5 Plugins to Save Your WordPress Search

Search hurts – if you don’t have it.

If your competitors have better search on their sites, you’re behind. Besides, competitors or not, a good search bar helps visitors find what they need.

WordPress does have a native search function. Although it’s not as bad as it once was, the default search isn’t exciting. There are several plugins that do it better, all while offering extra features bound to boost your site.

In this post, I’ll talk about why having a good search bar is a great thing for your site. Then I’ll look at five plugins that beat WordPress’s default search.

Why Search Matters

Search exists so that people who find your site can find what’s on your site. Visitors are always looking to navigate to content that interests them in as little time as possible. Search is one path leading to that goal – embrace it.

Subpar search scares visitors off. If someone lands on your site, glances around and stays interested, then you’ve already done a lot of hard work. But if that person goes to the search bar and punches in a query that returns nothing useful, then they’re likely to go away. And something else will go away, too: all your hard work.

Beyond the functional aspect of search, there exists a simple expectation that it will work well. We’re in the age of Google. Modern search is like a shiny sink with running water and adjustable temperature: we get what we want on demand, with little work.

The scenery is charming, really. But this isn't how I want to search a website.Bad search is like barking at visitors to snatch a leaky bucket, trudge a few miles south and fetch water from a muddy creek. It’s not what we’re used to. It shocks our expectations.

But enough negativity from me – at least for a few sentences, anyway! There’s a positive reason to get great search: analytics.

Search shouldn’t just sit there. You can observe it, analyze it, mold it. Search analytics – now a part of many WordPress search plugins – feed you data about what your users search for and what they do after results appear. You can harness the power of search analytics to keep people on your site and funnel them where you want them to go.

(To learn how you can effectively employ search analytics, see this article.)

Why WordPress Search Isn’t Ideal

Why am I ranting about how important good search is? Simple: WordPress’s default search isn’t that good.

It used to be far worse. For years, WordPress returned search results not by relevance, but by date. WordPress 3.7 patched that up.

But the default search is far from perfect. While it’s more advanced, the algorithm is still pretty simple. On top of that, you can’t index custom post types (for instance, a portfolio post type) for searching. It’s still rather “meh.”

Moreover, sticking with the default search denies you search analytics – that’s a bad deal. So what’s the alternative?

Plugins. You can even choose. 😉 I’ll now go over five plugins (in no special order) that will give you better onsite search.

1. Google Custom Search

googleI’ll get this one out of the way first, because I’m technically cheating – it’s not a plugin.

Google Custom Search isn’t limited to WordPress. It’s available to any website, but I want to include it because it’s a decent option. Besides, there are plugins that help you set it up.

Once you have Google Custom Search up and running (here’s an article explaining how to do exactly that), it works just like normal Google search. You get the same awesome search functionality, just for your site:

Here’s the big downside: you also get ads. To access more features and remove Google’s ads, you’ll have to pay $100 per year.

2. Relevanssi

relevanssi-logoRelevanssi, created by Mikko Saari, is the most popular and well-known WordPress search plugin. Its purpose is in the name: relevance.

Beyond returning results that actually matter, Relevanssi has a number of sweet features. Here are a few:

For search analytics, the plugin logs user queries. That’s useful information.

The free version of Relevanssi is fantastic (we’ve written about it before on the ManageWP blog). You can go premium for a one-time payment of $39.95. It nets you some cool extra features.

3. SearchWP

searchwpLet’s talk about pricing right away with this one – because you can’t get away from it. SearchWP doesn’t come for free: its premium version is its only version.

SearchWP, which was built by New York web developer Jonathan Christopher, touts itself as “the best WordPress search plugin.” While I’m not entirely convinced of that, many people are and they’re willing to pay $29 per year for it.

Why? SearchWP does have a phenomenal array of features:

4. yolink

yolinkLike every plugin we’ve looked at so far, yolink promises relevance in the results it spits back. It also boasts a few great features:

Here’s the downer: no search analytics. That disappointed me.

I’m inclined to say that yolink just doesn’t offer as many great features as the other plugins on this list. I’m hard-pressed to explain what yolink’s big advantage is. But maybe you disagree. Let me know in the comments at the end of the article!

5. Swiftype Search

swiftype-searchThis is an awesome plugin that a couple of helpful commenters suggested on my previous post. Swiftype Search runs on its own server, so it doesn’t slow your site down. That alone is pretty cool.

Here are some of the other features it offers, a few of which are unique:

Swiftype Search is powerful. It’s also pricey: there’s a free plan, but it places Swiftype Search branding on the search bar and results page. The pro plan costs $19 per month.

Conclusion

WordPress’s default search improved with WordPress 3.7, but it’s still not great – there are far better tools.

Autocomplete, fuzzy matching, advanced customization and – best of all – search analytics are all terrific tools. They’ll improve your search and thus improve your site.

These are all decent plugins – some of them are amazing. To see how relevant the results are for your own site, you’ll have to test them for yourself.

In the comments below, let us know how it goes! Other people would love to learn from your experiences.

Creative commons image by Brian Ironside

Andrew Urevig

Andrew loves words and WordPress. He is a freelance writer for hire who has also managed WordPress sites for an online newspaper, a not-for-profit organization, and two businesses.

24 Comments

  1. Jordan Resulta

    Thanks for the help!

  2. Sara Leonard

    Another great site search plugin to implement search functionality on a WordPress website is searchIQ (www.searchiq.xyz). It is easy to install, highly customizable and free to use. The plugin supports real-time indexing of website pages to deliver fast and accurate search results.

    Key Features: Phrase matching for highly relevant results, Real-time Indexing, Auto-complete results with toggle image option, Custom Fields Search, Synonym aliasing to handle inexact searches, Weight assignment on title, content, category, tags to prioritize the search results, Cross Domain Search functionality, Responsive search results across all devices, Real-time Analytics and View & download Weekly/Monthly reports.

  3. Augustin

    I am trying to add Google Search with the Plugin to my website. I got as far as the step where I am supposed to paste the search engine ID into the WP Google Search’s settings page. My settings page does not seem to have any place where I can do this. Can you tell me where the ID should be pasted and what it is called?
    Thanks.

    1. Nemanja Aleksic

      It’s possible that the plugin UI has changed. I recommend opening a support ticket on WordPress.org and asking the author for help.

  4. Austin

    Great list of search options. We’ve used Google Custom Search on a few of our sites with great results.

    There are a bunch of good frontend search options on WordPress, but our problem was not finding an option for backend searches – like when you’re trying to find a line of code, as an alternative to having to open each css file individually to find it.

    We couldn’t find a workable solution, so we built one! Our plugin has been helpful for speeding up editing, for those instances where you know the line of code, or snippet or string, but don’t know what file it’s hiding in. Now you can search all the Theme or Plugin files at once.

    If it sounds helpful, check it out: wpbackendfilesearch.com

  5. Mr. Tea

    Did anybody tested Advanced Custom Search? Seems interesting

  6. Dong Thanh Augustino

    Dear mate, thank for your post a lot! However, I have a question to you. I hope you could help me to find the good way to complete my website.

    Do you know any search plugin is able to save the keyword query to WordPress? I am developing a dictionary in WordPress. I would like to find a good plugin that when the user could not find their keywords in my side. Those keywords will be saved in WordPress then I will add the meaning for it.

    I am sorry that my English not good. Looking forward to hearing good news from you!

    Regards!

  7. Sai

    Hello Andrew,

    I’ve been looking for a plugin that has the ability to search inside the attachments (doc or pdf). Can you please let me know if you know one? The application I wish to develop in WordPress is a Contact Management System that has users with their CVs attached to the database and my search should retrieve results from those attachments as well, if relevant.

    Hope to hear from you soon. Thanks.

    Regards,
    Sai

  8. Ni Ky

    Great plugin for managing search and tracking search terms – searchmanagerwp dot com

  9. Vagabond-Labs

    Hello guys,

    I see you are looking for best search plugins eh? Well we just finished and released our plugin called Adminyo – Intelligent WP Admin and it features a quick search , that shows your results while you are typing. From there you can instantly go to edit or view page..or even pin the link to dashboard.
    It also includes other nice features that will help you work faster and easyer inside WP Admin.

    For more informations visit please http://codecanyon.net/item/adminyo-intelligent-wordpress-admin/14784440?s_rank=1

  10. Duane Reeve

    I’m busy looking for an improved search feature for a clients website which now exceeds 100-pages. This post has most definitely helped me find a few decent plugins to try. Thinking ‘of using Relevanssi, after reading your round-up.

  11. Alex

    Great article! I will try all of those plugins.

  12. Ned

    I’ve used all of these over the years on my employer’s website and each seems to have something it does really well, but none of them was ever a great fit. For a lot of the most common searches, we knew which content we wanted to show users, and improvements to the algorithm weren’t really solving the problem. Swiftype was the best for our use case, as we could pin items to the top for specific searches, but implementing it in any meaningful way outside of the live-search feature it offers on the default search box was a pain.

    We needed something that would let us do the following for specific search terms 1. pin results, 2. redirect to a specific page and bypass the search results if we wanted, and 3. make excluding content easy on both a per-post and taxonomy level.

    I ended up having one built to do what we wanted, and it’s now on the WordPress repository in case anybody else finds it useful: http://wordpress.org/plugins/curated-search/

  13. Fahad Rafiq

    Cloudways listed these 10 search plugins as a recommendation of WordPress:

    1. Relevanssi
    2. Search Everything
    3. Better Search
    4. Custom Search
    5. WordPress Sphinx Search Plugin
    6. Dave’s WordPress Live Search
    7. WooCommerce Predictive Search
    8. SearchWP
    9. Swiftype Search
    10. Yolink

    Details are here: http://www.cloudways.com/blog/best-wordpress-search-plugins/

  14. Paul

    Hi,

    I’m looking for a Search plugin that allows me to control what content I search through for each Search within my site. If I can explain…

    I have a site which will have many sub-sites.
    It will eventually be set up so that a user enters the site and then navigates to a specific sub-site based on where they are in the UK, eg. If they live in Bristol, they would go to the http://www.site.com/bristol pages and so on.
    In each of these ‘areas’ I need the Search within that area to only find results in pages that have been tagged with the ‘bristol’ ID, so a user can search for ‘plumber’ for example, within the Bristol pages, and only be returned plumber pages with the ID ‘bristol’.

    I need this to work for multiple areas such as Bristol, Reading, Swindon, London etc. So, effectively different searches in
    http://www.site.com/bristol/
    http://www.site.com/reading/
    http://www.site.com/swindon/
    http://www.site.com/london/
    etc

    Essentially I need a Search plugin that supports multiple Search forms, each of which is capable of searching a sub-set of my site pages for a particular string entered in that particular form.
    Hope this makes sense.

    Sorry, but I am really new to WordPress and I’m not sure if all the terminology I’ve used above is correct, but hopefully you can let me know of a plugin that you could recommend that may do this.
    I’m not having much luck finding one, as I’m not really sure how to try and search for the plugin I want (irony I suppose!)

    Many thanks,
    Paul.

  15. Smaat

    Good information to know and right to the point. Thanks for this well written post, i’ll follow up for more updates if you keep posting themSmaat India Pvt Ltd

  16. Atis

    Good “food for thought” as I haven’t seriously thought about search. Thanks!

    1. Andrew Urevig

      You’re welcome, Atis! It’s good stuff to think about.

  17. puurchoco

    I use this plugin;

    https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-ultimate-search/

    In my opinion it is decent and does the job and above all; free.

    Ever used it?

    1. Andrew Urevig

      Author

      I have not used it, but it looks like a neat plugin! It’ll be interesting to see if it grows to capture a bigger audience. And it can start right here: thanks for providing another great search suggestion!

  18. Jurij from Latvia

    A good search is one that is not hidden behind the “Menu” icon in the top right corner? 🙂

  19. Frank

    WordPress plugins are bits of software that can be uploaded to to extend and expand the functionality of your wordpress site.
    Thanks for sharing this post.

    1. Andrew Urevig

      My pleasure, Frank! Thanks for reading.

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