Learning Search

Using the WordPress Search Tool

Recently a ResearchBuzz article comment mentioned WordPress, and the difficulty the comment’s author had on finding WordPress in Google News’ blog search. The comment author said:

One caveat about the blog searches: they don’t seem to look at WordPress sites, at least the ones which are independently hosted. (Maybe they’re just looking at Blogger/Blogspot ones?)

WordPress sites can be set up two ways: self-hosted (you set the site up at your Web hosting provider, keep it up-to-date, install whatever plugins you want to use, etc) or WordPress-hosted (WordPress sets up your site, keeps up with security patches, restricts the plugins you can use unless you opt for a fairly expensive hosting plan, etc). My first thought was “Maybe it’s difficult for Google to easily identify WordPress installations.”

But my second thought was more prosaic: it might be difficult to identify WordPress blogs because of WP’s ubiquity. WordPress, though it’s often associated with blogging, is more broadly used as a content management system (CMS); as of March 2018 WordPress powers 30% of Web sites. (And that’s all Web sites, not just ones using a CMS.) It might be that Google’s blog search just can’t easily distinguish a blog from, say, a hobby site. Or a political candidate site. Or whatever. Other blogging platforms, like Blogger, are much smaller and much more associated with blogging.

Thinking about this also reminded me of WordPress.com itself. It is how I host ResearchBuzz. I started using Microsoft FrontPage (this blog is very old), used Movable Type for a while, and then switched to WordPress, finally moving to WordPress.com when I decided I wanted to spend my time producing content and not worrying about whether I’ve applied all my patches or if I’ve gotten a rogue plugin.

And I’m not alone. Though the WordPress “about” page doesn’t mention how many sites are hosted on its service, it does note that its users add over 41 million new posts per month. That’s a lot of content.

And guess what: WordPress has a search engine to go with it!

Using the WordPress Search Engine

The WordPress search engine is located at https://search.wordpress.com . It appears to default to AND and I can’t find much in the way of special syntax, but it does have a few advantages that I think make searching it worth your time.

Basic Search

When using the WordPress.com search, you’ll have to roll back to the early days of search. As I noted the search appears to default to AND (that is, if you put in multiple words the WP search engine will look for all of them in a page) and there’s no way I can find to exclude keywords.

The upside is that there’s a lot of good content here. Let’s do a quick search for “digitized manuscripts” (quote marks to denote phrases does seem to work):

screenshot from 2018 07 04 11 30 09

Admittedly that’s not particularly impressive. But look at the top of the search results. You’ll have an option to sort results by relevance (which is the default) or date. This is one area where the WordPress blog search has an advantage over Google. When you try to search Google for recent content it’s possible to find recently-created pages, but it’s also possible to get old pages into which a little recent content (like a sidebar with current headlines) has been added. Let’s take a look at the search results sorted by date:

screenshot from 2018 07 04 18 37 50

I shrunk the Web page a little so you could see more than just one result. I had to do that because WordPress search results give a lot of information. A very large image thumbnail, the page title of course, a good-sized excerpt, and, at the bottom, the page post date.

No, you won’t get as many results as when you use Google, and I find you’ll have to be a bit careful about how you set up searches. Not being able to exclude words, no special syntax that I can find, and the considerations of searching a lot of blogs (I would assume the language use to be less formal, for a start) means that you might have to experiment. I find with the searches I use I can get pretty specific (“digitized manuscripts”) and stay with that result set, but if you’re having no luck with general searches, try the Related Topics feature.

Related Topics

You didn’t see it with the “digitized manuscripts” search because it was too specific, but if you do a more general search on WordPress you’ll get a “Related Topic” box next to your search results. Pizza, for example.

screenshot from 2018 07 06 02 54 45

(Right there with you, Abby.)

See the Related Topics? They consist of words that you might associate with pizza – like pizza, of course, but also food, health, travel, etc. These are just good old fashioned post tags. I’ll click on foodie, which will take me to https://wordpress.com/tag/foodie .

screenshot from 2018 07 06 03 18 33

This will immediately take you to a page that has all posts tagged Foodie in order by date. If you’re logged into WordPress you’ll also have the option to follow that tag. (Making the most of your WordPress account is a whole other article.) Browsing through here may give you more ideas for how to frame your WordPress search. If you just really like the results you’re getting from this tag and don’t want to follow it via a WordPress account, you can save this tag search as an RSS feed. Just take the URL for this page ( https://wordpress.com/tag/foodie ) and add /feed/ to the end. Boom: https://wordpress.com/tag/foodie/feed/ is an RSS feed.

If it’s that easy to change a tag search into an RSS feed, it shouldn’t surprise you that it’s easy to change a regular WordPress search into an RSS feed. Back to the search results page.

Monitoring WordPress.com Search Results

Beside every WordPress.com search result you’ll see a box that reads RSS / JSON.

screenshot from 2018 07 06 03 53 08

(I had to include the entire screen because of the bonkers related topics I got for this particular search.)

Follow this search via RSS gives you an RSS feed of the search (and, looking at the feed, I noticed that it appears to be sorted by relevance after I made sure my search was by date. If having results by date is important to you, you might want to find a useful tag and turn that into an RSS feed, since those seem to default to being sorted by date.)

Follow this search via JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) provides the search result in JSON format, which is another way to format data besides the XML in RSS. I think it may be easier to integrate into Web sites but I’m not too savvy on JSON.

Searching WordPress.com isn’t going to give you as many results as searching Google, nor should you expect it to. What it will get you is results sorted by real dates, useful related content (much of the time) and an easy way to monitor your results.

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