Software Engineering in WordPress and Musings on the Deep Life

Why I Recommend SearchWP

For a few years now, I’ve been using SearchWP on this and on a few other sites I’ve either built or had a hand in improving.


Most people who are active in the WordPress development space are aware of this plugin (at least, I think they are), but if you’re someone who’s not involved with WordPress at that level and are looking for a way to improve the search functionality of your site, then I can’t recommend the plugin enough.

Then again, even if you are a developer and you’ve never used it, the same sentiment rings true.


Every now and then, I’ll recommend tools and resources I think are really valuable for people who are active users and/or developers within the WordPress space. Typically, these recommendations come long after I’ve been using them for myself, for other projects, or for both.

And that’s exactly the case with SearchWP. For those who are unfamiliar:

SearchWP was built to be a plugin you can install and fully utilize instantly after activating. It was also designed to accommodate developers in every way possible, allowing for very fine-grained control & customization.

In short, it makes searching the WordPress database more powerful.

I know – it sounds kind of developer-y (because that’s a word!), right? But if you’re someone who has worked with WordPress at any capacity – either as a blogger or a developer – and you’re someone who has dealt with the native search functionality, then you know although it’s not terrible, it does leave something to be desired.

The Interface of Search

I’d venture to say almost anyone who uses the web regularly treats Google as the interface of the Internet. That is to say we no longer directly visit web addresses, but we use Google as a type of interface that allows us to, you know, find what we’re looking for.

And search is becoming more pervasive in other things we use. The Windows Start menu has a built in search field, Apple is integrating Spotlight into everything, and our blogs even have the a Search widget.

But why aren’t we using it?

For Bloggers

If you blog with any sort of regularity, odds are you’ve amassed a pretty large number of posts over time. To that end, it’s not at all hard to imagine the case where you think:

“I know I’ve written about this before, but I don’t remember the URL.”

So what do you do? You end up running a search somewhere on your site. Maybe it’s in the Dashboard, maybe it’s via the widget, or maybe it’s via a custom query in Google.

Whatever the case, you’ve ended up searching your own blog for content before so is it hard to imagine someone else would need to do the same, as well? I think this is especially true for regular readers.

From here, it makes sense to make the search functionality as powerful and accurate as possible. And that’s why, as a blogger, I’m such a fan of the plugin.

For Developers

Even if you’re not a regular blogger but you’re someone who writes code or manages content for others in WordPress, then there’s still a reason to enhance the search functionality of the installation.

But what if you need to tailor the search so it, say, adds more weight to a certain custom post type or you want to exclude tags, handle media differently, and so on.

Or maybe you need to hook into part of the search process and handle the result set a little bit differently before it hits the browser. Whatever the case, SearchWP makes this possible through its interface and through its set of hooks.

It’s rare to find a plugin that’s as user-friendly and developer-friendly as this particular plugin, and that’s one of the primary reasons, as a developer, I’m a fan.

It’s Not Marketing…

Sometimes, writing about this kind of stuff can feel very sales-oriented or like a marketing page so I often teeter on whether or not I should publish posts like this, then I remember that I’m talking about a utility I absolutely dig, that I’ve found useful for myself and for client projects, and I think would definitely benefit others.

So I hit the Publish button.

…It’s Sharing The Goods

But a post can only go so far especially when it’s based on personal experience. I’ve been a big fan of it for all of the reasons mentioned above. For those of you who are interested in the plugin, I recommend checking out the site if, for no other reason, you want to see just how much the plugin offers.

If you’re a blogger with a lot of content, this will help to make the Search widget like a new feature of the interface of your blog.

If you’re a developer who is building large sites or web applications for clients, then this plugin will definitely improve the results people are receiving when they search the site and you have the ability to finely tune the plugin both from the interface and from a programmatic perspective.


  1. Oliver Warders

    Really nice plugin. I am surprised this isnt alot of money because it has value.

    • Tom

      It’s a fantastic plugin — I agree. The price is well worth it and its development as well as its updates and extensions make it all the more worth it.

  2. Daron

    Hey Tom, curious what your thoughts are on using a Google Custom Search Engine. I totally get the appeal of scoped searches using SearchWP (and they work very well on sites that I’ve seen it on!) but how would you rank the fuzzy matching and AI of SearchWP vs Google?

    I get there is also the appeal of SearchWP being ad free when compared to Google’s free CSE tier.

    General thoughts of when to use which?

    • Tom

      the fuzzy matching and AI of SearchWP vs Google?

      In my experience, the fuzzy searching of SWP feels faster than a Google custom search since the GSE uses and iframe and all of that.

      SWP also gives finer tuning that GSE. This is obviously not really part of your question, but I thought I’d throw it in ;).

      General thoughts of when to use which?

      Small personal blogs would be fine with native WordPress search. GSE looks nice and it has its benefits in terms of being able to crawl the whole site more accurately, so if there’s a lot of content, then it might be a better option.

      With a much larger site with a lot of content – both native and custom – then SWP is the choice, hands down.

  3. Ryan Jarrett

    We’ve been using Relevanssi Premium and been very impressed with the results, and the level of customisation it allows from a developer’s perspective. Be interesting to see a direct comparison between the two plugins.

    • Tom

      I’ve hard other good things about Relevanssi – I’ve personally never used it so I don’t have much to actually offer in terms of comparison.

    • Jonathan Christopher

      Relevanssi is one of those plugins that will surely go down in history as having a huge impact on WordPress as a whole, and for good reason! I used Relevanssi up until the day I had a working beta of SearchWP built, and one of the main reasons I built SearchWP was to have really fine grained control over post meta. With SearchWP you can enable specific meta_keys, each with their own individual weights, per post type. With the client sites I build, that proves to be a really valuable (and necessary) feature for me. It was one of those foundational things I wanted in a search plugin.

      As time went on, other features that got rolled into SearchWP help me build better search solutions for clients. I really like that with SearchWP developers can be fully involved in the indexing process, and do things like include ‘extra metadata’ to be indexed with a post. This really helps to pull in relational data that isn’t necessarily stored with the post object, but you want to include it in the index for search purposes.

      The other big thing I built into SearchWP was the concept of search result attribution. In essence you can tell SearchWP that results found under certain circumstances should attribute their weight to the post parent, or another post entirely. A real-life example of this would be to tell SearchWP that bbPress Replies should attribute all of their search result weight to their post parent, so only Topics are included in search results. This makes for an awesome forum search that shows you only Topics as results, but allows Replies to influence how those Topics rank.

      All that to say, I think Relevanssi is a fantastic product with a huge following, it does a great job and has a lot of parallels with SearchWP. SearchWP was something I built to meet specific needs I had with my client projects, and it’s turned into something other developers have found useful as well. As time goes on SearchWP continues to improve and become more developer friendly, which is an overarching goal of mine.

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