12 December 2012
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7 WordPress Plugins that Will Improve Your Site’s Search

It doesn’t take long for many to realize that WordPress’ default search isn’t the greatest. A large part of this is probably due to the fact that it ranks results based on date rather than relevancy. Another part is because it doesn’t search everything that could be searched (excerpts, tags, comments, etc.).

We’ve gone through the best search plugins we could find and pulled out seven that rise to the top. Not all of these plugins focus on improving the same aspects, and so that’s something to keep in mind when deciding which one is best for your site.

1. Relevanssi

The Relevanssi plugin promises “better results,” and in the small tests I ran, the results were indeed better than the default WordPress search results. In fact, it would seem that from my tests, Relevanssi was perhaps the best of the free plugins in the lot.

While it’s not completely fair to base a final judgment on such limited interaction, and working with it over a period of time is the only way to truly know, that’s how the first impressions shook out.

The Relevanssi plugin offers a number of features that make it attractive.

  • Results ordered by relevance, not date
  • “Fuzzy matching” – will match partial words if you choose to
  • Choose to set up using the OR query or the AND query – i.e. results can match one word in a multiword search, or you can force it to match all words in a search phrase
  • Exact match searching with quotation marks
  • Highlight search terms if you choose to
  • In addition to searching Posts and Pages, search comments, tags, categories, and custom fields too
  • Determine how much weight an element should have – e.g. titles carry X-amount of weight, tags carry Y-amount of weight, comments carry Z-amount of weight
  • Log search queries to find out what your visitors are searching for

Perhaps one of the nicest features in the Relevanssi plugin is that much of what is listed above is configurable. In other words, you can decide how you want to set up your search engine.

Here’s an example from above. You can set up how much importance an element has in the “decision” the search engine will make.

In the case below, I’ve set “Post title” to be weighted the heaviest. If a phrase is in a post title, it’s probably a good match. On the other end of the scale, I’ve set “Comment text” to carry the least amount of influence. As you don’t control what others write, it’s hard to know if it will be on target or not.


There are lots of other options to configure, but we’ll show you just one more. These are some of the basic options available – for example, deciding whether all the words in a search phrase need to be present or not, or deciding when a partial-word match should kick in.

2. Better Search

The Better Search plugin adds more relevancy to search results by giving more weight to titles and content as opposed to date published. You can also play with the weight you give each.

Here’s a look at some of the settings, including the weighing of the title and the content.

The plugin also lets you track popular searches and place them in a sidebar widget like a tag cloud with larger font sizes for more popular searches.

 

 

3. WP Search

The WP Search plugin seeks to increase relevancy by focusing on titles and content rather than ordering search results by date. It also lets you control the weight of importance given to  both the titles and the content.

In addition to searching Posts and Pages, it lets you choose to include attachments, revisions, nav menu items, comments, and categories. It also includes wildcard and Boolean operator support.

Here’s a partial look at some of the settings.

4. Dave’s WordPress Live Search

The Dave’s WordPress Live Search plugin gives you drop-down suggestions for your search results as you begin typing your query, much like Google does unless you’ve turned that function off.

Here’s a shot of it in action taken from the plugin’s home page on WordPress.org.

 

The settings for the plugin mostly deal with appearance and display. Here’s a short look at a few of the settings.

While this plugin doesn’t concentrate on improving the relevance of your search in the typical ways, it should be noted that you may be able to use it in conjunction with another plugin that does concentrate on that. I tested this with the Relevanssi plugin, for example, and it worked fine. It returned the Relevanssi’s results, only it did so in the “live search” style of dropping down suggestions as I typed.

5. Search Everything Plugin

The Search Everything plugin lets you add a number elements to your search bank that wouldn’t normally be included in a WordPress search.

Here’s a look at the options included with the plugin:

  • Search Highlighting
  • Search Every Page
  • Search Every Tag
  • Search Custom Taxonomies ( new )
  • Search Every Category
  • Search non-password protected pages only
  • Search Every Comment
  • Search only approved comments
  • Search Every Draft
  • Search Every Excerpt
  • Search Every Attachment (post type)
  • Search Every Custom Field (metadata)
  • Exclude Posts from search
  • Exclude Categories from search

Here’s a look at some of the settings. You have the ability to control what gets included in the search results.


While the Search Everything plugin lets you search more, it doesn’t really work on improving relevancy. It simply lets you search more parts of your site.

 

6. SwiftType

SwiftType is a service that you can hook into with a WordPress plugin. The service is currently in public beta, and during this period, it will be free. Once out of beta, they say they will “follow a pricing model where the cost of your search engine is proportionate to the amount of API traffic it generates, though the majority of our crawler-created search engines will remain free.”

Here are some of the major features.

  • Auto-complete (like suggestions as you type from Google)
  • Remove pages from the index
  • Change titles of pages in your index
  • Drag and drop search results to re-order them as you like
  • Tracks searches and gives you statistics over time

You can see it in action in this video.

 

The SwiftType plugin offers a lot of attractive options. The ability to re-order results by hand seems like one of the most attractive. Using the statistics it offers to go in and reorder the most popular searches would be the practical way to go about such an otherwise endless and impossible task.

You can read more about SwiftType here, and you can pick up the WordPress plugin here.

7. Custom Google Search

Lastly, we’ll mention integrating Google’s search engine. There are a number of plugins out there that will do this for you. We’ll go ahead and mention WPMUDEV’s Custom Google Search plugin. (Hey, why not?)

You have probably seen this option of searching sites with Google quite a bit, and as everyone is familiar with Google, you know what you’ll be getting.

This plugin, like all plugins running Google search, requires signing up with Google and placing the code in the settings. You’re also given options of changing the style of the search box, hiding the search button, showing a sidebar on the search page, and theming a popup.

Here’s a partial look at the settings page.

 

The one potentially large drawback with using Google’s search is that your results have Google ads in them if you choose to go with the free version. The paid version is $100/year.

There is a way to hook yourself up with Adsense so that you can get a cut of the ads delivered on your search results page, but depending on your site’s objectives, that may not be enough of  a reason to allow ads on your results page, especially as they will likely be ads from your competitors.

 

Summing Up

As mentioned, from the small tests I was able to perform (to be fair, I want to stress that they were small), the Relevanssi plugin seemed to come out on top as the best base replacement for the default WordPress search. I say “base replacement” here because it can also be coupled with other search plugins that give it extra functionality, like the Dave’s Live Search plugin.

The Relevanssi plugin, along with the Better Search and WP Search look to improve relevancy, and that, in my opinion, is the biggest and most basic improvement needed.

The Live Search plugin mostly just adds auto-complete/suggestions. This can be a nice addition, but if you’re looking for more content-based relevancy, you’ll want to consider other plugins (perhaps in addition to this one).

The Search Everything plugin does a nice job of including things that weren’t included before, but some of the other plugins offer some of the same options. In addition, Search Everything doesn’t look to improve results based on relevancy.

The SwiftType plugin looks interesting, and it has some nice features, but without a clear-cut pricing model, it’s hard to say whether it will be worth its price if you don’t fall under the “free” umbrella. In addition, though you can hand edit results to fit your needs, in my small tests, the initial results didn’t seems to me to be better than the results I got with the Relevanssi plugin.

And finally, we come to Google. We went over WPMUDEV’s Google plugin, but really, any Google search plugin is mostly dependent on what Google can offer. As mentioned, unless you’re willing to pay $100 a year for a commercial free version, your search results will have ads on them.

In addition, in my opinion, Google took a giant step backward in its latest big update (about eight months ago?). Quite frankly, the results they provide are simply not anywhere near as good as they used to be. This is not my imagination — I can assure you. I need to search the WPMU.org site for past content on a regular basis. And at the moment I still do that with Google. I see the poorer results day in and day out.

It’s a little hard to believe I’m saying this, but at the present time, you may be able to do better than Google if you’re looking for a good search engine for your site. If Google can get back to where they were, on the other hand, then that’s a different story.

If we’ve missed a plugin you’ve have good experiences with, let us know in the comments.

 

Thanks to brewbooks for the photo.

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