Published on May 2, 2023
A Search Party
Never before have so many people spent so much time in the act of looking for stuff. Even traditional hunter-gatherer societies experienced down time, but not today’s info-craving hominids. They want to find what they’re looking for and find it fast. If your WordPress website can’t cater to the needs of those whose gratification is never delayed, you’ll end up in the dustbin of history.
So when it comes to your WordPress website, search really, really matters. WordPress has a built-in version of search, but there are many caveats to declare up front. This WP native feature doesn’t work well with sites that have lots of data or that rely on e-commerce.
Hence, if your website doesn’t have a search box, users will think your site is hopelessly outdated, a kind of techno combover. But if you rely on the native WP search solution, you might be tarnishing your brand by not delivering results users want.
What WP’s Search Lacks
So why doesn’t WP’s native search function work as well as it might? For one thing, smaller companies might disagree with that assessment. For them, it works perfectly fine. The issues arise when you begin to scale up in size, because this search engine only scans post titles and content to generate results.
Moreover, if you rely on Advanced Custom Fields, WP’s search won’t look in those fields at all, and the same goes for content posted in certain plugins. Those are some pretty big holes.
An internal search feature needs to allow users to filter results, but WP’s search doesn’t do this. If you are running an online store through WooCommerce, your products will be listed, sure, but alongside blog posts and whatever else the algorithm dredges up that associates with the search term. Users can’t filter for price, color, size, you name it. It’s a data dump, and not very helpful for user-friendly.
Lastly, the native WP search is slow. And the bigger your website is, the slower the search feature becomes. If your database increases in size, the slower search becomes.
Why Internal Search
Maybe you’re still not convinced about the need for an internal search feature. After all, your website is beautifully designed and it takes users on a fantastic journey through your company’s wares or services, with a navigation menu that’s intuitive and easy to use.
But if you have 47 pages of blog posts or if you’re selling fifty different kinds of candles, then users might get frustrated that they can’t simply bypass the journey you designed and get to the destination they want. The thing is, users expect something like what happens when they search on Google, where about half of all searches are zero click. Google doesn’t want anyone leaving Google, of course, but that raises the bar for what search is supposed to do.
Internal search empowers users to find their own answers (and not clog up your helpline chat).
Some Possible Fixes
The simplest solution to improving search on WP is to use a plugin, but let’s be clear: these plugins won’t replace the built-in version of WP’s search, just improve its functionality by adding more options and increasing the speed and efficiency. They’re compatible with most themes and very easy to install and get up and running.
The plugin that seems to add more refinement to internal search is WP Extended Search, which is lightweight yet powerful enough to allow search of tags. categories, author names, and many other customizable parameters. Using shortcode or widgets you can add custom search fields for target-specific improvements.
If you rely on WooCommerce, then a good plugin to use would be Advanced Woo Search, because with the free version you can now allow searches for SKU or ID numbers or product description. You’ll need the premium version if you want to include filters and custom fields.
2. A New Theme
Another way to boost WP search is by changing your theme, and this way you don’t have to add a plugin that might make your site lag. The good news is that many themes will come preloaded with a plugin that improves search, just like the ones above do (there are dozens of good search-related WP plugins). Other themes add filtering tools to the native search platform without deploying a plugin.
An example of a theme that comes with excellent search capabilities is Avada, which also happens to be most popular WP premium theme. But there are lots of options to pick from.
3. A Complete Overhaul
Another possibility for improving search on WP is to replace it with a completely different approach. Google is the king of search, and you certainly could use Google Custom Search as your own internal search solution. This move would replace the internal search on your site and route it over to Google’s servers. The downside to this approach is that the search page might not match the theme, color, or fonts of your website, which could confuse some users.
But there’s a WP plugin to help you get this set up if you want it.
Other plugins would also replace the WP search with a different framework. One that is getting a lot of attention is Ajax, because it allows for web pages to update without having to reload. In other words, Ajax will display search results in real time. A plugin can help you install it on your WP site, and then you’ll have filtering options, keyword suggestions, and autocomplete, all of which will enhance UX.
WP’s native search is something like an Achilles heel of what is an incredible CMS. But being open-source, WP allows for creative people to solve problems, and that’s what is happening in this case. If you have over a thousand pages of content or items in an e-store, then you are going to have to address the search issue sooner rather than later. Just plan your attack and charge.
This post was last updated on May 3, 2023