How Do Search Engines Actually Work


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Search engines have become part of our daily life. We use them as a learning tool, a shopping tool, for fun and leisure but also for business. Essentially, search engines are answer machines. They exist to discover, understand, and organize the internet’s content in order to offer the most relevant results to the questions searchers are asking.

In order to show up in search results, firstly, your content needs to be visible to search engines. It’s conceivably the most important piece of the SEO puzzle; If your site can’t be found, it’s likely it won’t show up in the SERP’s which stands for Search Engine Results Page. (intro ends)

All search engines work using a three-phase approach to managing, ranking and returning search results.

  1. The first step is Web Crawling. Crawling is the discovery process in which search engines send out a team of robots, known as ‘crawlers’ or ‘spiders,’ to find new and updated content.
  2. Moving on to step two, which is called ‘Indexing.’ Once a spider has crawled a web page, the copy that is made is returned to the search engine and stored in a data centre, which is called an index. Once a page is in the index, it’s in the running to be displayed as a result to relevant queries.

The indexing process includes all the identified URLs along with a number of relevant key signals about the contents of each URL. These include:

  • The keywords identified within the page’s content, in simple words – what topics the page covers
  • The type of content that is being crawled, which is the page includes
  • The preceding user engagement of the webpage and/or domain to understand how people interact with the page listing

and lastly, the freshness of the page to understand the relevance of the content

Type in keyword into google and show a ranking of sites. The keyword I used above was ‘shoe repair’)

  1. The third step is the actual ranking of a webpage. At this point, a huge collection of web page copies have been accumulated, which are constantly being updated and organised so that you can quickly find what you’re looking for. The rank provides the pieces of content that will best answer a searcher’s query, which means that the results are ordered by most relevant to least relevant.

To determine relevance, search engines use algorithms, a process or formula by which stored information is retrieved and ordered in significant ways. 

Search engines return results that are: 

  • Location-dependent e.g. ‘shops near me’ or ‘gym hours’.
  • History-driven – Search engines will display different results for a query relevant to what the user has previously searched for.
  • Device-tailored, this means that results may change depending on the device from which the search was conducted e.g mobile device vs desktop device.

And results are also delivered based on the language the search query was ordered with.

These algorithms have gone through multiple changes over the years in order to improve the quality of search results. Some search engines make algorithm adjustments almost every day, e.g. Google is known to make minor quality tweaks on the daily. 

Therefore, the more relevant your website is to the search query the higher it will rank in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

These are all of the basics you need to know in order for your website to rank within a search engine’s indexing algorithm. We hope these tips help you when you’re building your website. If you want more useful and actionable SEO tips, make sure to check out SEO Company Melbourne for more. See you in our next video!

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