When navigating a website, users need to be able to easily find what they’re looking for. If this is not happening, you might lose a subscriber or a potential client. This is why by having:
- Proper website navigation in place
- Blog categories
- Product categories, filters, and sorting options in the case of online stores
- Internal site search
you can improve website user experience, but also user engagement, and conversions.
In this article, we’ll go into the nitty-gritty of WordPress site search, which can help your visitors find the most relevant information for them. Particular tools can give you access to these searches so that you can gain insights into your visitors’ needs.
So, in this article we’ll be talking about:
- How to add internal search to your WordPress site
- Which are the most popular site search WordPress plugins
- How to create your WordPress search page
- How to track user searches on your site
How to add internal search to your WordPress site the old-school way
Site search is a native feature for WordPress. It comes in the shape of a widget that can be placed inside a sidebar. Now, depending on the theme you’re using, there are several other areas where you can place the site search widget.
Here are the steps for adding internal search to your WordPress website:
- Head over to Appearance->Widgets
- Find the Search widget in the available widgets list.
- The arrow on the right will expand a dropdown with the available widget areas.
- Select your desired area. In this particular case, we’ve got the blog sidebar and the WooCommerce left sidebar (relevant for online stores built with WooCommerce).
- Select “Add Widget”.
- On the right-hand side of your screen, you’ll see your available widget areas and their content. I’ve added the Search widget to the blog sidebar.
- You can select your widget inside the widget area and change its title. Maybe you want to write “Search” or “Search blog”.
The moment you add a widget to your desired area it will go live.
You can add the widget by drag and drop as well. Just drag your desired widget from the left, to the desired area on the right.
Wanna find out more details on how to use WordPress widgets? Check this article of ours, on the topic.
Now, the thing with the default internal search feature in WordPress is that it’s pretty basic. But no worries, there are ways to make it more powerful. Maybe you’d want some autocomplete options, or typo recognition…enter WordPress plugins.
WordPress plugins to help you improve your internal site search
I’ve picked 3 of the most popular site search WordPress plugins out there.
If you do not know how to install a WordPress plugin, don’t worry, we’ve got your back. This tutorial is all you need.
Relevanssi is a free WordPress that manages to enhance the default WordPress site search feature. For some advanced features, there’s also a paid plan.
Now, here’s how Relevanssi can optimize your internal WordPress site search:
- It sorts search results by relevance, not by date.
- It matches partial words as well if complete words don’t match. Awesome, right?
- It allows you to search for phrases with quotes, for example “search phrase”, just like in Google’s search engine.
- It creates custom excerpts that show where the hit was made, with the search terms highlighted. This is also cool because you get a preview of the results, and it helps you realize if you’ve got the right content or not.
- It highlights search terms in the documents when the user clicks through search results. This is also great: you won’t have to search it again.
- It allows for WooCommerce products search.
I bet you had no idea that this is what optimized site search can mean.
Me neither, truth be told!
Ivory Search can power up your internal WordPress site search with features like:
- Display search forms anywhere on the site: the site header, footer, widget area, navigation menu, page content and on any other place using shortcode. This way you won’t depend on the widget areas made available by your WordPress theme.
- Search any content on the site including but not limited to Post Types, Category, Taxonomy, Terms, Custom Fields, Authors, WooCommerce, Comments, Date, File Types etc.
- Excluded searches.
- Advanced search form styling options.
- Search WooCommerce products.
SearchWP is a very accurate site search WordPress plugin. Here are some of its best features:
- Show better results by using keyword stems instead of exact term matches.
- It allows searches for your keyword in post, page, titles, slug, categories, tags, comments, taxonomies, excerpts, etc.
- It has shortcode outputs.
- Search WooCommerce products.
- It has search statistics and insights to understand what your visitors are searching for and (not) finding.
One very useful site search feature is the autocomplete one. I guess you’ve seen this before:
SearchWP doesn’t include autocomplete search functionality by default. But you can enable it by using a free extension called SearchWP Live Ajax Search.
Now that you know which are the most popular site search WordPress plugins out there it’s time to find out how search really works on a site. How do the results actually show up?
The WordPress search page
A Search Page is a WordPress Page with a custom Page template to give users more information for searching your site.
The Search Page is in fact a template that displays the search results. When users type in the search bar a query, they’ll be prompted to a page with results. These pages are generated thanks to a template file that is often included in the sidebar of many themes. If there isn’t one in your theme, here is the official WordPress tutorial on how to create it.
For example, the Colibri theme has this file included. It can be accessed from the Customizer (Appearance -> Customize). On the upper-left, you can see an icon representing a file. When clicked, a dropdown with all the templates will show up (the search page included).
The Colibri search template matches the overall theme design, but it can be customized within the theme’s Customizer. When deploying the Colibri Page Builder plugin you’ll get access to tons of customization options.
Until now we’ve managed to:
- Run internal site search
- Customize the search results page
Enable Site Search Tracking in Google Analytics
Do you want to learn what your visitors are looking for on your site? Then, you need to enable site search tracking in Google Analytics.
It gives you insights into how people use your website, which content they look for, and what search terms they enter in the search bar. Such insights might even give you hints on your next blog topic.
Google Analytics is the tool that allows you to have access to users’ search terms. In order to do this, you’ll need to activate the feature.
You’ll have to log into your Google Analytics account, and head over to your Admin area.
Then, navigate to View -> View Settings.
Scroll down to “Site search Tracking” and toggle it on.
The query parameter is the letter that appears in your site’s URL before the search terms. It usually is the letter “s”(as in search term) or the letter “q”(as in query). Go ahead and search for something, then check your URL.
Make sure to tick “Strip query parameters out of URL”. This strips only the parameters you provided and not any other parameters in the same URL. This way you are telling Analytics not to split up tracking for each visited page. You won’t be seeing separate listings such as yoursite.com/page?s=1, or yoursite.com/page?q=2, etc. All visitors will be tracked together on
You can also enable “Site search categories”. In this case the query can be “cat”, more on the topic, here.
Now that you’ve enabled site search in Google Analytics, you can check the reports under Behavior -> Site Search.
And, we can call it a wrap!
Your turn now to set up search on your WordPress site.