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5 Plugins to Use Instead of the Default WordPress Search Feature

The WordPress search feature gets the job done but it can't do it all. Here are ways to improve it and give your visitors what they want.

Sean Brison December 31, 2021
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If you’re using or have used the default WordPress search feature, you’ve probably found its scope limiting regarding the information it can retrieve. We’ll show you ways to improve your internal site search so you can deliver the best user experience for your readers and boost conversions.

What Is WordPress Search?

WordPress search lets your readers look for content found on your website (i.e., internal search). It’s technically a template file named ‘searchform.php’ that generates your site’s search box readers can use to find specific material on your site quickly and easily.

Many themes already come with a search form. If they don’t, we’ll explore ways to add it below.

Why Does Internal Search in WordPress Matter?

There are several reasons why you should consider adding a search box to your site if you haven’t already. Let’s explore some of them now.

Visitors Find Things Quicker

When users browse your site, they don’t want to idly peruse your content, hoping they’ll find what they’re looking for. Nowadays, people are in a hurry. And with search results pages yielding detailed info at warp speed, it’s become a standard practice to offer that to website visitors too.

People making a search query have a specific topic already in mind and want to see if you can help them. A well-organized search feature will bump you to pole position versus one without.

You Know Which Topics People Search for

If your site search is enabled and you’re tracking it with Google Analytics, you can see which search queries your readers make. Knowing what people are looking for gives you insights into trends, what people want to see more of, and what content to create.

It Enhances the User Experience for Small SEO Wins

The more ‘frictionless’ your site is, the more value you give to your readers which boosts the likelihood they’ll return.

For example, if your site has a Help Center, a search bar enables them to find instant documentation instead of parsing through your catalog.

lasso help page

 

You’ll Boost Conversions & Get Paid Quicker

If you run a large affiliate site, for example, then having a search function helps your readers quickly find your recommendations and click your links (ideally). 

Giftlab search function

 

The more robust your site, the more reason to upgrade from the default WordPress search feature.

Further Reading:

Why Use A WordPress Search Plugin?

Using a search plugin comes in handy if your theme doesn’t already include one or you’re unsatisfied with WordPress search functionality.

For example, using its default settings, your readers will only be able to find content originating from your site’s:

So, if someone were searching for the material found in a user comment section or custom field, their search query would yield zero results. Content is also excluded from widgets, categories, and tags as well.

The other reason you may want to use a plugin is that you don’t want to create and code a custom search page onto your site (if you do, WordPress has a detailed guide you can read here).

If you’re not a developer or have zero interest in coding, a plugin will do the heavy lifting.

Here’s How You Can Add Add Internal Search to Your WordPress Site 

We’ll cover a couple of ways to add a search bar to your site. Depending on your WordPress theme, it may already be enabled. But if it’s not, here’s how to activate it.

Use a WordPress Widget

The simplest way to start adding a search bar is using a widget. WordPress widgets come in handy, particularly for adding content to other areas of your site like sidebars and footers.

To do this, head to Appearance > Widgets in your WordPress dashboard.

Widgets function for adding search bar in wordpress

 

Click “Widgets,” then scroll down to where you find “Search,” and you can add it to your site’s footer or sidebar.

Search in widgets

 

Next, drag that “Search” box over to the right-hand side of the page and enable it. Alternatively, your theme typically has a drop-down menu offering you choices of where you’d like to add the search widget.

Widget search function astra theme

 

Finally, give it a title.

Giving your search bar a title

 

Once you’re done, hit “Save.”

Add A Search Bar to Your Pages with the Gutenberg Editor

Many folks use Gutenberg, including many of our customers. So, if you didn’t already know, you can add search functionality to your content in your post editor.

When inside your WordPress draft, click the “+” icon in the upper left corner

Add new post   sean s sandbox   wordpress

 

Next, scroll down to the “Widgets” blocks and choose the “Search” icon.

Adding search bar in gutenberg

 

Add it where you want the search bar to display in your post.

Add new post   sean s sandbox   wordpress

 

You can customize the inline text, title, and button placement.

Takeaway: Adding basic site search to your domain is good, but as mentioned above, it’s limiting. You’re unable to leverage advanced search algorithms with WordPress’s site search function the same way you can with a plugin.

5 Plugins to Improve Your WordPress Search for Visitors & Give A Better User Experience

If you’re ready to add more functionality and customization to your site’s search, you’re in the right place. Now, let’s examine some of the various plugins you can use to boost performance and improve the user experience for your website visitors.

#1. Ivory Search

You can replace WordPress’s default search using advanced plugins like Ivory Search. It lets you create unlimited custom search forms and individually configure each one with it.

You can display the search bar anywhere on your site with shortcodes in places such as your site’s header, footer, sidebar, and nav menu.

Instead of only being able to search for a page’s title or text, you can search for a suite of additional attributes, including:

The code is clean and you shouldn’t have any conflicts with your theme or other plugins when using it.

It’s straightforward to use. The plugin lets you customize your search form’s functionality with the choices of “Include,” “Exclude,” and “Options” settings. This degree of control ensures your visitors get the most accurate search results.

Stopwords and Synonyms add even more granularity.

Ivory search settings   sean s sandbox   wordpress

 

You can also see live search results powered by Ajax search.

Ivory Search has both free and premium versions. Although you’ll be ok with the free version, I’m sure it’ll cover your needs.

Sidenote: AJAX is short for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. Its creators designed it with the user in mind as it lets web pages retrieve new info and display it without reloading the page. It’s a more interactive and responsive experience for your visitors.

#2. Relevanssi

Relevanssi gives you an enhanced search engine that lets you display a person’s search query by relevance, not by date. It includes “Fuzzy Matching” which means you’ll still get results even if it’s only a partial match based on the keywords entered.

Relevanssi   sean s sandbox   wordpress

 

The plugin uses Boolean search commands so you can find docs using AND / OR searches.

Sidenote: Boolean logic is a primary component with computer applications and plays a fundamental role in database searching. Using “AND” finds all of your search terms. For example ‘downloads AND wordpress websites AND CSS.’ Using “OR” searches find one term or the other.

The quality of the SERP generated is also quite good because it highlights search terms in the snippets. It’ll also create custom excerpts displaying where the query was made, highlighting the search term.

You’ll be able to search categories, tags, custom fields, and more. Inside, you’ll also find Google-style “did you mean?” suggestions with your searches while gaining access to your site’s most popular search queries.

The support offered by its developer, Mikko Saari, is first-rate, offering on-point and helpful suggestions for users.

Relevanssi

Replace the default WordPress search with an optimized search engine and tons of configurable options. Get your results by their relevance and create custom excerpts showing where the tally was made along with highlighted search terms.

Upgrade My Site Search

#3 Search WP

SearchWP has many enhanced features to help you give an optimal search experience, including making custom fields searchable, letting you view on-site search activity, and integrating with your native WordPress search form.

search wp dashboard

 

Similar to Google Analytics site search, SearchWP lets you see metrics, including:

In addition, you’ll also see what searchers are not finding with their queries.

Its theme integration gives a native look for your keyword search forms or results templates. SearchWP also plays nice with several of the popular page builders, including:

It’ll also fetch anything uploaded to your media library and make that content searchable (including documents such as PDFs, Office, and plain/rich text).

SearchWP

Your site is filled with fantastic, searchable content but native WordPress search is unable to fetch most of this data. SearchWP lets you use taxonomy terms and shortcodes with your operation and works with all custom fields along with seeing your visitor's site search history to gain actionable insights into user behavior.

Upgrade My Site Search

Single site licenses start at $99.

#4. Ajax Search Lite

Ajax Search Lite is a live search WordPress plugin with extended functionality.

You can give your visitors an enhanced search experience with use of behaviors, Google search autocomplete & suggestions, and drag and drop ‘Exclude/Include’ results from your dashboard.

Toggling on the autocomplete and keyword suggestions features lets you display results in a drop-down box as you type.

Ajax search lite   sean s sandbox   wordpress

 

You can connect the plugin to Google Analytics and see Events tracking data, including live search, facet changes, and input focus.

The plugin is also built for speed. When you click under Ajax Search Lite > Performance Options, you get three things:

Ajax search lite   sean s sandbox   wordpress

 

Enabling these three things reduces the workload to your server so your site’s speed won’t be as affected.

Ajax Search Lite

Ajax Search Lite is a responsive, live search engine for WordPress sites equipped with many features including Google autocomplete, custom post type support, and an AJAX-powered search form. You can also connect to Google Analytics to see Events tracking and Pageviews. It even allows for image caching for faster load times.

Upgrade My Site Search

Further Reading:

#5 Elasticsearch

This tool is perhaps the most robust on this list and offers a premium experience compared to the default WordPress search. Known for its maximum speed and scalability, Elasticsearch, is a free and open search engine to parse and quickly index complex data and content types.

If your site’s search queries have become too much for a simple plugin to handle, this is what you want in terms of an excellent overall search experience.

It uses a structure called an “inverted index” that lists every word appearing in any document and finds every document the word occurs in.

As a result, it’s lightning-fast at fetching full-text searches. And as your data and queries grow, Elasticsearch grows too, continuously building your index. It amplifies your site’s search engine with:

It’s a next-level search and analytics tool and is part of the Elastic stack which incorporates Logstash for data processing and Kibana for data visualization.

Sidenote: Faceted search uses product metadata so you can narrow your search criteria using specific keywords or filters. Ecommerce online stores are a perfect example of faceted search.

For example, viewing men’s apparel on Lululemon’s site, you can see on the left sidebar it has product categories divided by:

Faceted search example

 

This is a simple example of how faceted search helps your visitors find what they’re looking for quickly without having to browse through your entire catalog.

Bottom Line: With the ELK stack, you can pull info from any source in any format, create visualizations, and analyze it any way you want.

Elasticpress plugin

 

You can either use its cloud-based hosting service directly or download the ElasticPress plugin and create an account with ElasticPress.io in your WordPress dashboard.

ElasticPress

Find all relevant content lightning-fast with insanely customizable features while leveraging the cloud-based tech stack of Elasticsearch. If your site has big data or a substantial number of search queries and you're looking for additional ways to parse it and deliver results beyond a simple site search plugin, look no further.

Upgrade My Site Search

Should You Improve Your Site’s Search Engine?

You should consider how people interact with your site before jumping to improve its search engine. Since different people are at different stages of their journey, your site may not require any upgrades.

For example, if you’re running a small site, you probably don’t need to create an Elasticsearch account. Perhaps a simple plugin like Ivory Search will suffice.

To determine your next step, have a look at the number of people searching on your website.

You can head to Google Analytics > Behavior > Site Search > Overview to see how many times people use your site’s search function.

Google analytics site search usage

 

If the number is relatively high, you might consider an upgrade. Alternatively, if your number is low (like the above example), you may want to spend your time upgrading another part of your site.

You should also consider an upgrade if you have a large site with a substantial content catalog or one with many overlapping categories. This, along with getting thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of people using the search function will be the deciding factors.

A better search experience equals a better user experience equals a tiny SEO boost. For example, more people will likely stick around and explore your content because it’s easy to find, which is a positive signal to search engines.

Last Words

The WordPress search function does make it easier for your visitors to find content on your site, such as page titles and paragraph text. This is helpful to an extent.

However, if you’re running a large site with heavy categorization and complex navigation, you’ll need something more robust to give users an optimized search experience.

If you’re looking for more ways to improve your site’s functionality, have a look here. We’re obsessed with helping our customers earn an honest and profitable living online.

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