How Do Search Engines Work?

Search Engines Explained

There is a lot of explaining how a search engine works, however, we will try to give you the basics of how search engines operate and explain search engines in a simplistic way. Learning how search engines work is the first step before moving on the SEO explained article, which goes over the basics of SEO.

Note: When talking about search engines, we are referring to any of the major search engines: Google, Bing, Yahoo, Duck Duck go, etc. Also, since Google is the most common and the largest search engine by market share, I may say “Google” and “Search Engines” interchangeably.

The Goal Of A Search Engine

A Search engine’s goal is to provide you the most relevant websites based on your search query. At its core, this is all a search engine must do to remain successful. However, there is a lot of technology behind achieving this to the caliber that major search engines like Google accomplish this.

Two primary actions of a search engine

Search engines achieve this by essentially doing two things.

  • Crawl the Web
  • Calculate Relevancy

Search Engine Crawling – The Internet is like a net

The first thing Google will do is crawl the web to build an index of web pages on their servers. This index can take a long time to create. In fact, it is a continual process that never ends since there is always new content to crawl and index. This crawling saves the information in Google’s database that allows users to retrieve searches almost instantly.

A simplistic explanation of how a search engine crawls web pages and creates an index:

  • Step 1: Crawl all web pages on the internet
  • Step 2: Save instances of those web pages in a database (search engine index)

The World Wide Web is just an extensive network of websites linking to each other. In very simplistic terms you can liken the internet to a net. The net has many cross hatches where at each center of the crosshatched connects other cross hatches and forms the whole net.

The internet is just like a net because it is just a vast network of websites linking to each other. Also within one website many webpages are linking to other webpages within that one website. So each website is itself a net, with many interlinking parts. The way the search engine crawlers, also called robots or spiders, find websites and webpages are through links.

Once the search engine crawlers find the websites and the web pages within each site, it will store this information in massive data centers all around the world. This is why we can type something into Google and get relevant search results at the speed of light.

Search engines Provide Relevancy

The second task the search engine will perform is it will use sophisticated algorithms to calculate what the most relevant webpages are based on the search query, and it will display by what it thinks is the most relevant.When we do searches, we are not searching the “live” web. Instead, we are searching the index of the Internet that the search engine bots have already crawled.

Calculating Relevancy is where Google shines. This is what has caused them to be the number one search engine. They are excellent at delivering relevant results based on any search query. It’s not perfect, but it is very good – arguably better than the competition (Bing, Yahoo, etc.).

Search engines will calculate the relevance of each webpage and will list them so that the algorithm says relevant. Not only is the search engine trying to give all the relevant webpages based on your search query, but it is also trying to list them by the most relevant or the most important to the user. One way of finding what the most important, or most relevant webpages are based on the query is to take into consideration which webpages are most popular.

In the early days of search engines and SEO, the main thing that the search engines considered for relevancy with keywords and how many other websites were linking to your site (called backlinks – websites are linking back to you). There are many more factors nowadays, but the same core of keywords and links are still crucial to SEO success.

So for example, if you wanted to find something on dog training you would type dog training into Google, and Google would likely retrieve all the websites that had keywords related to dog training and or the most backlinks. Web sites that had a lot of content a lot of keywords on dog training were probably ranked higher than ones that were. As the search engine algorithms have evolved the search engines now take into consideration hundreds of factors to calculate relevancy, rather than just something like keywords. Now the search engines algorithm will take

As the search engine algorithms have evolved the search engines now take into consideration hundreds of factors to calculate relevancy, rather than just something like keywords. Now the search engines algorithm will take into account age of your website, keywords, backlinks, internal link structure, user behavior, and many other factors. It’s at a point to where search engines can accurately find the most relevant search queries; however, it is still not perfect, and it will still evolve over time to get even better.

Types of Search Terms

types of search queries

If the goal for the website owner is to develop websites and web content for the user, then the most important things for an SEO to know is the user. You need to know who you are targeting and what your website and content are delivering for the targeted keywords.

You can think of SEO and create a good user experience as a business relationship with Google. If you continually serve the user, and the user is happy with you on your website, Google will potentially reward you with good rankings.

Three types of search queries

To simplify our understanding of how people use search engines, we can come up with a model of three basic types of searches that people will perform. Their types of searches are essentially why anyone uses a search engine or wants to visit websites on the web.

  • Informational: this is probably one of the biggest types of searches that a person will perform. Anytime somebody wants to seek knowledge, whether it be intense research or simply get an answer to a question, they will type in informational search queries. Things like “what is evolution” are questions that the user wants to get information on the topic.
  • Entertainment: another common search query is when the user just wants entertainment. Today want to search for funny videos or read up on the latest celebrity gossip.
  • Products: another common search query is a product search. This could be anything from a new toaster oven to plane tickets to Hawaii. There is intent to buy, and the user wants results that show the product in question.

There is also another subset of common search queries that people do, and it would be one of finding a particular website that they already know about. For instance, many people type “Facebook” into Google and then click on the first result which is .com. They do this because it’s a little bit quicker than typing Facebook.com into the address bar, or because they just have a habit of doing so.

Still have questions?

Here at Social Patterns, we are here to answer any of your questions. Simply send us a contact form email and we will do our best to answer your queries. Also, if you are here locally in Roseville, CA just stop on by! We love to talk about SEO and anything web related, so don’t be shy.

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