Why and how to create a powerful custom search like Airbnb without writing any PHP?

What will be your next online purchase? Where are you planning to take your next vacation? Are you looking for a present for the one you love?

It sounds obvious but to find the perfect thing you are going to search for it…

Let’s say that you want to book a hotel in London. Your first thought may be to simply Google the keywords “Hotel in London”. The links showing up will probably be booking.com, hotels.com, Tripadvisor or Airbnb as they are the big players in the travel industry.

Do you sometimes ask yourself how did they become so successful? Why do we use them to book our next trips?

It’s true that they have accurate content, great prices, a huge range of accommodation, an efficient customer service but still, there is something else.

What makes them really successful is their overall custom search experience: they help us to nail down what we are exactly looking for.

They have a large amount of filters allowing you to narrow your options. You can easily sort the properties by price, by stars, by area, by facilities or even by reviews. Talking about reviews, they are influential trust indicators and this could be added on the top of the “why they became so successful” list.

Custom search example with 'filter by' option.
Custom search example with ‘filter by’ option.

What’s more, they let you display the results in two different ways: either as a list using pagination or on a map. Having a map for the tourism industry is vital as travelers want to know how close to the action they’ll be staying.

Example of custom search with map by Airbnb.
Example of custom search with map by Airbnb.

Now that we have highlighted the importance of a good custom search, let’s see how to create one with WordPress.

To build a powerful website like this on WordPress, you may think that you need to be an expert in PHP. Good news, not necessarily!

I would like to introduce Toolset plugin. It helps you to design these kinds of advanced websites without ever leaving your WordPress dashboard. In other words, not a single line of PHP is required to use it. Let’s see how to create a search in 3 simple steps:

1. Create some content to power the search: we need custom post types, custom fields, and custom taxonomies

You may be wondering what is the link between custom post types and a search. Well, to power the search you need to have some content (like an inventory). A custom post type can be anything: Products, Testimonials, Portfolio items etc. it will be added to your WordPress dashboard as a separate menu item.

For example, we can have a custom post type called “Tours”. Each tour will share the same type of information: the name of the tour, the price, the duration, the location etc. In other words, we need to create some custom fields applicable for all them. Finally, you can create a different type of tours this is what we call some custom taxonomies.

Custom post types, custom fields and custom taxonomies to power custom search.
Custom post types, custom fields and custom taxonomies to power custom search.

2. Create the search and select the filters you want to use:

Once all of this custom content is created, it’s time to build the search. You can add as many filters as you want. For example, you can allow visitors to see only the tours that match the filter “Duration of the tour”.

Insert custom search filter
Insert custom search filter

Here is an example of the search created with a few filters. As you can see the filters used are the one custom fields and taxonomies that we created in step #1.

Select filter menu in Toolset plugin
Select filter menu in Toolset plugin

3. Choose how you want to display the results.

And here is the last important thing to mention about Toolset: you choose how to display your custom post types on the frontend. The most common display are:

  • As a listing with pagination
  • As a map
  • As a slider
Tours displayed with Toolset plugin for WordPress.
Tours displayed with Toolset plugin for WordPress.


In conclusion, you don’t need to be a PHP master to build incredible websites. Toolset is compatible with every themes and page builders, including Visual Composer.

Are you planning on doing any similar projects? See what you can accomplish with Toolset!

You can try Toolset for 30 days. If you’re not completely happy, you will receive a full refund without questions.