How Do Search Engines Work?

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Modern consumers rely on search engines for information on a plethora of topics. A user simply has to type a query into the search box to access a wealth of resources in a matter of seconds.

Search engines continue to evolve every day. Google, for example, just introduced featured snippets to answer queries directly in the search results, saving both time and clicks.

Most consumers don’t go past the first page of search results, so it is crucial for businesses to push for high rankings. Understanding how search engines work can help brands increase their visibility, target the right customers, and improve conversions.

What are search engines?

A search engine is a digital tool that scurries webpages to provide users with authoritative and quality answers to their search queries (keywords). The engine provides a list of results, usually websites, that best match what the user is seeking. This list is commonly known as the search engine results page (SERP).

The first ever search engine was known as Archie, which stands for archive without the letter V. It was developed in 1990 as a searchable database of file names on public FTP (File Transfer Protocol) sites.

Today, there are several search engines available on the web, each with their own algorithms and features. Google is the most popular, with over 92.33% of the search market share. Other popular search engines include Bing, Yahoo!, and Baidu.


How do they work?

There are differences in the ways search engines sort and evaluate results, but they all perform three basic tasks:


Search engines use bots known as “spiders” to crawl webpages and look for publicly available information on the world wide web. Spiders jump from one link to another and discover content along the way. They scan all subpages, sections, and folders until every single piece of data is discovered.


Once spiders find a relevant webpage, they make a copy of it and store it in the Search Index. Once a user inputs a search term, the search engine will scan its index for content related to the given query. Every webpage recommended by a search engine has been visited by a web crawler.

Spiders repeatedly crawl webpages to keep their index fresh and updated. This allows search engines to provide searchers with useful and up-to-date results.

Some websites have built-in features that prevent spiders from visiting them. These pages are excluded from the index, along with outdated pages and those that no one links to.


Search engines rank webpages to show you the most useful and authoritative results. They have different algorithms for ranking, although common factors include keyword matches, website freshness, and domain quality.

PageRank is a popular type of algorithm used by Google that uses links to determine webpage relevance. The more links that point to a webpage, the more trustworthy it is, and the higher it will appear in the SERP.

Search engines constantly change their algorithms to provide quality results. In turn, marketers are employing different strategies to keep up with these changes. A typical SEO services company, for example, equips brands with the right keywords while content writers capitalise on blogs for link building opportunities. Either way, businesses need to optimise their online presence if they wish to succeed in today’s digital market.


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