Get pro WordPress tips or your money back!

Is SearchWP The Best WordPress Search Plugin?

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.

SearchWP 3 Minute Demo

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!

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 $100/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).


1. SearchWP

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 $99 per year and goes up to $299 per year in order to take advantage of all the premium features available.

2. Relevanssi

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 $99 per year or $299 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.

4. ElasticPress

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 $79 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:

best wordpress search plugin: List of posts

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:

Searching for the keyword "Carmen"

Where’s Carmen SanDiego?

There she is!

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:

Screenshot of SearchWP Setting Screen
Add post types to the SearchWP settings in SearchWP 3.0

Now, upon searching, the custom post type is included:

Found her!

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.

Customizing search algorithm

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.

Keyword Stemming

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.

Nothing to see here :(

But if I activate SearchWP, and run the search again, I’ll get a result:

There he is!
Standard WordPress search would have returned null here

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:

Waldo-related PDF
SearchWP Returning PDFs

The title of the PDF:

waldo-pdf
The PDF with the keyword in the actual document title

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.

Buy SearchWP

Enjoy this post? Never miss another one.

25 Comments

  1. Hamilton Lindley

    I looks very helpful to have a search function that includes the content of PDF files. Many of my files are in that format. But I’ve never paid for a wordpress plugin. This may be the first. Thanks for sharing this interesting idea, Ryan.

    1. Ryan Sullivan

      Hey Luigi, we haven’t updated this article in a long time which is why there’s a pricing discrepancy. We hope to update this soon!

  2. Fred

    I’ve been using Relevanssi on my sites for years and it has always done a great job for me. Plus it’s free! A search plugin would certainly have to be pretty special to justify me spending $25 on it.

  3. Will

    Looks like it’s been three years since I posted a comment about the incorrect Relevannsi information in that table graphic. Considering how high up this post is on the google, it seems a shame to continue to spread the misinformation.

    This stuff is still in the free version of Relevanssi:
    Post meta search, bbpress search, extendable code, you can choose any post type (including custom) and taxonomy to include in the search (plus comments, short codes and excerpts), and it has search statistics. Also, still no sort of PDF search available, even in premium.

    Relevannsi also has really complete set of available hooks in the free version. You don’t need premium to ‘extend’ it at all.

    I’ve since used both Relevannsi and SearchWP. They’re both great products. SearchWP’s ability to index PDFs was essential for one project but when that’s not required, Relevannsi is a great alternative. Both have great support. SearchWPs granular weighting system is also fantastic for a site with lots of custom fields but you have to be ready to invest a fairly considerable amount of time into tweaking it, depending on how you’re using the fields. SearchWP’s documentation is much better organized. Relevannsi has docs but you often find what you’re looking for via a random blog post on his site!

    SearchWP definitely wins out when the amount of indexed content is fairly high.

  4. Sara Leonard

    Another great site search plugin to implement search functionality on a WordPress website is searchIQ (www.searchiq.xyz). It is easy to install, highly customizable and free to use. The plugin supports real-time indexing of website pages to deliver fast and accurate search results.

    Key Features:
    Phrase matching for highly relevant results
    Real-time Indexing
    Auto-complete results with toggle image option
    Custom Fields Search
    Synonym aliasing to handle inexact searches
    Weight assignment on title, content, category, tags to prioritize the search results
    Cross Domain Search functionality
    Responsive search results across all devices
    Real-time Analytics
    View & download Weekly/Monthly reports

  5. Rob Carmichael

    Hi – Clues on how to have a search bar which says “I am looking for..
    And then a dropdown menu will give the option for topics in that niche – so say u landed on a skin care site – and it said: I am looking for:|
    And then when you clicked in the search bar a drop down of eye care, acne, anti-aging,… etc would appear?
    Thanks if u can recommend – still on the hunt.

  6. William Garnsey

    I’m looking for a search that will search both my WP content site and my e-commerce site (Volusion). So something that will spider both. In otherwords, content is on WP, products on Volusion. Site visitors may be interested in both results.

  7. imnotminkus

    Relevanssi does not index PDFs in any version. I know of no plugin other than SearchWP that will index PDFs. With xPDF, it should work well. Without, the OCR’d PDFs I’ve tried have random spaces inserted everywhere, so you end up with things like “Th isi s ase ntenc e that it r ead s.”, which is useless in terms of searching. These spaces don’t show up when the same text is copied from SumatraPDF or Adobe Reader.

  8. Will

    Nice overview of SearchWP but in the interest of readers making an informed comparison I think you need to update the table—some of the Relevanssi column is just plain wrong. Perhaps things have changed since this was posted?

    In the free version of Relevanssi:
    Post meta search, bbpress search, extendable code, you can choose any post type (including custom) and taxonomy to include in the search (plus comments, short codes and excerpts), and it has search statistics.

    PDF indexing *isn’t* an option in Relevanssi in free or premium.

    Also, SearchWP starts at $29.99, not $24.99.

    I’m currently evaluating them both so I don’t have a dog in the this fight, so to speak. 🙂

  9. Rohit Sharma

    Wow an awesome article, I was also writing about SearchWP so can I use your comparison image on my blog. i will definitely provide a link to this page and will also write their the comparison is done by you.

  10. Darren

    can you confirm that WPsearch does index PDF files fully so that you can perform a full text search of any PDF attachment? Does it support any other filetypes?

  11. Tom

    Was looking @ Swiftype Search, until I spotted this review and with a site ove 10K posts, decided it wasn’t for me. “This plugin works great for small websites. For large websites with over 10,000 posts, they charge $179 per month. There is no indication of the fee until when you install the plugin. A few weeks later an agent will send you an email telling you to pay up or stop using the plugin. This should have been mentioned during installation.

    Another example of freemium software using misleading tactics to ramp up business. Some sort of mention of the fees should have been included on the WordPress.org page.”

Leave a Reply

You have to agree to the comment policy.