How Search Engines Work

"To defeat your enemy, you must know them" - some savage Samurai (probably)

If you're ready to optimize your site correctly and find success with your business, it's crucial that you understand precisely how search engines work.

Search engines rule the internet. From your nightly dinner recipes to your political opinions, to the images you use in powerpoints, you interact with search engine curated data hundreds of times a day.

But even though you use these machines all the time, you're probably not familiar with how they function.

These engines consider millions of different web pages and use mathematical algorithms to determine which pages are the most useful for searchers.

After they've determined which pages are the most useful, they need to restructure that information in a way that makes it most helpful for the users.

We're going to review different ranking factors, but it's critical to understand that Google and other companies optimize their search engine for user experience. Every other subpoint is considered in relation to completing that ultimate goal.

The user end of the equation is easy. You type in some words, and the search engine browses the available pages that match your search intent. Those available pages are then ranked by an algorithm and shown to you in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

So if you're interested in how to get customers' eyes on your company's offerings, you should be interested in understanding the differences between crawling, indexing, and ranking, among other things.

The systems used to understand what's on a website are called crawlers. Once the crawlers have retrieved the data, they index it so that it is accessible in future searches.

Think of indexing as making a shopping list. You put each item next to a number so that you don't forget about it. This system makes it easier to perform information retrieval in the future.

All of the different ranking factors are then used to determine information quality. The ones that win this battle will get placed on page 1.

While the initial versions of these engines were pretty simple, they have evolved into complex machines. They're capable of highlighting pertinent information, giving answers through different content types, and modifying titles and meta descriptions to reflect search intent.

Google has run hundreds of thousands of experiments to improve its search algorithm. They also A/B test on live traffic so that they can get direct feedback about their changes.

You don't need to be a math major to read this, but it is critical that you have a baseline understanding of these factors and algorithms so that you can succeed in search.

In the following series of posts, we're going to discuss these questions

  • What are search engines crawlers? How do search engines use crawlers?

  • How do crawlers discover and index new pages?

  • What is rendering, and why is it important to search?

  • What are search algorithms, and how do they play into search?

  • What do you need to know about ranking? How do algorithms measure factors like quality and relevance?

  • How do search engines answer questions?

Expect the following chapters to follow:

  1. How Search Engines Index Your Website

  2. How Search Engines Render Your Website

  3. How Search Engines Algorithms Work

  4. How Search Engines Rank Your Pages

  5. How Is Machine Learning Used In Search

  6. How to Quantify User Behavior

  7. How Search Engines Display Search Results

  8. How Search Engines Answer Questions

  9. How Universal Search Works

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