WordPress search, in past and present, is notorious for being unreliable. It’s meant to make it easy for users to find what they need on your site, but it’s not always accurate. Sometimes it lists posts and pages it thinks are related to your search term but lists them in chronological order, so you aren’t sure which post is most relevant. Other times it doesn’t seem to understand what you’re searching for at all.
The WordPress team has improved the search function in WordPress core over the years, but there’s always room for further advancement. We’re going to go over how WordPress search has changed over the years as well as a few different methods you can use to improve it on your site.
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A History of WordPress Search
The tendency for WordPress search to display unreliable search results mainly occurred before 2013. An update released in WordPress core in late 2013 improved WordPress search for the better. That update changed the way search results are prioritized in the following ways:
- Results that have a match for the full sentence of your search term in the title of a post are shown first.
- Results that have a match for your full search term are shown second.
- Results that have a match for some of your search terms are shown third.
- Results that have a match for the full sentence of your search terms in the content of a post are shown fourth.
- All remaining search results are shown in chronological order.
Most WordPress sites that blog a few times a week and don’t use WooCommerce will get by on this search function just fine. If you use WooCommerce, post a lot and have a complicated taxonomy system, you may find yourself needing a more advanced search function on your WordPress site. Let’s go over your options.
8 Best WordPress Search Plugins
There are a number of different WordPress search plugins out there, but we’re going to focus on what we feel are the best available.
SearchWP is a premium WordPress search plugin that adds content WordPress tends to ignore in search results. This includes product details, content from PDF files and similar file formats, custom field content, shortcode output, and taxonomy terms. It’s not a cosmetic plugin, meaning it only changes which content is displayed in search results rather than changing the way they appear altogether.
Pricing for SearchWP starts at $79/year.
Relevanssi is essentially WordPress search on steroids. It takes the basic features available in WordPress core and cranks them up a few notches. It starts by implementing basic features, such as doing a better job sorting results by relevancy rather than date and matching partial words if complete words don’t match. Advanced features include adding more pieces of content to search results, including content from PDF files, content in a multisite network, custom fields and more.
Relevanssi is free. Pricing for the premium version starts at $49.95/year.
Search Everything is a basic WordPress search plugin that enhances the search functionality on your WordPress site by supporting results for excerpts, attachments, drafts, comments, tags and custom fields. It also includes search highlighting as well as the ability to exclude certain posts and categories from search results.
Search Everything is available for free.
Ajax Search Pro
Ajax Search Pro is a live search plugin for WordPress. Do you like the way Google autofills the search box for you as you type? Have you ever wished you could implement this feature on your website for own your users to enjoy? This plugin allows you to do just that. It also gives you different layout and style options.
Ajax Search Pro is a premium plugin whose pricing starts at $29.
WPSOLR is an advanced WordPress search plugin, and a great option for WooCommerce. It comes with the same features as the previous plugins, including adding content for documents, taxonomies and custom fields in search results. However, it’s main purpose is to provide a filtered search for your users to enjoy. It does this by displaying WooCommerce product attributes in search results.
Pricing for this plugin starts at €20/month.
Better Search is another simple WordPress search plugin that adds content from pages and custom post types to search results. However, one feature it adds is the ability for you to “assign greater weight to either the title or the content.” It also collects data and outputs it in a “heatmap” for your site’s most popular searches.
Better Search is a free plugin.
Dave’s WordPress Live Search
Dave’s WordPress Live Search is one of the simplest WordPress search plugins on this list. It simply adds a live search feature to your site’s search function.
This plugin is available free of charge.
Search & Filter
Search & Filter is a powerful WordPress search plugin that allows you to add a filtered search function to your WordPress site. It allows users to filter results in a variety of different ways, including categories, tags, post types, post date, authors and more. It’s also compatible with such ecommerce plugins as WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads and WP eCommerce.
The base version of this plugin is free. Pricing for the premium version starts at $20/year.
Improving WordPress Search with Taxonomies & Menus
Improving WordPress search is a major step you can take to provide a better way for users to find content on your site. If you really want them to find the content they need, use better menus and taxonomies.
For starters, if you have a sports blog and post a lot of content about football, your users will have a much less difficult time finding all of the content you’ve published about football if you have a specific category for it.
Here are a few simple rules to follow before you make changes to your site’s taxonomy system:
- Parent Category – Use for the main topics of your blog. Example: football
- Child Category – Use for a main topic that acts as a subtopic for one of the main topics of your blog. Example: national team, premier league
- Tag – Use for specific topics. Example: wayne rooney
Let’s go over menus before we wrap this post up.
WordPress users will most likely view your Blog page if they want to find your site’s latest content. However, you can make it easier to find posts on a specific topic if you place a drop-down menu for your site’s parent and child categories in your main navigation menu.
If you have a few main pages on your site, such as cornerstone content, you should consider rounding them up underneath a main heading in your menu as well. If you want to make it easier for users to use your navigation menu when you add too many categories and pages to it, consider using a mega menu instead.
Here are a few plugins:
Let’s wrap this post up.
Improving WordPress search doesn’t need to be difficult. Start by going through the plugins we mentioned and determining which one’s features suit your site’s content best. Consider installing it if you find a match.
Other than that, you can optimize your site’s taxonomy system and include every parent and child category you have in your main navigation menu to make it easier for users to find content on specific topics. You can even add a tag cloud widget to your sidebar or footer.
In the meantime, check out these two pieces of content if you want to create valuable content for users to find: