPress provides:
- Google keyword suggestions and autocomplete.
- Google Analytics integration to enable phrases to show up as pageviews.
- Built-in caching to reduce database queries and increase search performance.
- Adjustable search logic and smart image parsing.
Personally, I found the demo to be quite enticing and agreed that it was fairly priced at $26.
Dave’s WordPress Live Search is another popular free search plugin for WordPress. As the name implies, as well as being written by Dave, it provides a live search experience which means that search results are displayed instantaneously as users type in their queries.
Live search saves users from the two-click search process in which they have to wait for results to load after submitting the search query. Another benefit of this search is that users can view other posts that contain the same keywords which, in most cases, leads them to check out more than one post on your site.
Let’s look at the features Dave’s WordPress Live Search has on offer:
- Performs live searches on all search queries.
- Compatible with xLanguage and WPML plugins for a multilingual search experience.
This plugin looks like a solid choice for anyone who wants to add live search to their site for free.
Better Search is a free, lightweight plugin that replaces WordPress’ default search with a powerful search engine that provides contextual results sorted in order of relevance. The plugin searches the titles and content of pages, posts and custom post types.
Users can improve search results by assigning a greater weight to either the title or content and then customize the output. One of Better Search’s standout features is that it creates a “search heat map” to display your site’s most popular searches. You can add the “search heat map” to the footer or sidebar in your theme.
Here’s a list of some other features offered by Better Search:
- Search results are automatically sorted by relevance
- Options to enable/disable Boolean search
- Highlights search keywords and phrases in the results
- Add a list of stop words to implement a profanity filter
Better Search has over 5,000 downloads and is one of the better search plugins available for free. Anyone who wants to add powerful search functionality without spending a dime should consider this plugin.
Jetpack’s Omnisearch provides search functionality locally on your site and from select providers on the web. Although you can’t add it to your site’s frontend, it’s worth mentioning in this list if you’d like to add backend searching to your site.
Omnisearch works right out of the box once you’ve added Jetpack to your WordPress install. The search field on the Admin Bar will filter results from the site’s backend only.
The internal search engine functionality provided by Omnisearch enables webmasters to locate anything on their site, whether it’s a plugin, a theme or an image in your media library, using a single search box.
Here’s a list of features that you can leverage after activating Omnisearch:
- A one-stop search shop for your WordPress site’s backend
- Single search box for local searches
- Searches plugins, themes, media, posts, pages, comments, and feedback
Improving your site’s frontend search experience is important but that doesn’t mean you should neglect the backend search altogether. Jetpack’s Omnisearch is an elegant backend searching solution for WordPress and developers can extend its functionality easily, for example, to add a results section.
By now you know the importance of a well-functioning search module and some of the best alternatives to the default WordPress search tool.
Installing a plugin to enhance your site’s search capabilities and improve the overall search experience for visitors is vital. A high-performance search module will not only reduce your site’s bounce rate, but it will dramatically improve user experience and make your site a more useful resource.
Deciding which search plugin is the best choice for you will depend on the size of your site, which functionality is most important to you, and how much you’re willing to spend to get it.
Which search plugins do you use and which features are most important to you? Have you tried out any of the plugins on our list? Let us know in the comments section below.
Article thumbnail image by Tarchyshnik Andrei / shutterstock.com