For anyone with a solid number of posts published on a WordPress website, finding old content will be frustrating.
If it is frustrating for administrators to find, what chance do your site user’s have? Not a lot.
The core WordPress search function sucks. Results are rarely the most relevant, and it cannot be customized easily without search plugins.
How you customize your WordPress search depends on what your site has for users. Content to read, recipes to try, or products to buy.
The best WordPress search plugins
WP Search plugins are available for all types of search functions. Ajax search (live) results, facet search, and alternative search engines.
Some of the best search plugins for WP include:
- Ivory Search
- Voice Search
- WP Extended Search
- Search and Filter
- Better Search
The Types of Search Plugins for WordPress
Ajax Live Search
Ajax Live Search is a powerful feature for WordPress. It runs the search query as users type, displaying live results based on the first letters of an initial search.
This is similar to Google Autocomplete, but not quite the same.
The difference with using Live Search on your WordPress website is that you can only display live results based on what is stored on your database.
Faceted Search is better suited to websites with lots of categories.
The intent is to make it easy for users to filter down their search results, rather than rely on database queries alone.
Instead of the traditional search bar, faceted search places facets (such as product categories) as interactive elements on a web page. It is similar to how the WordPress categories widget displays blog categories.
The broadest example of faceted search is Amazon and eBay. The initial search is broad, then users can search by facets, which are essentially related categories to the broader search queries.
The intent is to simplify narrowing down searches.
The narrower the search becomes, the more precise the search results. Stores like Amazon and eBay would not be where they are today if it were not for a faceted search!
These could be brand names, product categories, or in the case of clothing stores, a paginated faceted search could be used to display sizes of clothes or footwear.
Replace the WordPress search algorithm
Algorithmic types of plugins focus on improving relevancy. This is where WordPress sucks as the core search function rarely pulls up relevant results.
It has been improved, but not in a while, and not by much.
Before 2013, search results were based on the most recent content. Now, it is based on exact, full, or partial matches only in the post title, followed by “full sentence matches in post content”.
The best search algorithm plugins will let you set parameters like custom taxonomies, post types, attachments, and whether to use exact match, fuzzy match (partial keyword matches in full sentences) or to extend the search query to the content rather than limit the search to post title and excerpts.
The 9 best search plugins for WordPress
1. SearchWP (Premium)
SearchWP completely overrides the WordPress native search functionality.
Once your content is indexed, you can set up multiple search engines, each with custom weighting, and exclusions.
This is handy for the likes of excluding outdated content from your blog, yet having a separate search engine powering your main website or store.
The plugin makes it easy to index custom fields, taxonomies, eCommerce product titles and descriptions, tables, shortcodes, PDF uploads, MS Office files, or other Rich Text uploads.
With such a vast amount of searchability added, it makes it super effective for users to find what they need faster.
What this really does is adds the ability to control your website’s search algorithm without needing to code anything.
And you can have more than one search engine.
As an example, you could have the blog page search engine apply the most weight to post titles, but on a WooCommerce search engine, apply the highest relevancy to a product title.
Naturally, on a store search, you would want products shown in search results for people to buy rather than content they can read.
Another perk is search analytics. When you can see what users are searching for and the results they are shown, you can plan your content better, or improve your product descriptions.
This is a premium-only WordPress plugin available at SearchWP.com.
2. Ivory Search (Free or Premium)
Ivory Search has a free version and a premium version.
For blogs, the free version offers plenty of customization. For stores, it is likely an upgrade will be required to enable integration.
The Ivory Search plugin works independently of themes and the search widget by using custom shortcodes.
Regardless of your theme, you can add a search bar to the header, footer, sidebar, or within a page by adding the shortcode.
On the free plan, there are plenty of customizations that can be done.
A neat feature is the ability to create multiple search forms, each programmed to show different results.
As an example, the default search can be configured to search the entire database.
But, if you have a member-only section, you can create a custom search form to only show password-protected pages.
The free version is feature-rich and you can create unlimited search forms.
Advanced features such as searching WooCommerce SKUs and excluding out of stock content require a premium plan.
3. Voice Search by Pascal Birchler (Free)
The Voice Search plugin modifies the core WordPress search feature by integrating the Web Speech API.
It only works on browsers that support speech-to-text recognition. Currently, that is Chrome and Safari.
As the plugin hooks into the WordPress core to change the search, it will not work with external search providers, such as if you have the SearchWP plugin or Relevanssi search activated.
Those search services replace the core WP search functionality.
The Voice Search plugin adds a microphone symbol to your search bar.
Users can click or tap the microphone icon, then they are prompted to “Start Talking”.
Instead of typing to search, users can speak to your website. The plugin will convert speech to text, then load the results.
This does not add any advanced features to WordPress search. It is still the WP core search function that loads the results.
For more advanced voice search functionality to integrate with WooCommerce, consider the “Universal Voice Search” plugin by “Speak2Web.com”.
It adds the same functionality but offers a premium version for “Voice Shopping”, which is like a Virtual Assistant for stores on WordPress.
4. WP Extended Search (Free)
The WordPress Extended Search plugin is a terrific plugin to make your PDF files searchable.
There are plenty of other customizations that can be done, such as limiting posts by date, searching by author name, and you can have more than one search engine.
As an example, if you wanted to exclude PDF from blog search, create a search form for posts only, then on a white paper page (as an example), include a search form that only searches PDF media attachments.
It is free, so do not expect ingenuity such as OCR (Optical Character Recognition) that can scan, extract, and index the contents of your PDF attachments.
What this plugin instead does is extends the standard WordPress search functionality to include your media attachments. These are not searchable by default.
With the WP Extended Search plugin installed, activated, and configured to include the media attachments, the media title field becomes discoverable by the WordPress search.
It should be noted that this only indexes the title field. At the database level, the query that is being added to the search is to index the “attachment” post type.
This will not extract the content within a PDF.
If you want the contents of your PDF attachments to be discoverable, you need OCR (optical character recognition) software.
One service that offers that type of service as a WordPress plugin is Relevanssi.
5. Relevanssi (Free or premium)
Relevanssi has the tagline “A Better Search”. Whether it is or not depends on your hosting provider as it is a resource-heavy plugin.
This is not lightweight.
The recommendation to determine suitability for your site is to “multiply the size of your wp_posts database table by three”.
You can view your database size within your WordPress admin panel.
Go to the “Tools” menu on the left sidebar, select “Site Health”.
Click the “Info” tab, then click the “Directories and Sizes” tab.
The database size is the figure recommended to multiply by 3.
Provided your site can handle the plugin, the advanced search features opens a world of possibilities.
Once installed and activated, you can set your search options to show partial keyword matching, an exact phrase match only, and enable suggestions (”Did you mean” results) similar to Google suggest.
Additionally, Relevanssi search can be configured to search comments, tags, categories, custom taxonomies and custom fields and is compatible with ACF (Advanced Custom Fields) plugin.
An additional benefit is the ability to log user queries.
These user logs can be beneficial for keyword research and content marketing. When you know what people are not finding on your website, you can create the content to match what your users want to find.
The core Relevanssi search plugin is free. The premium version adds more functions, such as PDF indexing.
This uses OCR technology to scan, extract, and index the text content in PDFs (not images).
FiboSearch is a specific search tool for WooCommerce stores on WordPress.
The plugin was formerly called Ajax Search for WooCommerce.
The new name is part of a rebranding campaign to separate it from many competing Ajax search plugins listed on WP.org.
FiboSearch is currently active on over 100,000 websites with WooCommerce stores.
In the simplest terms of what it does, it adds a live product search to the store. This differs dramatically from the WordPress native search.
The search results are solely based on the product categories and taxonomies set within WooCommerce.
A distinct feature is the scalability of the inverted index database structure the plugin uses.
The speed of search remains lightning-fast, regardless if the store has hundreds of products or thousands.
The free plan guarantees fast live search results for up to 100 products.
Beyond that, a premium license would guarantee the search speed would be 0.2 seconds max per request.
Additionally, the search engine on premium plans can be customized to use fuzzy search and programmed to show synonyms.
7. Search and Filter
Search and Filter takes your WordPress native search to another level by adding a faceted search feature.
The plugin is compatible with WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads, and WP eCommerce.
Faceted search filters can be displayed as dropdown menus, list items with radio buttons or checkboxes, and it supports multiple selections.
As an example of a multichoice facet search, a pet website could have a paginated facet search to show pet accessories > Dogs > Collars. Or Pet accessories > Cats > Collars.
The filters would result in the correct category of products showing. And the same can be set for multiple custom post types.
The nitty-gritty of it is that there are no point-and-click options. Everything is controlled by shortcodes. Like
[searchandfilter fields="search,category,post_tag" types=",checkbox,checkbox" headings=",Categories,Tags"]
Customizing the search settings can get fiddly.
FacetWP.com is a long-established plugin for all types of websites built on WordPress.
It supports every custom post type and integrates with most page builders and themes.
It is possible to integrate this with a search engine from SearchWP, completely eradicating the native WordPress search feature.
The plugin uses AJAX so the search results are dynamic. Updates show on the page in real-time. No page reloading will be required for results to update.
The entire search is interactive, which should help improve your user’s time spent on site.
Beyond the nine basic facet types, such as radio buttons, checkboxes, sliders, dropdown menus, etc. there are a number of add-ons such as a maps UI that can let users filter search options by region.
FacetWP is only available as a premium plugin. The price is quite steep, but it can be worth it if your site really needs advanced search functionality.
Like, you have hundreds of products for sale or have a food blog with thousands or recipes catering to numerous diets.
The advanced faceted search could be set up to show recipes based on diets that users are interested in. As an example, keto diet recipes may only show posts within the keto category.
That would be handy to make sure users are shown alternative recipes that are within the same diet they are using, rather than having to return to Google to search for food alternatives to tweak a recipe.
As with all search plugins for WordPress though, the results are only as good as the data you put into it. Time will need to be spent optimizing your content to make sure everything is indexed properly for the FacetWP search engine to find and load the most relevant results.
9. Better Search
The Better Search plugin is free to use, and it replaces the native WordPress search engine.
Just installing and activating will yield more relevant results. This is because it searches with FULLTEXT on the mySQL database, which is where all your WordPress pages and posts are stored.
You can disable “mySQL FULLTEXT searching”, but doing that will defeat the purpose of replacing the WordPress search.
Without searching the FULLTEXT of content stored in the database, it will only search posts and page titles.
Within the settings, it can be configured to index all post types including products for WooCommerce stores.
Some of the more powerful search features are the ability to switch on a BOOLEAN search mode, which lets users input search operators like +, -, () parentheses, or search in quotes “” for exact match results.
Weighting can be changed to apply more relevancy to post content than titles, or vice versa, and the search can extend to include:
- post excerpts
- meta descriptions
- and password-protected pages
Search results can show the keywords highlighted, and if you do choose to include the comments in the search, there is a filter option pre-loaded with banned words to exclude profanity.
You can add any words to the ban list. This could be handy if you were promoting content in the past, had a bad experience and now want to limit your exposure to a certain brand name.
Adding a brand name to a banned list would automatically block all the content relating to that brand from showing in the search results.
Overall, for a free plugin, Better Search adds some powerful features. It is a vast improvement over the native WordPress search functionality.
As you can clearly see, extending the search function on your WordPress with one of these awesome plugins is definitely an easy feat.
Having awesome plugins for just about anything is definitely one of the big pros of using WordPress! I love it!
Hey guys! It’s me, Marcel, aka Maschi. On MaschiTuts, it’s all about tutorials! No matter the topic of the article, the goal always remains the same: Providing you guys with the most in-depth and helpful tutorials!