Searching on WordPress Blogs

Searching on WordPress blogs has always been one of their weaker functionalities.

I’m not a techie, so I don’t understand the algorithms behind searching, but I do know that whenever I tried out the search feature on my own blogs the results were dismal.

Which was probably costing me readers.

So I went in search of a better option this week.

First I tried Google Custom Search.

That looked pretty good on the surface because it basically focused Google’s search technology onto my own site (and any other sites I wanted to include).

It required me to plant some code on my site to create the search box. This was no problem and I put it into a text widget.

It also required me to create an extra page on which to display the search results. This actually needs to be done first so that the search page url can be included in the code they generate.

No problems there and installing the code was easy enough. I did need to manipulate the code slightly to ensure that the results displaid correctly on the search results page, but that was just a question of reducing the width of the display panel.

But the results were worse than dismal.

When I typed in a search the resulting descriptions were accurate and taken from posts that correctly addressed what the search was for.

But the titles (which are the clickable bits) were completely unrelated, as were the displaid urls below the description.  This would only serve to seriously irritate searchers because the description would look right but when they clicked the title they’d be taken to a completely different post.

I raised a trouble ticket with Google and lived with this for a couple of days. But when there was no explanation and no change I decided to go hunting for another solution.

Next I tried the Search Everything plugin. This, again, looked good on the surface and enabled me to configure what I wanted to be included or excluded from search results. For example I chose to include tags, categories and meta data in search results, as well as the content from posts and pages.

There was no instruction to activate a separate search box (as had been the case with Google Custom Search) and I couldn’t find any information anywhere on the Search Everything site to tell me whether or not it worked with the standard WordPress search widget.

There were also no new widgets placed in my widget list. So I reactivated the standard WordPress Search widget and tested Search Everything.

But the results were no different (as far as I could tell) from the standard WordPress search functionality.

Disappointed, I resumed my search and the next plugin I tried was Search Unleashed.

The Search Unleashed website was full of detailed information and descriptions on how it worked, and how to configure it.  An encouraging start. So I installed it.

The options page was simple enough and the modules page enabled me to define what elements I wanted to be included in search results. Again, I selected categories, tags and meta data as well as the content of posts and pages.

I then needed to index my database – a click of a button and the plugin does its thing. This was encouraging, since it implied a more thorough approach. (There was no request to index my database with the Search Everything plugin).

There was also a new widget in my widget list. So I removed the standard WordPress search widget and installed the new Search Unleashed widget. And tested the search function.

And it works brilliantly!

It has functions exactly like the normal search engine search functions – so, for example, you can use wild card searches, enclose searches in quotes for more accurate results, and so on.

And it highlights the terms that it’s responding to in the search results. So you can see what term is triggering the results you’re getting and change it if necessary to get a better result.

So if you’re not satisfied with the standard WordPress search function I do recommend Search Unleashed. You can find it here.

I’ve also just added the ‘Tweet This’ plugin – so please tweet this article!

Updated 15 November, 2010:

I should have added this update earlier.  Anyway, there’s a follow up article to this one on the WordPress search function, in which I’ve had to eat my words.  You can find it here.

What do you think?