How Search Engines Work

To fully comprehend how to start SEO and best optimize your website you must have a firm grasp on how search engines work. Understanding how they find your website, crawl it, and grab the data is good. Then make decisions on how best to display when someone is searching the database of information they have of your website and all other similar websites. This helps you best make decisions when a question arises or if you are deciding to develop a portion of your website and need to ensure it will show up appropriately. 

There are billions of websites on the internet and billions of users looking for information, products, news, pictures, videos, and so much content that it’s almost unfathomable even to begin to know where to find it. This is where search engines come into play. Users know to go to Google, Bing, Yahoo!, or the thousands of other search engines that provide the best and closest match to what they are looking for. Google alone had been the one search engine that takes pride in it’s ability to provide users the best match based on the search engine’s ability to find websites, parse data, and decipher content with algorithms. 

When understanding search engines, always remember that they are a computer program written by us humans. We begin with the basics of programming the system to find a website’s homepage and then go from one page to the next, looking at the content on each page.

Looking at Pages 

Search engines know a website’s domain is the website’s home page. Most search engines are programmed to prioritize the content and the links pointing to and linking from the home page. In addition, just as the domain is recognized as the home page, each URL under Jenn Mathews A.K.A SEOGoddess the domain is recognized as a directory (with the “/” as an end to mark the directory) and files (with a .html, .aspx., .php, etc) within that directory. The best way to envision this is to think of your computer and how you organize files into folders. Each folder has a subject, and the files within are all representative of that subject. 

To help understand how content is processed, remember that computers don’t read. We program them to recognize data, whether letters, numbers, punctuation, etc. So for a search engine to truly recognize what a word is the program is developed to recognize letters separated by spaces. 

Looking at Content 

When search engine optimizers mention content, they don’t just mean the words on the page. What can be considered content is anything that a search engine bot is programmed to recognize as something of importance when a user is searching. Users will use words to search, but while they could be looking 

for information, they could also be looking for images or perhaps videos. Search engines are programmed to decipher the word that a user might use and try to understand if it is information in the form of an article as they are researching or if it is, perhaps, a product they could purchase. When you look at a website, you see a nice layout with colors, images, buttons, and links to other pages. What a search engine sees are words on the pages and a limited list of HTML code that define essential pieces of the page (such as links ­ <a href, images­ <img src, video­ <video, etc.).

Storing All that Data

Many people are under the misconception that when they type a word into a search engine, the search engine quickly looks at all of the websites on the internet and presents them in a list in order of a predetermined priority. While looking at websites in real­time is a concept that is pretty impressive, it is not reality. Search engines store all of that data after encoding and compressing it to save space. To envision this in its simplest form, think about an Excel file with a website domain in each row with the cell next to it filled with encrypted words as a representation of the text on the page. The next row under the domain is the first page found linked to the homepage, then the directory as an index to the domain, followed by the pages within that directory linked from the directory’s main page, and so on. Each page has a score assigned to it based on the words on the page, where it is placed on the server, how it is linked to from the homepage, and how other websites link to it. 

When a user searches for a word, the search engine will dig into its database and pull up all the websites, directories, and then pages that include that word. Then display it in the results in order based on that search engine’s scoring system.

In conclusion, understanding how search engines work is crucial for effective SEO and website optimization. Search engines play a vital role in helping users find the information they are looking for among the billions of websites on the internet. Google, for instance, prides itself on providing users with the best matches based on its ability to find, crawl, index, and rank websites using sophisticated algorithms. You can read more about how Google search works, including how they deliver relevant search results to users.

Further Reading