What Are Search Engines

Search Engines are computer programs that allow users to search for information on the internet. They are essentially a network of computers that use Spiders, also known as Web-Crawlers or Bots to scour the internet looking for webpages to add to their Index.

Users are then able to access the search engine’s index through a user interface, this is usually a page that allows the user to enter in Queries, or specific questions into a search bar to find webpages that meet their needs. 

Below is an example of what a search engine user interface may look like:

Once the search is initiated; the search engine then displays Hyperlinks or access points to the pieces of content that address the query, in a listed fashion on what is called the Search Engine Results Pages, also commonly referred to in the SEO field as the SERPs (Wall, 2017). 

Below is an example of what a search engine results page may look like, As you can see there is a “list” of web pages that a user can visit:

To be successful in SEO, you must have a firm understanding of how search engines work. Let’s explore in detail how they work.

How Search Engines Work

All Search engines generally operate on the same three-step process; Crawling, Indexing, and Serving Search Results. Below is a graphic depicting this three-step process:

Step 1: Crawling

Crawling is a process where the Web Crawler looks for new content (webpages, videos, books, PDF files, images, infographics, articles, research papers, etc) to add to a search engine’s index. 

They are able to find this content through a variety of methods such as:

  • user-submitted links to the content.
  • links on previously visited content to the new content (these are called Internal Links).
  • Or through a file called a XML Sitemap, which is a file that shows search engines where to find each webpage on a website. 

Once the crawler finds the webpage it then renders or displays the content in a web browser, to further assess it’s information (Google Search Central, n.d.).

Step 2: Indexation

Once the page is rendered and crawled the search engine then determines what the webpage is about, this is called Indexation. Indexing happens by the search engine:

  • analyzing a webpage’s HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) elements.
  • analyzing a webpage’s embedded pictures and videos.
  • analyzing hyperlinks or citations to another website on the crawled page.

The search engine then determines the viability of the web content for the index based on a variety of factors, like the content’s writing quality, the website’s technical efficiencies, the originality of the content, and much more. 

Many search engines like Google mention that; indexing isn’t guaranteed (Google Search Central, n.d.). 

In other words, just because you created a webpage there is no guarantee that a search engine will index it.

Generally a piece of content is chosen to be indexed based on its relevance to the user’s query, its quality, or its ability/inability to be crawled designated by a Noindex Meta Tag,  or a “Disallow Rule” outlined in the Robots.txt File (Google Search Central, n.d.). 

Step 3: Serving Search Results

If a search engine decides to index the content it will then be served in the Search Results. 

Users are then able to enter queries or identify words and phrases, to access the indexed content. When a user performs a search, the search engine then runs its Algorithm or relevancy software to find web content that it believes best matches what the user is looking for.

The crawler then “ranks” or positions links to the web content on the Search Engine Results Page. With the web content that it believes most closely matches the users’ query at the top of the page.

Last Thoughts About Search Engines

My best advice for learning more about search engines is to visit the documentation of all the major ones like; Google, Bing, and Yahoo! to understand how each of them works.

This will help you better adjust your SEO approaches and strategies to stay ahead of the competition.

Also, take the time to learn what the ranking factors are for the major search engines to help you identify which SEO strategies will actually move the needle. Again, this will help you stay ahead of the curve and avoid wasting time using tactics that no longer work. Thank you for reading this article by Bounce Rank.

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