How To: Improve the WordPress Search – 7 Completely Free Tools & Plugins
For years now it’s been said the web over that the default search feature for WordPress is…well, pretty awful. Not only does it sort by date instead of relevancy but it also ignores categories, tags, custom post types and comments when returning results.
A common experience for a person searching for content on your WordPress website would be a (sometimes severe) lack of search results returned followed by “digging” through whatever does show up from the newest content to the oldest content before arriving at what might be the most relevant post to your query.
Like I said, pretty awful.
Thankfully there are several tools and services available to help remedy this problem. In today’s post I’ll be providing a brief description/overview of each option and making a recommendation at the end as to which tool(s) provide the optimum solution.
As its name would suggest the Relevanssi plugin puts priority on relevancy when returning search results. It’s also highly configurable with a lot of nice features and options targeted at providing better search results and search experience.
It’s key features are:
- 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.
- Search comments, tags, categories and custom fields.
Search Everything boasts that it also increases WordPress’ default search functionality but instead of being highly configurable it only takes three steps: Activate > Select Basic Options > Enjoy.
Here’s What Search Everything Does:
- Search Highlighting
- Search Every Page
- Search Every Tag
- Search Custom Taxonomies (new)
- Search Every Category
- Search non-password protected pages only
- Search Every Comment
- Search only approved comments
- Search Every Draft
- Search Every Excerpt
- Search Every Attachment (post type)
- Search Every Custom Field (metadata)
- Exclude Posts from search
- Exclude Categories from search
Better Search replaces the default WordPress search engine with a more powerful search engine that gives search results relevant to the title and content of the post. This means that visitors to your blog will find will find what they are looking for quicker than if you didn’t have Better Search installed.
Better Search Features:
- Automatic: Once activated, Better Search will automatic replace your default WordPress search with more relevant search results.
- Relevance: Search results sorted by relevance automatically sorted by relevance. You can also turn off relevancy based searching, in which results are sorted by date.
- Control the results: Fine tune results by changing the weighting of post title and post content. Turn on BOOLEAN search to override the default NATURAL LANGUAGE search of mySQL.
- Popular searches: Find out what visitors are searching for on your blog. Display a list of popular search terms (daily and overall) on your blog in the form of a heatmap. Widget support for easy integration in your theme.
- Customisation: Support for a template file for perfect integration into your blog template. Alternatively, just input your own CSS styles in the Custom Styles tab in the Settings Page. Check the FAQ for more information.
- Supports cache plugins: Works with caching plugins like WP-Super-Cache and W3 Total Cache.
Lift: Search for WordPress + Amazon CloudSearch
Lift: Search for WordPress is a free plugin that leverages the power of Amazon CloudSearch to improve your WordPress-powered site’s search experience. It does this by focusing on relevancy over dates, taking metadata into account, searching custom post types and much more. Obviously this route does require that you have an Amazon CloudSearch account.
Full Details & Free Download of Lift: Search for WordPress
WP Custom Google Search
There’s actually not a lot to tell you about this plugin. It’s Google Search made easy for your WordPress website. I’m sure everyone is familiar with Google.
There are a few drawbacks though. The main one being that unless you spring for a premium package with Google then your search results will have ads in them. If you don’t mind that though then this is a viable option. And of course you can always sign up for a paid plan with Google for ads free results.
The Swiftype Search plugin replaces the standard WordPress search with a better, more relevant search engine. It also gives you detailed insight into what your users are searching for, so you know which keywords to target when customizing your search engine results.
The base ranking algorithm is based on industry best-practices and provides more relevant results by default, but it also allows for any result set to be fully customized via the drag-and-drop interface for result reordering. To make customizations you simply create a Swiftype account and install the Swiftype Search plugin. You can then login to your Swiftype dashboard to customize results and read through detailed search analytics.
Swiftype Features & Customization Options:
- earch runs on our powerful servers – it doesn’t bog down your site, even if you have hundreds of thousands of posts.
- Works with your theme’s search.php template – drop in Swiftype and it just works.
- Fast typeahead autocomplete based on titles, tags, and author names.
- Search results automatically update when you save or delete content.
- Re-order search results with drag-and-drop from your Swiftype Dashboard.
- Impactful search analytics help you understand your users.
- Modify what types of posts, categories are searched by adding a hook.
Ok, so those are the options available. Which service should you use?
For most cases I would recommend a combination of Relevanssi and Dave’s WordPress Live Search. Relevanssi provides more powerful search features and more control over how you use them than any of the other free options listed. Combined with Dave’s WordPress Live Search you get the most relevant search and best search experience possible using free plugins.
On the other hand Google Search is always a solid option. If you’d like to avoid installing another plugin and it doesn’t bother you that there are ads in the results then it is hard to go wrong. They are after all the best search company in the world.
Then there’s Swiftype, which may be the best plugin listed here at the intersection of quality and simplicity. There’s very little to configure and the experience they deliver to both you and your site visitors is quite nice. The main drawback here of course is that the free account is rather ambiguous as to how much traffic it can handle and what exactly it’s limitations are in comparison to its premium offerings. It would be a shame to receive a traffic spike and have your search go down. The best way to make sure you’re getting the most out of this plugin is going to be paying for a plan that fits your site. Which can get pricy fast; but if you can afford it I’d say go for it.
What do you think? Have you used these plugins? If so, what was your experience? Tell us all about it in the comments below.