Author: Geek Computer
Wednesday, June 2, 2021

How Do Search Engines Work?

How Do Search Engines Work?

You’re in the kitchen making your mom’s favorite pizza. To get topping ideas, you open your web browser to perform a search. You type ‘topping ideas’ in the search box, hit ‘Enter,’ and get eighty-nine million results in about half a second. For that to happen, Google: 

  • accepted and parsed the query
  • understood the word order
  • searched for the information in the database
  • personalized results based on the user’s profile
  • ranked them
  • sent the result to the browser

All this happens in under a second.

A search engine is like an answering machine. They work through discovering, organizing, and understanding internet content to provide relevant search results to questions posed by users. For your site to appear in a search result, it needs to have visible content to search engines. This is an important piece in the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) puzzle. If your site cannot be discovered using SEO, showing up in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) is next to impossible. 

What is a Search Engine? 

A search engine is a web tool that enables users to search web content. They are made up of two main parts: a search algorithm and a search index. A search index is a digital library containing web page information. On the other hand, a search algorithm is a set of computer programs that rank results that match a search index.

To perform a search, the user inputs the desired term in the search box. Then, using automated software applications, the engine checks its index catalog for relevant results and lists them for the user. This index is created by the information gathered from these automated software applications. Examples of popular search engines include Bing, Yahoo, and Google. 

How Does a Search Engine Work?

How Do Search Engines Work?

From the outside, search engines have a simple look. By just typing in a keyword, you will get a list of every relevant page for your search. The interchange may look deceptively easy, but a lot of heavy lifting goes on in the background. To generate every search result, search engines apply several complex mathematical formulas. Finally, the results are displayed on the result page. 

By using the page title, keyword density, content, and other key elements from a website, a search engine develops a ranking system it uses to place the results. Each search engine contains a unique algorithm; that means pages that rank first on Yahoo may not rank first on Google, and vice versa. Moreover, these search engine algorithms constantly undergo revisions and modifications, plus they are closely guarded secrets. 

Three working functions search engines:

  • Crawling: Searching the internet and looking over every URL code they find. 
  • Indexing: The content found is stored and organized. Pages that are in the index are made available when relevant search queries are run. 
  • Ranking: Provides content that provides the best answers to a user’s search query. The most relevant results are shown first. 

Search Engine Crawling 

Crawling is the process where computer bots visit, find newly updated content, and download pages they discover. These bots are called spiders. Content comes in different variations: images, web pages, a file, a video, etc. Crawlers use links to find content, regardless of the format they come in. An example of a crawler is Googlebot. 

When performing a search, Googlebot grabs several web pages. Then, using the link from the discovered web pages, Googlebot can find new URLs. This path of links is used to hop on different URLs, meaning crawlers can discover fresh content added to an index called Caffeine. Caffeine is made up of a huge database of collected URLs retrieved when a user seeks information about content that matches a URL in the database. 

Google crawls through queued URLs based on several factors, including the change rate of the URL, the URL’s Pagerank, and whether it’s new. Therefore, it is important to note that search engines might index and crawl some of your web pages before others. A search engine might also take a long time to crawl through a large website fully. 

How Do Search Engines Work?

Search Engine Indexing

When a bot discovers a page, it renders it similarly to your web browser. This means that bots view web content exactly how we see them, including videos, images, and different types of similar page content. This content is then organized into categories by the bot, including HTML and CSS, images, keywords, text, etc. Using this process, a crawler can understand and categorize the page contents, helping it categorize its relevance in a keyword search. 

This gathered information is then stored in an index. The index is a giant database containing an entry catalog for every word discovered on every indexed web page. For example, Google’s index, known as the Caffeine index, uses up to about 100,000,000 gigabytes. This information is stored in server farms containing thousands of computers that are never switched off globally. 

Search Engine Ranking

Using this final step, indexed information is sorted by the search engines to return the desired results for each user query. This is made possible using analytical rules and results with the best answers determined by the search algorithm. 

These algorithms are dictated by numerous factors that determine the page quality in their index. For example, in Google, a whole algorithm series is put in place to help rank relevant results. A huge number of these algorithm ranking factors determine the user’s qualitative experience and the general popularity of content when a searcher gets on a page. These factors are:

  • Mobile-friendliness 
  • Quality of backlinks
  • Engagement 
  • The ‘freshness of the content, or how recent it is 
  • Page speed
  • Use of human search quality raters

Backlinks are an important Google ranking factor. Backlinks are not always about quantity due to the simple reason that all are not created equally. Pages with few high-quality backlinks commonly outrank those with many low-quality ones. 6 key attributes determine a good backlink: link authority, link relevance, anchor text, follow vs. no follow, placement, and destination. Arguably, the two most important ones are:

  1. Link authority- Backlinks from authoritative websites and pages have a better ranking impact. 
  2. Link relevance- Relevant links from web pages and websites have more value. 

By understanding how search engines operate, it becomes easier for companies to build websites that are both crawlable and indexable. In addition, by using the right signals to attract search engines, you're guaranteed to have your web pages displayed as relevant pages alongside similar businesses. Giving search engines and searchers the content they seek creates the path of a successful online business. 

Importance of Search Engines?

  1. Search engines filter out the numerous information stored on the internet. As a result, users have fast and easy access to valuable content of genuine interest without sifting through many irrelevant pages. 
  2. Search engines have high-quality sites that provide relevant information to users. Search engines are advised to ensure users get relevant information to their searchers to retain their market share. 
  3. Search engines give website owners the ability to appear in prominent locations using the help of relevant phrases, using organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and pay-per-click searches. 
  4. Organizations and consumers rely heavily on them to find services, supplies, and goods they need. As a result, they continue to determine brand information, services, and products accessible online. 

Search Engines You Can Use Instead of Google

Google has received a huge global market share for its personalized user experience, constantly evolving algorithms and a dominant and reliable advertising platform. However, public knowledge is that search engine giants record their users' browsing habits to trade them to advertisers and data-influenced companies. Although Google has already won the search engine popularity contest, there are a lot more alternatives that you can try without sacrificing your privacy: 

  • Yandex
  • Bing
  • Swiss cows
  • StartPage
  • DuckDuckGo
  • CC Search
  • Gibiru
  • Search Encrypt
  • Ecosia
  • Internet Archive
  • Kaoru

Based on your priorities and needs, Google may not be the best search engine option. However, some of the aforementioned search engines provide a better user experience and more privacy options. So the next time you’re on the internet, try and explore them.


A search engine is an answering machine that works through discovering, understanding, and organizing internet content. They aim to provide relevant search results to questions posed by worldwide users. Sites that appear in search results contain content that is visible to search engines. A search engine uses a page title, keyword density, content, and other key elements to develop a site ranking. A search engine is run by three working functions: crawling, indexing, and ranking. Companies can build relevant sites by understanding how search engines operate.

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