Enterprise grade search in WordPress

Author - Alex Price

Posted By Alex Price Founder

Date posted 14th Aug 2018

Category Blog, WordPress


Content management systems such as WordPress make producing content extremely easy.

But fast forward a few years having published thousands or even tens of thousands of posts on your WordPress site, and suddenly the user experience you offer your users on the front end can come under some strain.

The search functionality that comes built into WordPress is adequate for a basic site search of some pages and posts, but when we look at the large volumes of content stored within enterprise scale WordPress sites, things get more complex. Accuracy, relevance and speed all become more important when trying to differentiate between large volumes of posts that might be similar, and therefore search queries can become more complicated.

Taking a step back, it’s not just within the world of WordPress that search can be hard to get right. Building accurate and fast search has been a challenge with the field of academic computer science since the beginning. In fact solving the challenge of search was the very foundation on which Google was created, and we all know how much money and how many clever people still work on constantly evolving and improving the accuracy of Google’s search algorithm every day.

So what are the options for more powerful and enterprise grade search in WordPress?

There are a few WordPress plugins that aim to build upon and improve the built in WordPress search. The advantage of these plugins is that they are usually relatively cost effective (sometimes free) and should be fairly easy to integrate into a WordPress site.

Examples of such plugins include Relevanssi and SearchWP.

Whilst these plugins can help to improve relevance of content searches by implementing more detailed search queries, they won’t do much to improve performance. This is because they are installed on your WordPress site itself, and will be powered by the same server that you use to run your WordPress site on.

When we look towards the more truly enterprise WordPress search options, it tends to be the norm to separate out the infrastructure being used to host the website itself from that used to power the search functionality.

From a performance perspective, there are advantages to offloading search functionality to external resources. This means that the underlying infrastructure your WordPress website or web application sits on can focus on running your site and will be able to scale more effectively, whilst separate resources power your search capabilities.

Projects such as the open source ElasticSearch can offer the framework on which to build a truly fast and scalable solution for carrying out search functionality using distributed and RESTful technology.

Elastic have also developed a productised version of ElasticSearch called Swiftype which offers an out of the box WordPress plugin to ease integration which can help take search to the next level on your site – features include results ranking, algorithm weighting, autocomplete and spell check to name a few.

Similarly, Algolia have a similar offering that is used to power search on some large scale sites. They also have a WordPress plugin which could be used to make integration more straightforward.

Search solutions such as these can also provide powerful search analytics, meaning data can be fed back into product or content teams to ensure you are producing content that meets the need and expectations of users or customers.

The bottom line is that investing in enterprise grade search functionality on your WordPress site should mean delivering a frictionless user experience, whilst giving power to your users to navigate and consume content with ease.

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