How To: Improve the WordPress Search Tool with Relevanssi Plugin

If you’ve ever tried to use the built-in search functionality of WordPress in order to search the published content on a site, then you will be aware that this one area in which this popular publishing platform is seriously lacking.

If a visitor lands on your site, performs a search and can’t easily find what they are looking for, then more than likely, they will hit the back button and go elsewhere. Thanks to the lack of functionality found in the standard WordPress search tool, there is a high probability you are losing visitors each time one of them performs a search on your WordPress site, or at the least, missing an opportunity to present them the type of content they are looking for.

However, there is a plugin available that aims to make improving the search functionality you can offer the visitors to your WordPress site, as easy as installing a plugin. That plugin is Relevanssi and today we will be reviewing this plugin to see how it is able to improve the WordPress search, and how you can go about adding it to your site.

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Relevanssi – A Better Search

There is a free version of Relevanssi available from the plugin directory, in this review we will be using the premium version which is available from the developer’s website.

The goal of this plugin is to ensure that your WordPress site returns better results for your visitors, while also giving you more control over how your site’s search results are displayed. To help the plugin deliver on these objectives, it includes some useful features and capabilities that you won’t find with the default WordPress search tool:

  • Search comments and comment authors
  • Search categories, tags, and custom taxonomies
  • Search custom fields
  • Search shortcode content
  • Search post excerpts
  • Search user profiles
  • Search taxonomy pages
  • Display Google-style “Did you mean” suggestions
  • Highlight and show matches
  • Ability to exclude post types, pages, tags, or categories
  • Use search operators
  • Adjust weighting of post elements

The full list of features is pretty extensive and you can view them in the comparison table on the plugin website.

As you can see, one of the key benefits of this plugin, over the standard WordPress search capabilities, is the ability to search all the published content on your site, including comments, user profiles, custom fields and more. Without being able to search this content, your readers are likely to be unable to find much of the content they are looking for on your site.

Another important feature of Relevanssi is the ability to give certain post or page elements a weighting to make that content more prominent in the search results. This can allow you to give posts a boost in the rankings and help them receive more visits, according to where in the post the search terms is located, such as the post title. The weighting can also be applied to the age of a post to ensure your search results are fresh and up to date.

While Relevanssi greatly improves the ability of your readers to search and find the content they are looking for on your site, it doesn’t do everything and it’s important to mention one feature which is missing that you might want to add to your site. Unfortunately the plugin cannot search the contents of files such as Word, PDF, or Excel files, and is limited to just the content that is stored in the the wp_posts table (except for user profiles, and taxonomy pages which are stored elsewhere).

However, apart from that minor omission, Relevanssi appears to have covered everything you could want from a search plugin for WordPress.

Configuring and Using Relevanssi

Once you’ve downloaded the pro version of this plugin, it can be uploaded to your site via the admin dashboard, by visiting the Plugin > Add New > Upload page.

After the plugin has been installed and activated, the settings can be accessed via the Settings menu on the side menu of the admin dashboard.

The first step in setting this plugin up is to build the index so that the plugin has something to search. Doing this is as easy as clicking the ‘Build the index’ button and if you are working with a large site, selecting how many documents to add to the index at a time.

Relevanssi Build the Index

Once this essential task has been completed, you can then view the state of the index to see some information about the search index for your site. This includes the number of posts and pages, as well as the amount of words in the index.

Relevanssi State of Index

Through the settings you can also set the default operator for searches. The two choices are AND or OR. However, if you do choose AND, and no matches are found, the plugin will automatically perform an OR search, although this can be disabled if you deem it necessary for your site.

While the default WordPress search functionality lists the search results by post-date, listing the most recent posts first, one of the the key selling points of Relevanssi is that it will list the results by relevance. However, in the settings it is possible to disable this feature and revert to the standard sorting by post-date.

Relevanssi Sort By

When setting up the plugin, another interesting feature at your disposal is the ability to decide how you index internal links. This allows you to instruct the plugin to take the anchor text of internal links into account when determining the relevance of a page or post.

This is similar to the way search engines like Google look at the anchor text of a link pointing to a site, in order to determine how the site that is being linked to should be ranked in their index.

If you are worried about all this extra content being added to the search index for your site and if it could negatively affect site performance, then the limit searches setting will be of interest to you. This setting allows you to limit the number of posts that are loaded for each search term that is entered by the user.

Another important feature of this plugin which can be adjusted in the settings is the ability to weight the different elements of a post, in order to influence the search results. The different features you can weight include the post title, tags, and comments, as well as the post type and any custom taxonomies in use.

Relevanssi Weighting

This means that if a user searches for a particular term, and you have given post titles a high weighting, then any posts with that term in the title are likely to be displayed more prominently in the search results, compared to other posts that simply contain that term in the body of the post.

You can also give newer posts a higher weighting to ensure your results favour newer content over old.

There are plenty of other settings for this plugin which really allow you to customise how the search functionality on your site works. If you want to get a really detailed overview of how the plugin works and in which ways it can be customised, the documentation from the developer comes highly recommended.

Once you’ve worked you way through the many settings for this plugin, the search tool on your WordPress site is very likely to be highly improved. When testing Relevanssi I found that the results that were returned were more relevant, with the highlighting of the searched for terms being a useful addition to WordPress.

Relevanssi Search Results


The premium version of Relevanssi is available on two pricing plans:

  • Standard: $39.95
  • Developer: $69.95

The only difference between the two options is that the more expensive developer version can be used on client sites and commercial sites. However, both versions can be used on unlimited sites you own, and include upgrades and support for a year.

To compare the two pricing options for this plugin in more detail, visit the Relevanssi store.


Whether you install the free or the premium version of Relevanssi it will definitely enhance and improve the search tool on your site if you are currently using the default WordPress search capabilities. Even if you don’t work your way through all of the settings and configuration options, of which there are many, you can still get good results with this plugin.

However, if you really want to ensure you are offering your visitors the best possible search functionality then the pro version of Relevanssi is the way to go. A better search tool has many benefits for your site including helping your readers find what they are looking for, and also presenting a more professional image to those who do try to search for content on your site.

Relevanssi is a feature packed plugin that does a great job of bringing highly functional content searching to WordPress.

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Joe Fylan

Joe Fylan

Joe has been using WordPress for many years and spends his time creating content for a wide range of websites and blogs. If you need compelling content for your blog, visit his freelance services portfolio now.

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1 thought on “How To: Improve the WordPress Search Tool with Relevanssi Plugin”

  1. Exactly what I was looking for! The default search function in WordPress has been bothering me for a long time ;-).

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