What Are Search Engines and How Do They Work?

by | May 12, 2021 | Blog, SEO | Web Design

Ahhh, the convenience of the internet. You open up your browser, type (or say) a word or phrase, and almost like magic, results upon results related to your search appear before your eyes. But where is this information coming from? And how does it all come together so quickly in any given search engine?

I jokingly like to tell clients who ask that the secret is “interwebs magicks.” To most not familiar with the digital realm, this may not feel terribly far from the truth. In reality, there’s a highly automated system working behind the scenes to gather, sort, and then prioritize information for distribution. More common terms you hear today when talking about SEO are crawling, indexing, and ranking.

If you think about it, search engines are basically the highly evolved form of switchboard operators. The main difference is that they are working with much higher call volumes at much greater speeds. Ironically, the search portion of any search engine’s workload is referred to as crawling.

Crawling the Net at Lightning Speed

In order for your page to wind up at the top of any SERP (search engine results page), your site needs to be found. Despite the many schools of thought surrounding how to get noticed, the process of being discovered by Google’s robots (also known as spiders, crawlers, or Googlebots) works pretty much the same way once attention has been grabbed.

Like any web adventure, spiders start out with the most basic piece of web content: a link. This link may lead to an image, video, or even an entire webpage. Once Google’s spiders have their metaphorical jaws sunken into that, anything related to that link is fair game. They will hop from one linked item to the next. They will even jump from page to page, but only if links to other pages from your website are embedded somewhere.

This is why it is crucial to include internal links when possible on your site. Interlinking pages to your website not only gives your site a better chance of showing up on Google SERPs, but it’ll also enhance the overall user experience (UX), too!

Other Tools to Enhance the Crawl

Lack of inbound links isn’t the only way you can impede a proper crawl through your website. Assuming you want your website to be as easily accessible as possible to Google, your site should also include:

  • Plenty of outbound links (and links from their site yours, when possible)
  • A submitted XML sitemap
  • Concise navigation with consistent menu items displayed to desktop, tablet, and mobile users
  • Clearly organized content on each page
  • No key information hidden within images or accessible by only forms (including search bars)
  • Minimal page errors such as broken links directing to the infamous 404 page

Mommy, Where Do Search Results Come From?

And what do robots crawling around have to do with my web searches? Everything, actually! Despite the common perception, Google does not scour the internet every time we run a search. Doing so would significantly slow down the speed of your results, especially when searching popular keywords.

Instead, Google’s spiders crawl the web around the clock in order to build the database we pull searches from. This database is called an index. Google’s latest index, Caffeine, was completed in 2010 and they’ve been adding data around the clock ever since. That is a LOT of information to be stored in one place.

Search Engine Results are in…How Are They Organized?

Devising a method to organize the abundance of data Google has collected over the years has been no easy feat. It is an ongoing process that is constantly evolving. Despite this ever-changing process, the end goal has always been the same: display the most relevant content first. This process is better known as ranking.

Ranking by Relevance

That is the billion-dollar question, my friends. Come up with a simple blanketed answer to that and a lot of us marketers would be out of business!

In all seriousness though, Google uses a series of very complex algorithms (formulas) to pull data. These algorithms weren’t created to confuse us or keep their secrets hidden. They also don’t exist to eerily watch our every move. These algorithms have evolved into the complex monsters you see today because of one simple fact: life is complicated.

How does Google Decide What is Relevant?

If you think about it, context is something that’s always needed for an accurate search. It’s not always directly provided, though. A person in Indiana searching for the latest football scores, for example, is probably looking for something entirely different than someone in Liverpool running the same search.

Google picked up on that somewhere along the line, which is why we’re now always asked to share our location when we run searches. Physical location isn’t the only variable that plays a role in your search results. Language, related search history from you and other users, and sometimes even age (think: YouTube parental controls) serve as factors.

But What If I Want Something Hidden?

There are, of course, times that you may not want a page or item on your site to be found. Good instances would be a password-protected page, or maybe a special download that a user must first pay to access. In those cases, you can use an SEO tool like Rank Math to set up something called a “No index, no follow” for your page.

How Can I Tell If Google Can Find My Site?

Aside from the obvious search for keywords pertaining to your site, there are a few other methods of measuring how well your site is being indexed. Try running a Google search for “site:yourwebsite.com.” If your site is index properly, all the pages should appear as results.

You can sign up for a free Google Search Console (GSC) account for a more in-depth report on your site’s findability, too. There you can find tons of tools for measuring your reach, as well as access to additional marketing assets to enhance it. And if you have a new website, this is where you give Google that first nudge to check things out and add your content to their heft index.

You’re Not In This Alone

Although the tools may be free, Google Search Console can pack a lot of punch. Many business owners are instantly overwhelmed upon logging in from all the data overload. If you’re tired of trying to balance your time between understanding the madness behind digital marketing with running your business, drop us a line. With nearly two decades of marketing experience under our belt, the Roundpeg team is ready to work with you!

got a project?

Whether you need a new website or some help with your social media we are ready to start the conversation.

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