Free WordPress Ajax Search Plugins – Which auto-complete plugin is best?

📂 Category: WP Plugins

🖺 Last modified: 2nd Jan 2020

💻 Experience: Beginner - Intermediate

🕑 Read Time: 7 min

What are WordPress Ajax Search plugins? You almost certainly used search forms on some sites, and instead on a search results page, suggestions showed up instantly as you type. That’s a great solution that speeds up searching and significantly improves user experience. So, you’d like to implement auto-complete feature on your blog or any other website? We’ll show you how to do it.

Enabling WordPress Ajax Search with auto-suggest results feature

By default, WordPress shows results from a search form on a dedicated search results page. The WP search results page is similar to post category or post archive loop pages and it’s generated by the search.php template file in your theme folder. It usually delivers results in featured photo / post title / post excerpt format and shows a number of results per page defined in advance (10 by default), with pagination on the bottom. The theme you use defines the visual look of the search results page. The differences are usually rather small from theme to theme.

So, how to get rid of the boring old school search results page and enable the modern WordPress Ajax Search on your site? If you handle PHP/jquerry well, you can read a couple of online tutorials and try to code a custom ajax search form yourself. There are ready made .js libraries for this purpose. This article is focused on less experienced WP developers or those looking for a fast solution, therefore we’re going to enable WordPress Ajax search using a plugin.

Free WordPress Ajax Search Plugins overview

There are a dozen free plugins in the WordPress repository created to enable auto-complete search forms with auto-suggestion feature. We tested ‘em all and picked up three favorites. Our opinion is that Ajax Search Lite, SearchWP Live and Search in place are currently the best free auto-complete / auto-suggest plugins available. Read our review of those plugins and decide which one will suit you best.

We tested the ajax search plugins functionality, look and ease of setting up, but also measured the impact of the plugnis on loading speed of the site. Keep all those aspect on mind when choosing your favorite.

Ajax Search Lite – The most complete auto-complete plugin

Ajax Search Lite is created by Ernest Marcinko / WP Dreams and at the time of this writing this article the plugin version is 4.7.25. It’s compatible with the current version of WordPress and it’s regularly updated.

Most definitely, this ajax search plugin is the No.1 choice by WP developers, with more than 40.000 active installations. Furthermore it has an average vote 4.5 on over 120 ratings (May, 2019). No wonders about that, as soon as you install the plugin you realize it’s a very well done piece of code.

Installing and setting up Ajax Search Lite plugin

Installing Ajax Search Lite is quick and easy as any other WordPress plugin, but prepare to spend some time setting it up. The plugin will do it’s job out of the box, but there are over 40 customizing options you might want to go trough to set it’s functions and look exactly as you want. Even though there are a lot of options they are well explained and easy to understand.

A couple of useful options you might want to adjust:

  • custom post types selection (search posts/pages or both)
  • post elements to search within (title, excerpt, content, url… )
  • search logic (and / or), results ordering
  • visual preferences, 8 customizable templates
  • keyword highlighting in results
  • search form behaviour, number of letters to activate search
  • handy front-end search preferences box enabling
  • connect search form to Google Analytics

Adding the auto-complete search form to the site using Ajax Search Lite

There are a couple of methods you can use to add the auto-complete search form to your site’s front-end. Firstly, you can add the Ajax Search Lite widget to a widget area of your website. Secondly, you can use the plugin shortcode to add the ajax search form to any page of the site. You can also add the form to any of your site template parts (php files) using the do_shortcode() function.

If your website already uses a WordPress search form, you only have to turn on “Replace theme’s search form” in the plugin’s settings. Your boring old search form will turn into a live auto-suggestion search form like magic.

Wordpress Ajax Search Plugins front-end preview: Ajax Search Lite

Ajax Search Lite customizable search form, result sugesstions and search preferences box

Downsides of Ajax Search Lite plugin

Our opinion is this is a really good plugin. It doesn’t have any significant downsides. Except if site speed really matters to you. Measured with Pingdom tools, this ajax search form plugin doesn’t noticeable affect site loading speed. But still, it adds around 7 server requests to your site. That is a couple more compared to other auto-complete search form plugins. Turning off some settings can reduce server requests a bit. If the number of server requests really matter to you, you should consider another plugin, or give up on auto-suggestion search forms completely.

In case that over 40 configuration options don’t satisfy your needs completely, there are over 100 more adjustments in the paid PRO version of the Ajax Search Lite plugin. Lite or PRO, we strongly suggest using this plugin.

Pros

  • does it’s job perfectly
  • easy to use
  • extremely configurable and flexible
  • Google Analytics implementation

Cons

  • slightly more server request than similar plugins

Download the Plugin

Search In Place – Free WordPress Ajax search plugin

Search In Place by CodePeople is another good free plugin to enable ajax powered auto-suggestion search forms in WordPress. It’s current version 1.0.36 has over 2000 active installations and its rated with an average of 4.5 by over 20 users (data from May 2019). This auto-complete search form plugin is compatible with the latest version of WordPress and it’s frequently updated.

After installation, Search In Place ajax search plugin works right out of the box. Spend a minute adjusting a couple of basic visual and functional preferences to your needs. For example, choose content elements to display in the results, number of results, minimal number of characters to activate search and a couple more styling options. More options is available the paid version of the plugin.

Wordpress Ajax Search Plugins front-end preview: Search in place

Search in place front-end form and result sugesstions grouped into posts and pages

Adding an ajax search form to your site using Search In Place plugin

This ajax search plugin doesn’t have it’s own widget, but it adds auto-suggest / auto-complete functionlity to the default WordPress search widget. Therefore, you can add the default search form widget to any widget to enable ajax searching on your site. Also, if you already have a WordPress search form on your site, it will automatically gain ajax auto-complete functionality. A shortcode is also available to put the ajax search form on any page or anywhere within the template.

Search In Place is not as great auto-suggestion search form plugin as the Ajax Search Lite, but beats it in server requests number. It generates only 4 server requests, which means it will impact site loading speed less than Ajax Search Lite. Search In Place is probably the best ajax search solution if the number of server requests means a lot to you.

Pros

  • does it’s job well
  • easy to use
  • light and fast

Cons

  • limited number of preferences
  • post type selection available only in paid version

Download the Plugin

SearchWP Live Ajax Search auto-suggestion plugin

Less is more! That’s the philosophy behind the SearchWP Live Ajax Search plugin. Created by Jonathan Christopher, the current version 1.3.1 of the plugin has over 10.000 active installs and an average vote 5.0 from 20 voters (May 2019).

This minimalistic plugin comes with no adjustable preferences. It has a dedicated widget, but it also gives ajax search and auto-suggestion functionality to the default WordPress search form widget. There is no shortcode to add the search form to pages and templates. You can add ajax search auto-complete functions to a custom search form anyway by adding data-swplive=”true” data atribute to it’s <input> element.

The search results are also presented in a minimalistic format. Results show the post or page title only, no post thumbnail. The visual style is inherited from the site theme.

Wordpress Ajax Search Plugins front-end preview: SearchWP Live

SearchWP Live minimalist front-end search form and result sugesstions

Any needed customization of this plugin can by done by editing it’s php files. You can find some customizing instructions on the official SearchWP Live Ajax Search page. If you have some basic knowledge of PHP you can customize the plugin to your needs pretty well.

The plugin adds 4 server requests to your site which won’t impact the loading speed significantly. If you are looking for a simple auto-suggestion search form for your site SearchWP Live Ajax Search might be a good option.

    Pros

    • simple, light and fast
    • no setting up

    Cons

    • no customizing options, some customizing possible by editing plugin files
    • search results show only post/page title, no thumbnail

    Download the Plugin

    Free WordPress Ajax Search Plugins – Conclusion

    After intensive testing of free WordPress auto-suggestion / auto-complete plugins, our opinion is that Ajax Search Lite does it’s job best by far. It won out vote by it’s extensive customizing options even in the free version. Search In Place is also good, but less configurable both in the free and paid versions. This auto-complete plugin will find its users among those to who want to reduce server requests to the minimum. SearchWP Live Ajax Search is not to be scratched either. Some developers will love it’s minimalistic design, basic functionality, lightness and speed.