WordPress is the most popular content management systems for websites with a 60% share in the market, and it powers 28% of websites found on the Internet. Since WordPress is open-source with the ability to customize with an extensive library of third-party themes and plugins, many website developers choose WordPress to mold their site vision into a reality.
However, WordPress does have some native downfalls when it comes to functionality, and their default search engine is one of these areas. Depending on your site and content structure, the WordPress search usually doesn't do a good job of providing the most accurate results for a given search query. This is where a third-party plugin can come in to revamp the search algorithm and bring you better search results for your WordPress website.
In the rest of the article below, I'll touch on free and premium solutions that are designed for improving the search functionality for both small and large WP installations. Depending on your needs, the ideal plugin may differ so be sure to read each description and click-through to the official plugin page (linked with the price) to determine which is best for your needs. Be aware, there are several other third-party search solutions available for WordPress, but these five are the best and most relevant as of August 4th, 2017.
Algolia Search (Free – $999/Month)
A few years ago, a company called Swiftype was offering easy-to-install, off-site search for WordPress users yet when they switched to an enterprise-only business model (no free plan, pricing starting at $299/month), users with large WordPress websites were left without a viable alternative. Fortunately, a company called Algolia has come to the rescue offering the stellar search functionality with native support for a variety of web applications including WordPress.
Depending on your budget and size of your site, you can sign up for one of their four plans ranging from free to $999/month with a free 14-day trial offered on all plans. For most sites, the free plan is more than enough yet if you need advanced features like detailed analytics, priority support or have more than 10,000 searchable records (posts, pages, etc.) then you'll need to upgrade to a premium paid plan.
Powered by Amazon's robust AWS server architecture, performance is incredibly fast, and the actual installation on your WordPress server is simple thanks to their native WordPress plugin. All-in-all, Algolia is the strongest search plugin currently available for the everyday WordPress website owner, and it is our search platform of choice that we rely on right here at The Tech Reviewer.
One of the most popular premium on-site search plugins for WordPress is called SearchWP. When I mention ‘on-site', it means that unlike Algolia, it runs all the search functionality through your web hosting server and not through its an off-site service. While this means that the speed and performance will be based on the quality of your server, it also means a cheaper yearly cost compared to a steep monthly subscription of an off-site service like Algolia.
We used to used SearchWP here at The Tech Reviewer and enjoyed the plugin very much, but due to the nature of our site that harnesses internal databases with thousands of thousands of posts within it, the plugin began to struggle to keep up with the search demands. Due to this, we decided to move to a dedicated off-site service. The team over at SearchWP wholeheartedly accepts that their plugin is not made for large-scale websites and even state this in the FAQs section.
However, those just starting to branch into blogging or running any smaller sites powered by WordPress can benefit from the performance improvements and flexibility of SearchWP. There is also native support for WooCommerce, EasyDigitalDownloads, ACF Pro and WP Job Manager.
Relevanssi (Free – $219.95)
Relevanssi has been used in the WP community for quite awhile now as it originally started as a free alternative to WordPress's default search feature. Since then, Relevanssi has spawned its Premium license which provides the same great functionality from the free version with advanced features like algorithm adjustments, better support, performance tweaks, and WordPress Multisite support.
Better Search (Free)
Better Search is a free alternative found in the WordPress plugin repository, and while it is newer to the scene, it already has surpassed over 8K active installs. This plugin offers the ability to search not just posts, but also pages and custom post types with customizable output options and changes to weight with the algorithm (between title and content).
What I like about Better Search is that it is an automatic replacement for the default WordPress search as soon as you activating and has seamless integration with your current theme. However, if you are an advanced user, you can take advantage of the template file to make CSS customizations. Better Search works with caching plugins like WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache, has an optional profanity filter and is also translation ready so it can be used with WP sites in other languages.
Google Custom Search Engine (Free)
Is there any better technology to implement on your site than Google's own search engine? Many years ago the Big G introduced their Custom Search Engine technology for website owners who wanted to utilize their search engine technology for displaying their native content within Google search results on their own websites. It isn't the easiest option to install on your own site compared to others on this list, but surely a powerful tool depending on your needs.
Initially, it launched with a basic (free) plan which allows basic customization and the ability to utilize Adsense ads within the search results as another way to earn advertising revenue from your site. They also offered a premium Google Site Search plan which started at $100 a year allowing you to fine-tune the design and access advanced features. However, this premium search discontinued as of April 1st, 2017 so the free plan is the only option they offer to new users.