Search engines are always evolving, serving as an answer machine that tries to provide the best results to users. Understanding how search engines like Google work will provide a deeper level of knowledge that helps break down technical SEO issues you will come across.
What is a Search Engine?
A search engine is an online software system that carries out web searches from a database of information. The goal of a search engine is to provide the best match result based on what a user is searching for.
Examples of search engines are Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo, etc.
Three Primary Functions
Search engines work in three essential functions or stages.
The first is crawling. Search engines have web crawlers or spiders that crawl the internet looking for content and scan through the content of each URL that they come across.
This is how new websites and webpages are discovered.
The pages or content that they choose to crawl through are found primarily through existing pages they have previous knowledge about.
Google, the largest search index in the world, has built the largest and most up to date index of content since they’ve started. They are continually crawling and re-crawling different parts of the web.
After pages are discovered, crawled, and parsed through, they enter the indexing phase.
This indexing phase includes the analysis of content and storage of that content into the index, a huge database.
Once the web pages are indexed, search engines rank them according to what users are looking for within each search query.
Search Engine Algorithms
Each search engine, Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. have their own unique algorithm that ranks web pages. This unique search algorithm is in charge of matching results to user queries.
How exactly do search engines rank web pages? We don’t know the exact details to a T, but it consists of search engine algorithms that look at hundreds of factors to find and rank relevant content.
Most Important Ranking Factors
Although we don’t know how exactly search engines rank web pages, we do have an idea of the most important ones based on confirmation from Google and various independent studies.
As of now, backlinks are one of the most important, if not the most important, ranking factors that exist. Google looks at backlinks as a vote of confidence for your web page or website.
There are various moving parts to this that allow Google to determine if there are any unnaturally built backlinks since it was subject to easy manipulation back in the day.
As a ranking factor, backlinks aren’t all equal. There are varying contributions to the weight of a backlink like relevance and authority.
Search intent is the primary function that Google and search engines are trying to fulfill. It is the “Why” behind every query that gets entered into Google each and every day.
Because there are many different reasons people search things, Google ranks content accordingly.
As stated on their about page, they state “Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”, which shows their focus on fulfilling search intent.
Google has explicitly said that page speed is a ranking factor. The reason being that if they are serving web pages to users, they want that experience to be rather seamless.
If your website has a negative impact on the experience of visitors due to page speed, Google will adjust rankings accordingly.
Also, if you have a website, your goal should be to provide a fast and positive experience, regardless of it being a ranking factor.
Depending on the query that is being searched, the date a page is published or its freshness may be a ranking factor.
For example, news queries require the latest pages on the subject matter, so a webpage published more recently will fulfill that user intent.
Mobile devices have taken over and roughly ⅔ of searches are done on a mobile device. Not only that, but Google has announced that the mobile-first index, which started mid-2019, will be fully rolled out in March 2021.
This means that Google looks at websites from a mobile perspective because so many users depend on that view.
HTTPS helps improve the security of the connection for users, encrypting the data between the browser and server.
Google announced that HTTPS will be a minimal ranking factor in 2014 to nudge webmasters to provide a secure experience for their users.
If you pay close attention to the underlying theme of the most important ranking factors, you’ll notice they hone in on providing the best experience for users.
As Google and other search engines evolve and get smarter, they are able to better understand user behaviour to provide the best resources possible to fulfill their mission of accessible and useful information.
This was a basic rundown of how search engines work. In later lessons, we will cover specifics on the way search engines operate so you can optimize your website to accommodate for those inner workings.