Any large WordPress blog has a hinterland of content that isn’t exposed on the homepage. Site owners use tools like “Recent Articles” widgets to surface some of that content, but users still only see a tiny fraction of published posts.
Frequently, the only place users are exposed to older articles is in Google search results. They search for a term, and, if you’re lucky, your article appears somewhere near the top. Third-party search a powerful source of traffic for content sites, but it’s not a replacement for powerful internal search.
Ideally, when users come to your site, you want them to stay there. If you don’t offer a search experience intelligent enough to surface the content the user expects, they’ll just head back to Google. Once they leave, there’s no guarantee they’ll come back — Google is just as likely to send them to a different site.
Search is hard to get right. It’s a complex problem that relies on algorithms capable of “understanding” queries, indexing content, and ranking it according to meaningful criteria. Google is dominant in the search space because it solves a difficult problem well.
Out-of-the-box, WordPress includes a reasonably good search interface. Users can search posts and pages, and they’ll usually find what they’re looking for. But, for large WordPress sites, the built-in search can leave a lot to be desired. It lacks much of the sophistication that users have become accustomed to — Google’s search, with its smart autocomplete, spelling correction, and instant results is the gold standard.
Algolia — a cloud search provider — has recently released a WordPress plugin that brings many of the features users expect from search to WordPress, including autocomplete as the user types their query, instant search results, and smart faceting that can update filters as the user types.
Its customizable search functionality integrates well with WordPress, and it’s capable of returning results of searches over thousands of articles in fractions of a second, surfacing relevant content that can be ranked according to the specific requirements of a site.
Algolia is a third-party cloud search provider. If you’re worried about sending your site’s data off into the cloud, this may not be the plugin and service for you. Relevanssi is a popular alternative. But using a cloud platform relieves your servers of the load created by search — and for large sites, search can consume an expensive chunk of resources.
A search widget is only the beginning of what a powerful search engine can do. It’s possible to build flexible WordPress themes that leverage a search API throughout the design to display content according to any number of complex criteria. The Algolia plugin is “built by developers, for developers” and it exposes a lot of the platform’s functionality through WordPress filters and hooks that can be used by plugin and theme developers.
Algolia isn’t a free service, and even the lowest tier is likely to put it out of reach for smaller sites, but for sites with large quantities of content that can take advantage of enterprise-class search capabilities, Algolia is worth considering.