It wasn’t that long ago that my then-3rd grader announced his intention to do a project for school on a bent-a-wrong. Certain that he had completely butchered the pronunciation of something relatively normal, I asked him to repeat himself. “Bent-a-wrong” came out once again, so to the Googles we went for him to show me what he meant. Sure enough, this bent-a-wrong was a real thing: the Southeast Asian binturong. This is something that would have taken me days of pouring over encyclopedia volumes to stumble upon when I was in third grade. What does this have to do with the WordPress search experience? This is the power of search. This is the power of WordPress search.
Online search, Google in particular, has revolutionized the way the world finds data on everything from small hibiscus-eating fuzzy mammals to WordPress plugins. Finding something quickly and easily is just a few key strokes away. This is a luxury many of us have grown to expect, and the rest of us have been born into.
“My WordPress website has a default search feature already”, you might say. Yes, it does. And it’s not bad. It gets the job done if you want a bare-bone basic search functionality. However, your visitors probably expect better- and they should. The WordPress search experience is easy to upgrade, and free with the right plugin. Let’s find the one that’s right for you!
What Kind of WordPress Search Plugin Do You Need?
Before we launch into looking at the plugins themselves, it helps to understand how they do what they do. What makes these better than the default WordPress search? There are a few different ways a plugin can go about achieving a better search experience for your users.
An enhanced search algorithm. In the days before Google developed into what it is now, there were a number of different competing search engines to help you find what you were looking for on the web (shoutout to Dogpile, who helped me make it through the first years of college :p ). Anymore, Google is by far and away the leading search engine. The competition has all but vanished, and that’s largely due to the advanced algorithm that Google employs to help you find what you’re looking for. An enhanced WordPress search algorithm plugin is perfect for sites with tons of written content to sift through.
Faceted search. A faceted search allows the searcher to drill down through category levels to find what they’re looking for. Essentially, you’re filtering by category until you find what you want. This method excels on heavily categorized websites like Amazon, Newegg, and eBay. Check out any of their websites as an example. If your website relies heavily on the use of categories, tags, post types, etc, then a faceted WordPress search might be more beneficial to your users than an enhanced algorithm.
Those are the two main types, but there are other cool features to explore as well. Quite a few plugins offer neat features to improve search and are lighter-weight and simpler than others. We’ll look at a few of those too. Let’s dive in!
WordPress Search Plugins Using an Enhanced Algorithm
Relavanssi is among the most widely used WordPress search plugins at over 100k active installs. It is a powerful plugin suitable for even the largest WordPress websites looking to upgrade their search functionality. The below features are a stand-out sampling of its free offering, but there’s a lot more to be had from the plugin plus a premium tier version.
- Supports Boolean search operators AND/OR etc
- Supports exact phrasing search/ exact matches using “…”
- “Fuzzy” searching pulls up best matches for misspelled words
- Adjustable weighting for where on the site to search (title, tag, comment, etc)
- Highlights search terms in content
Swiftype is another powerful search plugin upgrade suitable for even the largest WordPress websites. Highly customizable and developer friendly with a full featured developer API, Swiftype can be made to do whatever you want it to do. It also features advanced analytics.
- Full featured developer API
- Mobile SDKs for responsive searching
- drag-and-drop customizability for fine tuning search behavior
- Real-time search analytics
- Algorithm based on industry best-practices for search
Better Search is a well rounded WordPress search upgrade, capable of scaling from growing blogs to high traffic sites equally well. It excels at effectively crawling posts, pages, and even custom post types to bring your visitors exactly what they’re looking for. Full of features and flexible while streamlined for performance.
- Easy to install and get started
- Seamless theme integration with support for easy CSS styling in settings
- Supports Boolean operators
- View-able list of popular searches on the backend
- Fully compatible with caching plugins
WordPress Search Plugins Using Faceted Search
Search & Filter is one of the most widely used faceted WordPress search plugins. It offers the option to turn off the traditional keyword search box entirely, or use both faceted and keyword search together. For the faceted search itself, your users can search by category, tag, custom taxonomy, post type, date, or any combination thereof. Users can select facets via radio buttons, checkboxes, dropdown, date pickers, sliders, and other neat options. It’s all around an extraordinarily flexible faceted search tool.
- Search by any combination of category, tag, custom taxonomy, post type, and post date
- Customizable user interface
- Customizable shortcode implementation
- Supports Boolean operators
- Customizable ordering of results
WP Ultimate Search also offers traditional keyword searching, and is more truly a hybrid between our categories of faceted and algorithmic searching. It supports Boolean operators and exact quotation phrasing in traditional keyword searches, and also gives users the option of faceted searching by category, tag, post type, terms, even location. Want search results to show up on a map? Here’s your plugin.
- Faceted searches by category, tag, post type, term, and location
- Can display search results on a map!
- Fully featured traditional keyword search options
- Customizable result ordering
- Dynamic as-you-type autocomplete
6) Solr Search
The scrappy upstart of the list, Solr Search is a relatively new contender in the WordPress search arena. It has a crew of active developers doing regular work with the plugin, so you can most likely count on it being around and competitive for some time to come. Solr is a reference to Apache Solr, an open source enterprise search platform that powers the plugin and from which it draws its name. You may never have heard of it, but that’s the search platform used by companies like Disney, Netflix, StubHub, Instagram, and others. Look for good things coming from the team behind Solr Search in the future.
- Powered by the Apache Solr enterprise search platform
- Very developer friendly using Solarium, a PHP Solr client
- Faceted searches on categories, tags, author, and page type
- indexes custom fields
- Completely integrated into WordPress and the WordPress search widget
Misc WordPress Search Plugins
These plugins defy categorization somewhat. Some are here because they’re very lightweight and do just one thing well. Others (Search Everything) does almost literally a little bit of everything. Check ’em out.
Want to do one thing and do it well? If having an autocomplete feature added to your search bar is what you’re looking for, that’s exactly what Search Autocomplete does. No complicated features list here, you get just what the name implies.
I don’t know Dave, but he built a cool plugin. As a user types in your search field, the plugin repeatedly queries WordPress for matches based on what they have entered in the search bar up to that point. The result is a list of results that changes dynamically based on what the user has typed out so far: “Live” search or real-time results. It’s convenient, saves the user time, and is just an all around cool idea. Thanks, Dave.
The ultimate hybrid search solution, Search Everything truly defies categorization. Instead of focusing on facets, algorithms, or any single aspect of the search experience, Search Everything focuses on enhancing the overall search experience itself. If your WordPress website doesn’t fit cleanly into a category of its own, then this may be the WordPress search tool for you. It offers you both and enhanced algorithm and the ability to search by page, tag, post, category, comment, draft, excerpt… anything. You just need to check it out for yourself if you think this might be the one for you. It’ll be time well spent.
So, why 9 plugins and not a nice, comfortable 10? Why couldn’t I just add a 10th plugin for resolution’s sake? Because I couldn’t find another unique one that jumped out at me, that’s why. I don’t doubt that there is another cool plugin out there that deserves to be on this list. That’s where you come in. I’d love to see what plugin you’ve found that you’re crazy about, so please feel free to share it in the comments below. It might just wind up as #10. What WordPress search plugin do you swear by?