Six Alternatives to WordPress Default Search Functionality

WordPress default search functionality is not the most efficient one. The search technology, in general, has made huge breakthroughs since nascent stages of the CMS. The current functionality may be satisfactory for 2003, but this is 2016.

There are many ways the default search can be improved and made more efficient. Often the default search does not yield the expected or relevant results. This is bad for user experience. Your site may have the greatest content, but when users find it difficult to navigate through that content, it does not matter. In addition to the inability to always come up with relevant results, there are a few more reasons you’d want to replace the default search.

WordPress keeps getting better and better, but the one feature that has always stood out like an outsider is the search feature.

Like always, to fix the problem, many WordPress plugins have been developed to offer better search alternatives. In this post, you will learn what’s wrong with the default WordPress search and several alternatives for it.

What’s Wrong With the Default Search Box?

The default search of WordPress has many flaws. It is very limited in its search capabilities; i.e. there are

  • No options to customize the search.
  • No way to exclude a few pages from search.
  • No way to filter results by post types, taxonomies, etc.
  • Cannot tolerate basic typos and there is no AJAX search functionality.
  • Other than that, it sorts search results by their date instead of relevance.

The most critical part of any search engine is its ranking part. On what basis is a page ranked and at what position it is, is important. That is what gives meaning to the search results. The more effective the ranking factors, the more useful search results should be. That is one of the major defects of the WordPress search. In default search, you cannot specify the ranking weight of the keyword depending on where it is found i.e. in the title, comments or post content.

In a nutshell, you have no control over the default search. If you want to make certain posts or pages unsearchable, you cannot. Because there is no option for that either. The default search is in dire need of an upgrade. Thankfully, you have alternate solutions to solve the problem.

Alternatives to WordPress Default Search

Search engines have been here since the beginning of the internet and are getting better every single day. Unfortunately, the default search functionality of WordPress can use a little help. Read on to learn more about several search alternatives to the native search.


searchwp plugin

SearchWP is the ultimate search solution for WordPress websites. It is one of the most effective search alternatives to the default search. It comes with a good deal of useful search features. Setting up the search criteria is an easy-peasy task.

  • Filter: You can include or exclude any post, page, post type, taxonomy or category from the search engine.
  • Extendable: It is a very extensive search solution and has many useful extensions. SearchWP also lets you define the ranking weight of keywords depending on where they are found i.e. in the post title, content, slug, excerpt, etc. SearchWP also gives you control over the indexing of PDF and text documents. Want more features? Check out the extensions.
  • Complete Replacement: It completely replaces the native search functionality with its out-of-the-box solution. There is BI required after you activate the plugin. Just activate the plugin, sit back and relax, the search index will be built behind the scenes. No need to keep browser windows or to manually update the index. Activate it and forget it, it magically taps into the native search and takes care of the results itself.

There is a free SearchWP version available named SearchWP Live Ajax Search. It enables Ajax powered live searches on the search form. It does require premium SearchWP but can utilize that if available.

Swiftype Search

swiftype search

Swiftype Search is a smart, fast and customizable search solution. It replaces the native search instantly to provide with a faster and more effective search functionality.

  • Enterprise Usage: It is a plugin used by many huge sites and is WordPress-VIP approved, which speaks volumes for its reputation. Not only does Swiftype Search is a great search alternative, but it also gives you a detailed analysis of what your users are searching for, which can be useful for optimizing future posts.
  • Cloud Based: It processes search queries directly through its cloud servers, making the results faster. This also diminishes the chances of your website getting bogged down due to too many searches.
  • Many More Features: Sometimes while the search results are satisfactory, you may want to be a little flexible. Fear not as Swiftype’s intuitive drag and drop feature lets you re-order the results to your preference.

You can even manually add missing pages to the results. Additionally, Swiftype Search has the autocomplete suggestions, which makes for impressive user experience.

Google Custom Search

wp google search

Google is the most popular and effective search engine in the world. It has trillions of pages which are indexed to the best of user’s interests. If there is a way to incorporate Google’s search functionality on your website, you should try.

  • Google Native Search: Like its original search engine, this plugin will display the most relevant, updated and quality pages in the right order.
  • Turns out, you can integrate Google search within your site. There is a Google service called Google Custom Search. It enables publishers and website owners to use Google’s world-class technology within their websites.

There are many features of Google Custom Search:

  • Customize the look, layout, and colors of the search.
  • Specify where you want the search results to be displayed.
  • Enable or disable image search.
  • Enable or disable voice search.
  • Display results from multiple websites.

Impressed already? Awesome! There are many more valuable features of Google search. You can even make money on your search engine! To use Google search on your website, install WP Google Search. You need to register on Google Custom Search to add and customize the search box. It is a cool alternative to the dull default search, isn’t it?


relevanssi plugin

Relevanssi is another popular search solution for WordPress users. I have many clients that especially like this plugin for the unique set of features it offers. Let’s take a look:

  • Relevant Results: Relevanssi improves your search results by sorting results by their relevance instead of their date. It also highlights the search query in post title and content. If the search query does not match the content exactly, partial query matches are displayed and highlighted.
  • Logic Operations: Find pages which match either one of the two queries using OR operator. This way, you can save time and search for multiple queries in one go. In addition to OR query, you can also search for multiple queries with the use of AND operator. These operators are logical in that they work exactly as they mean.
  • Pro Version: You can even restrict the search to categories and tags. You can also adjust weighting for titles, post content, and tags. Relevanssi comes in two flavors free and premium. Premium version guarantees support and is compatible with WordPress multisite.

With over 100,000 active installs and millions of downloads, Relevanssi is one very popular search alternative.

Better Search

better search plugin

Better Search replaces the standard WordPress search with a “better search.” This plugin works by sorting results in order of their relevance to the search query.

  • Tracking: It also displays tracks the queries and displays a search heatmap to demonstrate the most popular searches. If you want, you can use the shortcode [[bsearch_heatmap]] to showcase most popular searches for the day on your website.
  • Customization: There are various options to customize the search output. To fine-tune the search results, you can also customize the ranking weight of the title and content. Unlike default search, it goes the extra mile and lets you search by posts, pages as well as post types and taxonomies.
  • Integration: It integrates with WordPress themes seamlessly. As soon as it is activated, it automatically replaces the default search. You can also filter results as per a list of stop words, which will automatically be refined from the search queries.

Better Search is compatible with WP Super Cache, which helps with a faster user experience.

Search By Algolia

algolia wp plugin

Algolia — a company is known for its community contributions and Search SaaS platform has quite recently released a WordPress search plugin called Search by Algolia. This plugin is pretty incredible. I have tried it out, and it blew my mind away. I had written this article before this plugin was released, but I am adding it in here anyway.

While I need to use it a little more to form some kind of opinion about this plugin, I can tell you from the initial setup that it is pretty darn fast, incredibly relevant and there are raving reviews about it on the repository as well. It’s a bit hard to configure for less tech savvy users, but good folks at Algolia have created a guide to help beginners with the configuration.


Just like any popular software, WordPress is not perfect. One of the features that are the search functionality can be improved abundantly. Since many users use search to search the contents of a site, one of these plugins might help if you want to improve the WP search functionality.

What do you think about the default search box? From the list of plugins mentioned above, which one is your favorite? Tell me in the comments if I missed a plugin you like.

Finally, you can catch all of my articles on my profile page, and you can follow me or reach out at Twitter @mrahmadawais; to discuss this article. As usual, don’t hesitate to leave any questions or comments below, and I’ll aim to respond to each of them.


Ahmad Awais

Ahmad Awais

I am a senior Full Stack WordPress Developer, WP Core Contributor, Front-end Fanatic and an accidental writer. I love to write, talk, build, and share everything about WordPress. You can reach out to me at Twitter @MrAhmadAwais.

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1 thought on “Six Alternatives to WordPress Default Search Functionality”

  1. Thanks for the recommendations i agree the built in search really isn’t very good.

    I’d like to also recommend Ajax Search Pro from Codecanyon which has so many features and ways to customise the search and weight the results. We have used it a number of times for various sites, plus they offer great support.

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