Site Search: How to Improve Your WordPress Search

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If you have a large authority or ecommerce site, being able to search for articles related to a certain topic or for particular products is very important.

After all, if your visitors can’t find what they are looking for then it’s all too easy to hit the back button and find another site that’s easier to use.

This is particularly important for WordPress sites, as the old phrase, “seek and you shall find” often can’t be attributed to them.

WordPress’ Search Sucks

Going back a few years and you’ll have been hard-pressed not to hear people moan about the search functionality for WordPress – it just wasn’t very good at all.

In fact it was so bad that back in 2013 one of the core contributors, Andrew Nacin, decided to do something about it and added some code that dramatically improved the search functions.

Still, this update didn’t make much of a dent when it came to larger, complex sites. Even now the WordPress search system isn’t particularly great.

Developers to the Rescue!

Luckily for you and me, there are a lot of creative thinkers and talented individuals in the WordPress community and there have been lots of plugins developed that build upon and improve the base search system.

This means that for a few bucks, or even for free, you can easily upgrade your site search.

But Should You?

Before you start carving out time to investigate all the various plugins that are on offer, you should be asking yourself a question: is it worth it?

As a business owner or entrepreneur time is vitally important. You can always make more money but you can never get your wasted time back.

As such you need to know whether focusing on improving your search is worth your time.

Small sites

If your site is still relatively small, the standard WordPress search system should work just fine for you. As such it’s simply not worth the time investment at this point.

Navigation

If your navigation system is already well done, it’s possible that your visitors don’t even need to use the search as everything can be found via the menu structure.

Search Usage

This for me is the big one. If you have a large site and people are not actively using the search system, then there’s perhaps no point in looking to improve it.

The key with this is to check the data – Google analytics can help you with that.

If you do find that search is popular, then of course you should look to fine tune the service.

Perform Some Searches

Actually go ahead and perform some searches, even use some searches that actual visitors have used from your analytics.

Do the search results provide an adequate response or is it wildly wrong? Are the right products and articles appearing?

If yes, then you can safely walk away from this, for now. If not then you know you need to look for alternative options.

Alternatives to WordPress Search

As mentioned, there are numerous plugins out there that can enhance or replace the standard WP search.

Here are some of the most popular and effective search plugins for WordPress:

Relevanssi

This plugin has been around for a number of years now and has a solid 4.7 out of 5 and over a million downloads.

It has multiple features including:

  • Comment search
  • User profile search
  • “Did you mean” style suggestions
  • Highlighting
  • Search Operators
  • Weighting
  • And more

The plugin has a free and premium version available, and it’s quite affordable at $39.95.

Better Search

Averaging a score of 4.3 out of 5, Better Search is a solid option. This plugin isn’t quite as feature filled as Relavanssi but still improves upon the base search system by a lot.

As a free option it’s perfect if you want to improve your search system but don’t need the flexibility and options of some of the other plugins out there.

Dave’s WordPress Live Search

This plugin doesn’t change the core search system that WordPress has but it improves the user experience by displaying relevant posts as the user is typing. This means a user can get the result they need instantly.

With a solid 4.6 out of 5, this free plugin is a popular choice.

Ajax Search Pro for WordPress

This premium WordPress plugin has over 5000 sales on CodeCanyon, which isn’t too shabby. It also has a 4.7 rating.

The plugin uses AJAX to provide near instant results and has an auto complete system a la Google.

Custom Google Search

This isn’t actually a WordPress plugin: it’s a service that Google provides. There are however several different plugins that allow you to use the service on your site.

The great thing about utilizing Google’s search on your site is that it’s an incredibly powerful algorithm; however, it doesn’t necessarily search the site directly but instead relies on the Google database of your indexed pages, meaning some content might not be shown.

SearchWP

A premium option, SearchWP has a popular following but unfortunately nothing to back this up.

That being said the feature list for the plugin is impressive:

  • Custom fields support
  • Popular ecommerce platform integration
  • BBPress integration
  • Statistics and insights
  • No coding required
  • Keyword stemming
  • PDF and document scanning

That last one is a really good feature, especially if you provide a lot of free ebooks.

Do Some Research

The above list is by no means exhaustive and the lack of features and flexibility that the WordPress search system provides means there are plenty of alternatives out there for you to review.

The Bottom Line

Updating your WordPress search system can be as simple as installing and setting up a new plugin, but the time taken to find the right one and set it up can take you away from more important matters.

As such make sure that you definitely need to upgrade your search before you go ahead with it.

If you’re the owner of a large site you should definitely review your search usage to see what level of search is happening and what results are occurring, to make sure your visitors get the most accurate results possible

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