Choosing WordPress Search

WordPress Site Search Plugins fall into three categories

Plugins that add features or improve on the built-in WordPress search.

These are based on MySQL full-text search, are often free or very low cost, think under $100. If you have a very small site, and a small budget these might be all you need. If you have ambitions of growing, you will need something better.

Plugins that install a search engine on your own site.

Installing a search engine on a shared server is a bad idea, indexing can often eat up huge amounts of memory and will take up extra disk space, you will almost certainly need to move to more expensive hosting if you have more than a few thousand posts or pages.

  • SearchWP by SearchWP LLC founded 2013 taken over 2021 by Awesome Motive Inc.  $199/year for a single site. Uses the default search box and results template. Premium add-ons for WooCommerce, custom results order, etc.

Plugins that pass your search queries to a search engine hosted and managed in the cloud.

Also known as Search as a Service (SaaS). These are search engines that are capable of handling very large volumes of data even if your website is running on a low cost shared WordPress server. Running and managing a search engine that can handle large amounts of data is expensive; pricing will depend whether you need to connect more than one website to the engine, are willing to share a search engine or need your own dedicated search engine. If you have more than a couple of thousand pages or posts and want relevant results this is the type of search you need.

Be aware that ‘search as you type’ sends multiple search queries to the search engine – if the search service has a limit or charges per query it can add up very quickly for a busy website. Also be aware that some search services have record limits (often a Page on your site may equal 3 or 4 records) and you may automatically fall into a higher monthly charge band if you exceed the limit.

Here are plugins using SaaS on the WordPress Plugin directory:

Site Search ONE  a ‘no code’ WordPress Plugin with a comprehensive search bar widget, automatic search results page generation with facets & filters.

ElasticPress – by the web agency 10up Inc.– uses ElasticSearch a search system based on the Lucene search engine.

Swiftype – acquired by Elastic N.V. in 2017. also uses the ElasticSearch Engine.

WP Search with Algolia by the web agency WebDevStudios uses the Algolia search-as-a-service. Algolia launched its own WordPress Plugin in 2016 but ceased support in 2019.

Quick Links

Site Search ONE

Professional v Commercial search

Site Search ONE WordPress Plugin uses the same WordNet synonyms as used in dtSearch Desktop.

A search on racehorse with the Synonyms option selected will find Post or Pages containing race horse or bangtail as well as racehorse.

Horses for courses

A quick internet search on WordPress Plugins will find people asking what is the best site search for WordPress, you will find dozens of blogs list the ‘best 10’ or best free plugins.

Keep in mind that many bloggers make affiliate fees if you click on their suggestions, this might bias what Plugins appear on the lists or suggestions.

It’s fair to say that there are few bloggers covering WordPress that are search engine experts, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) experts are unlikely to know how a search engine actually works, but may know how to get your site up in Google rankings if you want to spend money on ads.

There is no best solution that suits everyone, it depends on the nature of your website – a personal blog, a massive eCommerce store, a museum, a newspaper, a court, all have different needs and different budgets.