How Do Search Engines Work?

how search engines work

How Do Search Engines Work?

Let’s say you need to find an address for a restaurant.

Maybe you’re looking for the closest gas station.

Or, you’re wondering which ocean is the largest.

What do you do? Google it.

You probably use them almost daily, but do you know how search engines actually work? We’ll go over the basics of what search engines are, how they work, and why it matters for businesses.

What Is A Search Engine?

A search engine is a website that creates an index of web pages on the internet. Search engines gather information from the entire world wide web and organizes those web pages based on their content.

Search engines provide answers to people’s questions every day. The purpose of a search engine is to provide the most relevant web pages in response to search queries. The most popular, widely used search engine is Google. Google has reported that 100 billion searches are conducted on their site monthly.

How Search Engines Work

Search engines are complex computer programs. To fully understand every aspect of a search engine, you’d have to do a lot of studying and gain a deep understanding of computer algorithms. To save you trouble and confusion, we’ll go over the basics of how search engines work.

Basically, search engines work by sending bots called “spiders” or “crawlers” to every website on the internet. These spiders crawl through your website and pick up certain pieces of information, like URLs, headers, navigation, website structure, and more. These pieces of information are indexed and stored, so when someone performs a search, search engines provide results based on that information.

These spiders also follow the links on your page, leading them to crawl further and further into the internet, picking up information and storing it in the search engine’s index. This is why internal linking on your page is helpful for keeping your content indexed and updated by search engines.  

Search Engine Indexing

When the spiders or search engine bots crawl your website, they are looking for information to help identify your page so that they know where it should appear on the search engine results pages (SERPs). A few things that these crawlers look for include:

  • Keywords: What keywords are included on the page? What is the page about?
  • Type of content: What kind of content is included (text, images, video, etc.)?
  • Recency: How fresh is the content? How recently was the page created or updated?
  • Engagement: How do visitors engage with the page or domain? How trustworthy or popular is the website?
  • URL: How relevant is the URL to the content of the page?
  • Links: What inbound and outbound links are connected to the page?

Once the spiders or crawlers store this information in an index, it is readily available for when someone performs a search. The algorithm takes that information and ranks the search engine results pages based on what seems most relevant to the searched term.

Search Engine Algorithm

When you perform a search on a search engine, an algorithm determines what results show up and in what order. Search engine algorithms are complex, and they are not the same for every search engine. The results that appear on a Google result page may not be the same, or in the same order, as the results on a Bing search.

From the indexed information, a search engine algorithm ranks web pages hierarchically for each search. The order is based on what the search engine determines is most relevant to the searched keywords, and the pages that are most likely to provide the answer that the searcher was looking for.

Other factors that may influence search engine ranking include:

  • Location: Some searches are based on location (like “gas station near me”) but often if the search engine can identify your location they’ll provide local results even if the location or location indicators like “near me” are not included in the search.
  • Language: Search engines try to provide results in the same language as your search query, provided that language is detectable.
  • Device: Some web pages may not be mobile-friendly, so search engines may provide different results depending on the device the search was made on.
  • Previous searches: If you’re using the same search engine, it may remember information from your previous searches and use that info to provide results that it thinks are most relevant for you.

While these factors will affect what results you get when you use a search engine, they are far from the only or most important things that affect where a page ranks on a search engine.

Search engines like Google do not reveal exactly what recipe of elements influence rankings or how to rank first for your main keywords. That’s where SEO comes in. 

Search Engines and SEO

SEO is short for search engine optimization, and that name tells you essentially what SEO experts do: they optimize your website so that it appears on the relevant SERPs and, ideally, so that it ranks above your competitors.

Since most people use search engines to find new products, businesses, restaurants, and much more, SEO is important to drive traffic and customers to your website.

Explaining SEO can be complicated; there are many factors that influence how search engines rank web pages. SEO professionals study the search engine algorithms and learn the best practices to rank websites on the first page or pages of results. Find an SEO company that is transparent in their practices to help build up your website’s SEO.

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