We made a list of the best free WordPress plugins for improve native WordPress search function in an easy method and the best points of each plugin.
When creating your WordPress site, there are lots of things to consider, such as hosting, themes and widgets, but one of the most important things to think about is how to identify the best search plugin. In this article, I’ll be addressing this question: What are the best search plugins for WordPress?
You may ask yourself why search plugins deserve your time when WordPress comes with its own default site search engine. In a nutshell, there are two reasons: Better user experience and reduced bounce rates. The rationale goes a little like this:
Once a visitor has reached your website, it’s your responsibility to make sure they find your most important pages. The most obvious way of doing this is, of course, by listing key areas of your website in your main navigation menus.
This is great for helping people to find categories of content that are put into sections, but the content is so much more than that. It’s also important to give your audience a means of finding the specific types of content you offer that are relevant to them. This comes down to using tools such as categories, tags, archives, sitemaps, related posts and, of course, search.
To put it politely, the search isn’t something at which WordPress excels. Put in a search request, and the default WordPress search engine will frequently return irrelevant blog posts, and posts and pages that were published years ago. It neither allows visitors to narrow their search down to specific categories or keywords nor view highlighted terms in search results. Nor does it allow you to limit user searches to specific items, such as posts, pages, comments and/or custom post types.
This poor search functionality can increase bounce rates considerably among users who expect a better experience. This is why it’s common for WordPress users to improve the default WordPress search engine or replace it altogether with something better — meaning you’ll need to address the issue of search plugins if giving your audience a better experience is important to you.
So, let’s take a look at five of the very best plugins (both free and premium) for improving or replacing the default WordPress search engine.
Plugins for Improve WordPress Search Functionality
Touted by many as the best search solution for WordPress, SearchWP is a premium search WordPress plugin that has great support for taxonomies, custom post types, and custom fields.
It allows you to determine how much weight each content type receives when a search is performed. For example, you can add more weight to an article’s title and page slug so that searches containing those terms will be positioned higher in search results. Pages can also be excluded from searches by specifying post IDs or by specifying tags and categories.
One of the most interesting things about the plugin is its option to create supplemental search engines that only search a particular part of your website. SearchWP also boasts statistics, WordPress multi-site support, and a range of extensions that add additional functionality. What’s more, the thing that really excites me about SearchWP is its ability to index text content from PDF files uploaded to your website.
A license for SearchWP retails at $49 for one website, $129 for five websites, and $249 for unlimited websites. All licenses come with one year’s support, and updates and access to all SearchWP extensions.
Relevanssi is a popular search plugin that sorts search results by relevance, not date. The plugin lets you define the weight of factors such as post titles, which helps you define what is important in search results.
Relevanssi lets visitors search through comments, tags, categories, and custom fields. Users can also restrict searches to categories and tags, and use advanced filtering to help adjust search results to suit their needs. The plugin also allows content contained within plugin shortcodes to be indexed — something other search plugins don’t offer.
Relevanssi is free to download, however, there’s also a premium version available that has many added features and guarantees support from the developers (to their credit, the developers of Relevanssi do try to support free users too). Premium features include user profile indexing, highlighting search terms from external search engines for visitors, and export/import functionality to help you transfer settings to other websites you own.
A standard Relevanssi license — which is suitable for small businesses — retails for $39.95. Large businesses and companies that design websites for clients are encouraged to purchase a developer license for $69.95. Both licenses allow use on an unlimited number of websites and include one year of support and upgrades.
Custom Google Search
Google’s Custom Google Search tool allows website owners to add a Google-powered search engine to their website. Search results are obviously narrowed down to results from your website.
There are a number of different WordPress plugins that allow you to use this tool, but I believe the Custom Google Search plugin by WPMU Dev is the best of the bunch. To use the plugin, you must first create a Custom Google Search engine at Google and then add the code you receive to the settings area of the WPMU Dev plugin.
The WPMU Dev plugin enhances the Custom Google Search tool in a number of ways. It lets you change styling, determine where search results are displayed, and hide the search button. It also comes with a useful search widget so that Google’s search functionality seamlessly integrates with your website design.
The plugin is available from WPMU Dev for $19. WPMU Dev’s membership plans, which are available for an effective rate of $24.50 per month, grant access to this plugin and more than 350 other WordPress plugins.
Custom Google Search is by no means the best search solution for WordPress since it relies on the content indexed by Google and not the content contained within your database. As such, it cannot enhance search in the same way that plugins such as SearchWP and Relevanssi can. However, the ability to earn additional money through Google Adsense is an enticing feature, particularly if you have a high-traffic website.
Dave’s WordPress Live Search
Developed by David Michael Ross, Dave’s WordPress Live Search adds ‘live search’ functionality to your WordPress website (you’ll have seen this used on search engines such as Google and Bing to autocomplete a search term).
The plugin lets you define the number of search results that are displayed and the minimum number of characters that need to be entered before the live search is activated. Once a person has entered the minimum number of characters you defined, a results box will appear. This box can display information from results including metadata, post thumbnails, post excerpts, and a ‘view more results’ link.
Gray, red, and blue colour schemes are included with the plugin, and you can also customize the output by creating a stylesheet named Daves-WordPress-live-search.css, or simply use the default styling your theme provides.
While Dave’s WordPress Live Search doesn’t improve the default WordPress search engine, it does enhance the user experience as users can go directly to the page they want without having to visit a search results page.
Swiftype Search is a beautiful search solution that’s used by many high-traffic websites, but, to use the plugin, you’ll need to sign up for a free account to acquire an API key. (Disclaimer: I’m generally not a fan of WordPress plugins that are not useable unless you sign up to a third-party service.)
Swiftype helps you show more relevant search results by allowing you to customize their order using drag and drop. This is a useful way of placing your most important content and pages at the top of results, and additional results can be added manually. Autocomplete (aka ‘live search’) is available, too, and there are filters to help users refine results.
As you’d expect, the free membership plan for Swiftype is limited: It adds Swiftype branding to your searches, limits search result customizations to 50, limits content updates, and only allows use on one website.
If you want access to all available Swiftype Search features, you need to upgrade to a premium plan. Upgrading to the pro plan at $19 per month allows you to remove the branding, search across multiple domains, and grants access to daily content updates and search analytics that help you track what’s being searched.
The business plan retails at $249 per month and offers real-time search analytics, recommendations, conversion tracking, spelling and synonyms, multiple search engine support, and more. A feature-packed enterprise solution is also available for large companies; this level of solution adds features such as real-time indexing.
Search is important for providing a better user experience and keeping visitors on your website longer. If a visitor can’t find the page they’re searching for, they’ll very likely hit the back button and leave your website. It seems silly to let that happen when there are so many good alternative search solutions available for WordPress that’ll deliver results to keep your audience happy.
When it comes to how much you’re willing or able to spend for this better user experience, some people will still want to avoid laying down cash. If you’re looking for a good free solution, I recommend Relevanssi — I’ve used it with websites of my own in the past, and I’ve been very happy with the functionality it adds. Additionally, Swiftype Search is worth checking out too, if you’d like to manually change search results.
If you like the idea of making money from people who use search on your website, integrating Google’s search functionality into your website using a plugin such as Custom Google Search is your only option. It could add a few hundred dollars to your bottom line every year if you choose to monetize Custom Google Search — and maybe even thousands if you have a high-traffic website.
On the premium side, I feel that SearchWP is about the best overall solution: It integrates well with other WordPress products, is particularly easy to set up, has great support for custom post types, and gives you complete control over how search results are determined. I also love the fact that content from PDF files can be indexed.