One of the most consistent annoyances some of our customers report is the lack of power behind the WordPress search function, so we’re constantly on the lookout for the best WordPress Search plugin. When you have a large number of posts and pages, it can be maddening to try and track down a small bit of content that you published a few years ago.
By default, the WordPress search is limited to searching within the content field of posts and pages. Modern WordPress sites include all sorts of other data associated with your content that are completely passed by when using the default WordPress search.
This quick video from SearchWP does a great job of illustrating some of the everyday limitations of standard WordPress search.
As you can see, out-of-the-box WordPress search really struggles with indexing and finding any information that lives outside of the post title and post content areas of WordPress.
But is SearchWP the best search plugin to help address these shortcomings? Let’s take a look!
Table of Contents
Searching for the Best WordPress Search Plugin
While there are several things we can do to improve WordPress search, the solutions have always varied and often depend on the need of each individual customer. We’ve never come to a consensus on the best way to improve the WordPress search.
One thing we’ve done in the past is setup an externally-powered search, like a Custom Google Search – but there are typically caveats with that approach ( Some, like Google, will show advertisements on your site search results, subscriptions for customized versions are /yr+, etc).
Of course, in addition to SearchWP, there are some other enhanced WordPress search plugins available. Here’s a basic feature comparison between SearchWP and some of the other leading WordPress search solutions out there (this is not a comprehensive list but some of the most popular options).
SearchWP is an extremely powerful WordPress search with many native integrations with other popular WordPress products. It’s built and maintained by Jonathan Christopher and been around for over six years now, which in WordPress ecosystem terms is about as good as you’re going to find from any product.
SearchWP doesn’t have a free option but does have an 14 day full refund policy if you aren’t happy with the product for whatever reason. SearchWP pricing starts at per year and goes up to per year in order to take advantage of all the premium features available.
Relevanssi is another very popular WordPress search plugin with a different distribution model than SearchWP. Relevanssi does have a free option in the WordPress repository and then requires a purchase to unlock some of the more advanced features and dedicated support.
Relevanssi isn’t quite as feature-rich as SearchWP (as you’ll see in the comparison chart above), but is still very popular with over 100,000 installations of the free version of the plugin. We’ve used this on some client sites in the past and have had generally good results. Relevanssi is free for a limited version of the search plugin with the premium have a per year or lifetime license fee.
3. Better Search
Better Search for WordPress is free for everyone to use. It has a much more limited user base with roughly 8,000 active installs, but does have some nice enhancement to the WordPress search while being relatively lightweight. It’s not going to consume a bunch of server resources to run and has a few limited enhancements that work well to improve the overall search experience.
If your’e limited to free search options, we’d still recommend Relevanssi over Better Search, but wanted to mention it as we enjoyed some of its unique features like a search heatmap and profanity filter. Better Search is free to download in the WordPress repository.
ElasticPress is a WordPress search solution based on the ElasticSearch open source search engine. ElasticPress is extremely powerful and perhaps the most customizable search solution for WordPress. However, that level of customization requires advanced programming skills that many of our readers don’t have.
It also requires specialized ElasticSearch hosting because the software required to run ElasticPress is significantly different than what’s required to run WordPress. ElasticPress runs on an entirely different server, which has benefits, but also introduced additional complexity. ElasticPress can be an extremely powerful solution for large sites with unique search needs. ElasticPress hosting starts at per month and goes up as search volume increases. It will likely also need to be implemented by a developer so you’ll want to factor in additional costs there as well.
SearchWP is the Best WordPress Search Plugin for Most People
Based on the current landscape we believe that SearchWP is the best WordPress plugin for search. If you must go with a free solution then Relevanssi will do nicely but the fee for SearchWP is well worth the investment in our opinion.
There are specialized instances where ElasticPress may make sense but for the majority of content-heavy sites that we encounter every day, SearchWP is the right tool for this particular job.
The plugin setup and installation takes less than 10 minutes before you’re up and running and seamlessly replaces the default WordPress search without writing any code at all. So not only is it an effective search tool, it’s focus on users makes it really stand out from any of the other options on the market.
Getting started with SearchWP, the best WordPress search plugin
We wanted to really put SearchWP to the test so we created a sample project to try and test its outer limits.
In it’s bare bones form, the default WordPress search is severely limited. A common gripe among users is the lack of indexing custom post types, for example. If your website has any custom post types (say, a custom post type for your portfolio content, or product reviews, etc) – WordPress will not show these in your search results by default.
In a standard WordPress site you see a list of all post types on your site. On my example site used for this review, I created a few thousand posts and pages. For the content, I used a script to generate example content with the Scrabble database to randomize words in the titles and some of the content:
The large quantity of poasts was added to see how this would affect the speed of SearchWP when making search queries. Technical jargon aside, it had little effect on the speed (once the plugin indexed the site, which is performed after activating the plugin).
Performing a search was a breeze, and of course, just like default WordPress, if I’m searching for an exact term or phrase that’s contained in the title or the content of a post or page, it shows up fine:
Where’s Carmen SanDiego?
Where in the World?
To test the functionality of searching within custom post types, the post type of “Missing Things” was then added. To turn on searching within custom post types, I simply checked the post types’ name in the SearchWP settings:
Now, upon searching, the custom post type is included:
Customizing the Search Engine that powers your site
What if you could customize the search engine on your site? When you first install SearchWP, the settings page gives you a good deal of additional options for every post type on your site allowing you more granular control over the search results for your website.
From here, you can customize how important each area of the site is, regarding your search results – including custom fields.
Example: I’ve added the words “Carmen Sandiego” as a post title in one post, and as part of the post content in another. If I have the post title weight number in SearchWP set higher than the post content‘s weight number, the post title search results will show before the post content search results.
If I change this, the search results will be re-ordered accordingly.
What if you can’t remember the exact name or phrase for what you’re looking for? With the default WordPress search, you’re out of luck.
With the SearchWP keyword stemming feature, the functionality of broadening the search parameters to approximate results is possible. Keyword Stemming is based on the idea that words have stems and associations with other words based on those stems. You can read more about the concept of word stems in this Wikipedia article.
So let’s say I’m looking for a post I wrote about someone that starts with the letter ‘W’. What was it? Will? Walter? Wimbledon? Ah! Now I remember. But I only recall four of the letters.
‘Wald’…something. With the default WordPress search, this is what I’d see.
But if I activate SearchWP, and run the search again, I’ll get a result:
Beyond post types
What if you have a site that contains, say, hundreds of PDF files? How do you search the text within those? Typically, you’d have to manually go through the media manager, looking over every PDF you uploaded, one by one, until you find the content.
With SearchWP, PDF content is indexed as well. I added a PDF file containing the word “Waldo” in the title, and behold! It found the content just as easily as a post/page/custom post type:
The title of the PDF:
To be clear, SearchWP is reading the actual content of the document here! It can read pdfs (and a bunch of other popular office document formats)!
And what about data associated with other types of WordPress content like WooCommerce products or posts from a Job board? SearchWP can handle those content types and all of their associated too!
Other WordPress Search Enhancements
If you aren’t looking for a full replacement to the WordPress search, rather some other little ways to improve the search experience for your users, here are a few other plugins that can help improve specific parts of that search.
- Ajax Search for WooCommerce – This plugin extends the default WordPress search to support data from WooCommerce products. It also returns “real-time” results that allows users to pick their products from a search list.
- ACF Better Search – This plugin has a very specific purpose to extend the WordPress search to include custom fields that are added using the Advanced Custom Fields plugin, which can definitely come in handy.
- Search Exclude – Sometimes there are certain types of content (or individual pieces of content) that you don’t want included in public WordPress searches. Search Exclude handles that for you.
SearchWP is the Best WordPress Search Plugin
We could have gone much much more in depth with this plugin review, but even while staying pretty close to the surface, it’s clear that SearchWP is currently the best WordPress search plugin. It completely changes finding the content that you’re looking for in your WordPress site. Compared to other solutions we’ve used, the comparison isn’t even close. SearchWP is far and away the best WordPress search plugin we’ve used to date.
And that’s before we even mention all of the other features available to improve search for more specific use cases. Here’s a list of currently available features:
- bbPress integration (handy for forum administrators)
- Support for multiple search engines (have unique search results in different areas of your website)
- Exclude specific attributes from search results
- Search statistics and insights – see exactly what people are looking for on your website
- WooCommerce integration
- WP Job Manager Integration
- Easy Digital Downloads Integration
- Advanced Custom Fields Support
I highly recommend SearchWP for site owners with content-heavy sites or stores who want a more bespoke search experiences for their website visitors.