We recommend to all our clients that integrate Google Custom Search into their site to optimize their website’s search box results instead of using WordPress’ weaker inbuilt search.

Google is the world-leader in search, and Google Custom Search gives a sense of familiarity to your visitors when they use it. The only real drawback is that there is a fee to remove Adsense ads from the results which sometimes show above your site’s results (note that no other sites show in the results section irrespective of whether you pay the fee or not).

Key differences between the WordPress’ inbuilt search and Google Custom Search:

Search Results: WordPress Google Custom Search
Ordered by: Basic relevance* Relevance
Excerpt: Default
Sometimes includes search term
Always includes search term
Search term highlighted: No Yes
Spelling corrections: No Yes
Handling different content types: Can be problematic Automatic
Content searched: Individual content only Entire page content

The first key difference is the search results ordering. Prior to WordPress 3.7, results were always ordered by date – the most recent ones given prominence over older ones, even if the older articles were more focused on the search term than newer ones. Since WordPress 3.7, this has improved slightly – results where the search terms appear in the title are shown before other results. However, the algorithm is still extremely basic – for example, searching for the word ‘search‘ will come up with posts about ‘research‘ – and many of the results will still be sorted by date. Google’s algorithm is top secret but well known to provide extremely accurate results.

Further, by showing default WordPress excerpts, it makes it hard for visitors to know whether or the search result is useful to them.

Search terms are not highlighted in the excerpts and there’s no spelling corrections – both are subtle but highly practical features which we’ve come to rely on when using Google.

Having a WordPress site with different content types really requires having a special search template that looks good for all types of content. Often a blog design will have, for example, pages and posts that look quite different (blogs are often designed with dates, authors, excerpts, features images etc in mind; while pages are not). Trying to come up with a format that displays both nicely may not be easy or look good. This is even more complex when you have lots of content types.

WordPress inbuilt search can only ever search individual content; it’s not going to come up with any special pages like category archives or other pages that have dynamic functionality. Google indexes the entire content of the page.

Google Custom Search provides better search results than WordPress’ internal search.

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