Better Search Solutions For WordPress

Authored By: James LePage
Published On: September 28, 2020

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If you're involved with a content site for WordPress, either building one or owning one, you probably know that the default WordPress search utility isn't the best. After completing several projects that had over 5,000 individual blog posts, we came to this conclusion as well.

To fix the rather clunky WordPress default search, we decided to take a look at some additional plugins that would extend the functionality, which would in turn lower bounce rates and result in a better user experience.  In this article we are going to be discussing plugins/tricks that we have used in the past to make the WordPress search a better experience.

What’s Wrong With The Default WordPress Search?

For some applications, the default WordPress search is fine. Simply enter a search term, and WordPress will query through all of your post, identifying keywords that match. It will then return this query as a collection of posts, styled in accordance to your theme.

The problem here is that the matching is very basic, meaning the relevancy of the content that the WordPress search returns can sometimes be lacking. 

If somebody is searching for something on your website, there's intent behind it. If you can connect that visitor with the right piece of content,  then chances are they will remain on your website. If your website generates Revenue through advertising or affiliate links, getting the WordPress search correct is incredibly important.

The default WordPress search results are sorted by the following points:

  • Full sentence matches in post titles.
  • All search terms in post titles.
  • Any search terms in post titles.
  • Full sentence matches in post content. 

Essentially, WordPress takes your search query, and at times to match it to terms that may or may not be relevant to the user. This is fairly basic, and implementing a better search solution for WordPress is typically a good idea, especially if your website is full of content. This is less important if you have a simple corporate website.

There are also several utilities that are missing from the default WordPress search interface. For example, most themes don't emphasize text,  by bolding or highlighting the excerpts for even the content within the post. There's also no easy way to track WordPress searches, which offer you valuable insight into what your visitors actually want to read.

On the other hand, the Google search engine uses machine-learning, complex billion-dollar algorithms, and more to effectively serve users relevant content that they actually want to read.  This is the gold standard, and many visitors come to expect at this level of relevancy, even if you're a simple WordPress website.

In summary, those are the main issues with the WordPress search. You'll definitely find limitations if you have a lot of content on a website, which is who this article is written for, but even if you have a basic corporate website, you may want to  consider upping your WordPress search game, as it will result in lower balance rates in happier visitors.

Also, keep in mind that most Page Builders and themes  are simply restyling the base WordPress search feature. For example, the Elementor Search widget looks a little different then the default WordPress Search widget,  but it is just restyled. The same is the case for Oxygen, Beaver Builder, and most WordPress themes.  That is why you need to look for plugins to add the needed features to your site. 

With that out of the way, let's discuss the various plugins and code Snippets that our agency has used in the past to effectively find and deliver content to visitors who are searching on our clients websites.

How We Bolster Search On Our WordPress Websites

When building our sites, we want to keep the search experience white label and within WordPress.  There's some third-party services that will catalog all the content on your website and offer a search experience, but it doesn't integrate well with WordPress, and visitors can tell that you're using a third-party service. For example, you can set up a Google custom search, but this is very 2010-esq,  and visitors overwhelmingly want a well done search implementation directly within the WordPress site.

With that in mind, we need to stick to WordPress plugins, or Code Snippets that will help us boost our site search.

After working with many websites that have a ton of content, we've narrowed down our plug-in selection, which we use to return more relevant search results for our visitors. There are also additional utilities like native search tracking, Ajax results loading, and more. 

Ivory Search

Our go-to search plugin is called Ivory Search,  and it comes as a free or paid version. We opted for the paid version, but most of the features that we will be discussing below ship for free on the WordPress Repository.

The plugin allows you to place a search bar anywhere with a shortcode, or PHP if you're a theme developer. You can control the visual styling of the search bar using CSS, or a built-in customizer interface. There's also Ajax loading of search results, so as you type in a query, results will display immediately. If you go through with a search, the results will be displayed on your website’s search archive template.

However, the most important thing for us is the relevancy of the search results. The Ajax search results really help lower bounce rates, but if a visitor is searching for a term and the results do not pertain to them, they will most likely leave your website.

The paid version of this tool includes several unique functionalities that help query more relevant search results for our users, specifically these two features:

  • Fuzzy Matching – search words in the posts that begins or ends with the search term.
  • Keyword Stemming – search base word of searched keyword.

Both of these drastically extend the search functionality on a WordPress website, and query more relevant results, meaning that visitors have less of a chance of leaving the site.

You can get a lifetime license for unlimited websites for only $189, which is what we're on.

Relevanssi Search

This search plugin was incorporated on some of our first WordPress projects, and we continue to use it to this very day. Ivory Search has its pros such as the Ajax Functionality, but Relevanssi focuses specifically on the relevancy of the results: 

  • Search results sorted in the order of relevance, not by date.
  • Fuzzy matching: match partial words, if complete words don’t match.
  • Find documents matching either just one search term (OR query) or require all words to appear (AND query).
  • Search for phrases with quotes, for example “search phrase”.
  • Create custom excerpts that show where the hit was made, with the search terms highlighted.
  • Highlight search terms in the documents when user clicks through search results.

All of these features working together lead to highly relevant search results, which is why our agency website uses this to power our search functionality. 

Like Ivory, This plug-in allows you to use a free version, and also has a lifetime unlimited version for $349 per year. While this is a bit more than Ivory,  the  search results are definitely more relevant, as that is what this plug-in is focused on doing.

If you're looking to bolster your WordPress search functionality, this plugin is as close as you're going to get to the gold standard of the Google search. It has tons of features it allowed to carry the most relevant results, and even indexes PDFs and additional documents.

Relevanssi also ships with unique functionalities like “did you mean/autosuggest”, and a related posts widget that is separate from the search, but uses the same backend code. 

SearchWP

Best WordPress Search Plugin - Instantly Improve WordPress Search

SearchWP does not directly display search results, it only provides new results for your theme to display. SearchWP does not modify your existing search results template in any way. Upon activating SearchWP, your search results will display in exactly the same way they did before activating SearchWP, but SearchWP tells WordPress which results to include.

We are currently integrating this search plugin into an ongoing project, so we can speak to the long-term viability of this solution, but from what we have experienced it looks to be working well. 

The main thing that drew us to testing out this plugin was the fact that there were advanced features that we could easily control from the back end which would allow us to query the most irrelevant search results for our users.

This is also a very highly recommended plug-in by several colleagues, as it integrates well with Advanced custom fields. Many of our sites use Advanced custom fields to populate pages with data that is unique to this site, snd many times, the base WordPress search functionality won't pick up any of the content in these fields.

Here's what the developers of this plug-in have to say about this: “When configuring SearchWP you’re able to pick and choose which sources you’d like to include in results. For each source you can determine not only which attributes to consider (e.g. Title, Content, Slug, Excerpt, Custom Fields, Taxonomies, Comments) you can also define how relevant each attribute is compared to the others.”

Conclusion

The base WordPress search isn't good for a Content website ( which is exactly what you're supposed to build with WordPress, blogging’s preeminent CMS).

To make up for this issue, there are a collection of plugins that we have used in the past to bolster the WordPress search and query more relevant results for our users.  We hope that this collection helps you make your WordPress search better and more relevant to your users, lowering bounce rates and increasing UX. As always if you have any questions reach out in the comments below.

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James LePage is the founder of Isotropic Design, a digital agency that builds WordPress websites. I read, write and design constantly!

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