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How Do Search Engines Work? All You Need to Know

What are Search Engines? 

If you have a search query, you go on the internet to find answers on a search engine. A search engine matches your search query with suitable results. Google, DuckDuckGo, and Bing are just some of the examples of a search engine.

Each search engine operates with the help of two parts:

  • Search Index – A collection of information consisting of millions of webpages
  • Search Algorithms – For ranking and matching results from the search engine’s index

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What is the Use of Search Engine Algorithms? 

Search engine algorithms work intensively on analyzing the search index and finding the most relevant and high-quality results for the users’ search queries. 

If you’re wondering how Google search works, algorithms are what makes it happen. For each search query, the job of a search engine is to explore Google’s entire search index and find the most relevant indexed web pages that can provide the desired results for the user.

The user then clicks on one of the results presented. This action is recorded by these algorithms along with the remaining activities performed by the users after clicking on the result page. This recording is then fed into the future learning of the search engine algorithms, which helps them in better deciding the best rankings to give to a webpage/website.

How do Search Engines Work? 

Search engines work on a mechanism that analyses a webpage completely. This mechanism has many elements such as assessing URLs, processing, rendering, and much more. Here are the three stages of the process.

  • Crawling 

Crawling is one of the first stages of search engines recording URLs based on several factors. In this process, search engine crawlers, or bots, will visit the discovered pages and download them. For instance, Googlebot visits the queued URLs and crawls them on a priority based on the following factors:

  • The URL’s PageRank
  • The frequency of URL changes
  • Whether the URL is new or not

This means that if your website has several web pages, search engines will most likely crawl some of them before the others based on the above-mentioned factors. Hence, it often takes some time for an entire website to get completely crawled by search engines.

  • Indexing 

Indexing is the stage where all the information processed from crawling by search engine bots is compiled and added to the search index. This search index is a digital library that comprises all the downloaded information from the crawling stage.

Getting indexed is crucial for websites since that’s where users get results after typing in a search query. If your webpage isn’t indexed by a search engine, then it won’t show up on its result page. Hence, it is imperative that you get your website indexed on at least the most used search engines like Google.

  • Ranking  

After the crawl & index stage is over, the search engine processes all the compiled information and ranks these web pages across different domains based on different factors. Let’s take Google for example since it’s currently the biggest search engine. 

Google uses more than 200 factors to determine the ranking of web pages on SERPs. While Google hasn’t disclosed information on all of these ranking factors, we do know some important ones, which are:

  • Backlinks
  • Topical/Domain authority
  • Page speed
  • Relevance of content
  • Mobile-friendliness

Google’s algorithms render the indexed webpages, fully analyze them based on the 200+ ranking factors, and determine the SEO health of webpages to suitably rank them.

How Do Search Engines Rank Pages?

  • Page Relevance for a Search Query

It is crucial that the relevance of any webpage be correctly determined for search queries to provide desired results to the users. Google uses many ways to determine the relevance of pages.

Looking for keywords in the search query is the most basic step for determining the relevance on a page. However, it goes way beyond this.

For instance, Google uses comprehensively collected interaction data, for determining if the search results would be related to the search query. Simply put, are the users finding the results on SERPs useful?

A simple example of how this works is if you type “windows” on Google, the top results will be about the software and not actual windows. Google’s algorithms know from their collection of interaction data that a majority of users with “windows” as a search query are looking for content related to the software and not actual windows. 

Google also uses Knowledge Graph, which assesses the relationships between search queries, and entities like locations, people, and more. Knowledge Graph is a colossal knowledge base of these entities and how they are related. For the search item “windows”, Google will use this technology to connect the dots and separate websites that have windows (product) and Windows (software). This helps Google in going above and beyond in nailing the page relevance.

Google also takes it further by displaying search results that might not have important keywords on their page from the search query. For example, if your search query is “computer app installation”, then some results might not contain the mentioned word “computer” on their pages. However, after crawling these pages, Google will have determined that these pages have relevant content related to FAQs, assistance, or even products that might be helpful for the search query.

  • Proper On-page Elements

On-page elements are very important in the eyes of search engine algorithms. There are many, and each is individually assessed on their strengths. The most important on-page elements that factor into ranking are:

  • Title and Meta Description – Both title and meta description serve the purpose of representing your webpage on search engines results page. They give the search engine bots information about your webpage to help them identify what type of content is present on the said page. They also function to concisely tell the users what the page is about to urge them to click on the link.
  • SEO-Friendly Design – Your web pages’ designs should be simple, clear, and easily accessible for users and search engine bots alike. The on-page usability should be seamless, and the web pages should be accessible from any device (laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc).
  • Content is Important 

The relevance of your webpage depends on how good and useful your content is. Content is not only important for offering value to your users but also packing in enough SEO-friendly material for search engines to rank your page higher. For instance, internal and external links that are organically used in content can send positive signals to search engine algorithms about the validity of your content. Moreover, keywords, backlinks, titles, subheadings, etc., all play a role in increasing your SERP rankings.

From a user’s perspective, if the content is not offering them any value or engagement, then the relevance of the webpage would start dipping. You need to make content that is easily digestible to your target audience to increase your domain authority. Hence, it is imperative that your content is user-friendly, SEO optimized, and offers value to the readers.

  • Backlinks from Authoritative Pages 

Content and links are both very high on the list of ranking factors of Google. Google uses PageRank, which assesses the quantity and quality of the backlinks that point to a webpage.

But make no mistake. Quantity is not the primary thing that matters here. Backlinks from different pages hold a lot of value. If your website has some high-quality backlinks from authoritative websites, you might rank higher than your competition with many low-quality backlinks.

There are 5 primary elements that make a backlink good:

  1. Link authority
  2. Relevance 
  3. Placement
  4. Anchor text
  5. Destination

Link authority and relevance are the two most important elements in making a backlink good.

If your page has backlinks from authoritative domains, it will make the most significant impact in making a good backlink. Authoritative domains in the eyes of search engines are the ones with many “votes” and relevant information on the topic. To find out the authority of a website, you can check its Domain Rating (DR), and URL Rating. Both of these ratings range from 0-100 on Ahrefs.

Similarly, if your website has backlinks from relevant websites, they will be considered high-quality by search engines. Google sees it this way – If your website has a backlink on prominent websites with high relevance in the subject matter, then it sends a positive signal to the search engine that information on your pages is of high quality. This works the same way as it does with humans in real life. You would prefer to trust the recommendation of a good veterinarian clinic from your vet friend rather than your chef friend. But if you wanted a recommendation of a good restaurant, you would prefer the advice of the latter.

If your backlinks cover both of these grounds, search engines like Google will automatically record your pages as containing high-quality and relevant information, and thus, rank your pages higher. Moreover, if your website also offers backlinks to good quality websites, that will also work in your favor by increasing your website’s domain authority and improving its rankings.

  • Page Speed Matters

In today’s age of fast internet speeds, no one likes to wait more than 3-4 seconds for a website to load. Search engines know this too and closely monitor the page loading speeds. 

For instance, 37% of the users will close your website if it takes more than 5 seconds to load. Your pages must be optimized for speed so they don’t take too long to load to avoid users bouncing. Just reducing a few milliseconds from page loading speed can take you a long way in this.

PageSpeed Insights is a great tool that you can use to check the loading speed of your pages and get valuable insights on what can be optimized to reduce the loading time.

Core Web Vitals are made up of metrics that assess visual stability, loading performance, and the website’s interactivity with users. Google started considering Core Web Vitals as a ranking signal from June 2021.

  • Mobile-friendliness of the Website 

Over 65% of searches on Google are done on mobile devices. Since 2019, Google has started mobile-first indexing for all websites. Hence, the mobile-friendliness of a website has become one of the top-ranking factors. To check your website’s mobile-friendliness, you can use the Mobile-Friendly Test tool from Google or generate Mobile Usability reports from GSC.

How do Search Engines Answer Queries?

  • Search History of the User

The search history of the users is often stored on their devices in the form of cookies. Hence, the most simple way to display personalized results for the users is to rank a previously clicked link higher the next time users perform the same search query. This practice is quite common and comes in effect if you have visited a page many times.

  • Device of the User

If your website is optimized for a particular type of device, it might rank higher for a search query conducted on that device. A simple example is a page optimized for Android devices would rank higher on them compared to an iOS device.

  • Location of the User

If your searches are considered local by Google, the search engine will show the most relevant local results. For instance, if you search for “Mexican restaurants”, then Google will show the local Mexican restaurants’ map listing.

Using your location to show personalized results is the most effective way to offer valuable links to the users. If you scroll down from the map listings on SERPs, you will also find top-ranking personalized results from review websites like TripAdvisor or Zomato for the same search query.

  • Language of the User

To make the results even more personalized and helpful, Google shows you results in your preferred language. So, if you search for “YouTube tutorial” in Spanish, then Google will rank the result with the Spanish language higher.

If your website has the same pages in multiple languages, you need to tell it to Google by using the hreflang, which is an HTML attribute. This attribute lets Google know that one of your pages has multiple versions in different languages, which helps the search engine in displaying it based on the user’s language.

  • Google Products

If your search query has a particular product in it, then Google will display the relevant products at the top of SERPs. For instance, if you search for “t-shirts for women”, then the SERP will display the products with their prices from different websites on the top.

Time to Get Your Website Ranked

Now that you have taken the first step in learning how search engines work, it’s time to put this knowledge to use for ranking your website higher. Enlist the help of an established SEO company like Infidigit and implement effective ways to organically rank your website higher. Contact us today to learn more.

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