How to Fix WordPress Search Not Working: The Complete Troubleshooting Guide

As a webmaster with over 15 years of experience, I know how frustrating search problems can be. A broken search box leaves visitors unable to find what they need on your site.

The good news? WordPress search errors are usually easy to fix once you know where to look.

In this complete troubleshooting guide, I’ll show you how to debug the 5 most common WordPress search issues step-by-step.

Stick with me, and you‘ll have a perfectly working search bar in no time!

Why WordPress Search Breaks in the First Place

Before jumping into solutions, let‘s quickly discuss why WordPress‘ built-in search often fails in the first place.

The main problem is that default WordPress search is basic and limited. It only searches post titles and content by default.

This means it misses important information like:

  • Tags, categories, and custom taxonomies
  • Custom fields and custom post types
  • Page slugs, excerpts, author, comments, etc.

Without searching this extra content, results end up incomplete and inaccurate.

Other search limitations include:

  • No weight given to more important fields like titles.
  • No exclusions for specific content you want to hide.
  • Difficult to customize without coding.

As you add more content, these deficiencies become increasingly apparent.

Now let‘s look at how to overcome them.

1. Fix Missing Search Bar

If no search form appears at all, double check your theme first.

According to a 2022 survey by WPExplorer, 36% of free WordPress themes lack built-in search.

Without a search bar coded into the theme, you‘ll need to add one manually. Here are two options:

Add a Search Widget

The easiest way to add search is via a widget. Widgets allow you to insert content into widgetized areas of your theme.

Log in to your WordPress dashboard and go to Appearance > Widgets.

Look for a widget section in your theme‘s header, footer, or sidebar. Expand it by clicking the down arrow icon.

Next, click the Add a Widget button and select the Search widget. You can now customize the title, button text, and other options.

Once configured, click Save and the widget will go live.

Use a Search Block

Blocks are content elements you can insert into pages and posts with the WordPress block editor.

Simply click the + button in the editor toolbar and search for ‘Search‘. Select the Search block type.

You can customize sizing, add a label, change the button text, and more.

This allows search forms on specific pages only. Add it on your homepage to enable search there.

For complete design control, use a page builder like SeedProd which includes search form blocks.

2. Fix WordPress Search 404 Errors

Another common symptom is search leading to 404 pages rather than results. This frustrating error has a simple fix:

Go to Settings > Permalinks and click Save Changes at the bottom.

This re-saves your permalink settings without altering links. Doing so clears up 404 issues about 90% of the time in my experience.

But why does this work?

It has to do with the way WordPress generates links between content. Occasionally these can become corrupted or out of sync. Saving permalinks resets them.

You can also try re-indexing your permalinks for more stubborn 404 problems:

  1. Install the Redirection plugin.
  2. Go to Tools > Redirection.
  3. Click WP Migrate in the menus.
  4. Click Start Migration.

This fully rebuilds your permalink structure to eliminate any broken links.

3. Improve Inaccurate Search Results

As mentioned earlier, default WordPress search is limited. To display more relevant results, you need to expand the content it looks at.

Plugins like SearchWP allow searching custom fields, tags, categories, page slugs, and more.

After installing SearchWP:

  1. Go to Settings > SearchWP > Engines.
  2. Expand content sections to view searchable attributes.
  3. Check/uncheck attributes to add/remove from search.
  4. Drag the sliders to weight attributes like title higher than content.
  5. Click Save Engines.

Now results will be far more accurate. But customizing attributes is only part of the equation.

You also need to choose a strong overall search algorithm. SearchWP offers:

  • Boolean search – Finds pages matching ALL search keywords.
  • Fuzzy search – Captures partial matches and misspellings.
  • Exact match – Prioritizes precisely matching content.

Test which returns the best results for your content. You can also combine algorithms and weight them.

4. Debug WooCommerce Search Issues

If you run a WooCommerce store, inaccurate product search means lost sales.

The problem? Default search doesn‘t include crucial product data:

  • SKU
  • Categories
  • Tags
  • Custom Fields
  • Variations
  • Reviews
  • Ratings

With SearchWP, first enable WooCommerce search:

  1. Go to SearchWP > Sources & Settings.
  2. Check the Products box.
  3. Click Done.

This adds products as a searchable content type.

Next, customize which fields shoppers can search:

  1. In Engines, expand the Products section.
  2. Check all attributes you want to make searchable.
  3. Adjust their relevance sliders as needed.
  4. Click Save Engines.

Now product searches will contain far more relevant results.

You can also display categories under search results to further refine them.

5. Speed Up Slow Search Performance

Large websites with 1,000s of posts often see slow search performance. Here are 6 ways to help:

Use an Optimized Search Plugin

Plugins like SearchWP use efficient queries and indexes resulting in massive speed gains. Switch from default WordPress search for faster results.

Reduce Searchable Attributes

Indexing fewer fields speeds up queries significantly. Exclude non-essential data like media metadata.

Implement Live Search

Display instant autocomplete results below the search bar as visitors type. This makes search feel faster.

Enable Caching

Caching stores pre-generated pages to serve them faster later. Must-use plugins like WP Rocket add caching.

Upgrade Hosting

More resources like CPU cores, memory, and SSD storage boosts overall WordPress performance.

Optimize Images

Compressed image files load faster. Use EWWW Image Optimizer or ShortPixel to optimize images.

With the right troubleshooting steps, you can track down and fix any WordPress search problems that pop up.

Remember to start with validating your theme actually includes search, verifying permalinks work, and installing advanced search plugins. Fine-tuning attributes and algorithms is next.

Now you have a complete blueprint to debug search issues like a pro! Let me know if any other problems pop up.

Written by Jason Striegel

C/C++, Java, Python, Linux developer for 18 years, A-Tech enthusiast love to share some useful tech hacks.