How Search Engines Work

How Do Search Engines Actually Work?

Plenty of businesses undertake SEO without really understanding how it all works – they simply throw their trust into the lap of their online marketing agency.

There are many agencies that offer internet marketing in Washington D.C., New York, Seattle and most other parts of the country. In fact, there are online marketing firms working right across the globe. As with any industry, there are good companies and bad companies – it’s just a matter of finding one you can trust!

If you’ve chosen a reputable agency then you don’t necessarily need to understand SEO in great detail – however it doesn’t hurt to at least understand the basics.

“How do search engines work?” is a commonly asked question; this article seeks to answer it as simply as possible.

The function of a search engine

To understand search engines, it’s best to start with the basics. Search engines are designed to perform two main functions:

  • Crawling websites and building an index
  • Providing internet users with a ranked list of results in response to a search query

Crawling and indexing sites

The internet is essentially a massive collection of documents (web pages, PDFs, JPGs, etc.) connected by a pathway of links.

The search engine crawlers use these links to reach all of the information cyberspace has to offer – think of it as a huge network of stations, connected by pathways. The crawlers need these pathways to reach each and every station.

When the crawlers find a site, they ‘read’ all of the information it has to offer – storing certain parts of it to draw on later when needed for a search query. This information is stored in giant data centers around the globe, allowing search engines to provide users with instantaneous results.

Providing answers to search queries

When you enter a search query, the search engine draws on stored information to produce a list of results. Firstly, it determines which results are relevant – and then it ranks them according to the websites’ popularity.

A search engine’s main aim is to provide users with the best results in relation to their query. It’s all about user experience.

How do search engines rank websites?

Search engines such as Google take into account more than 200 rankings factors when it comes to deciding where a site should appear in a list of search results.

Using complex algorithms, they look at both onsite and offsite aspects to determine how relevant your website is, and also how popular it is (popularity indicates valuable information). They determine which sites are relevant, and then order them based on popularity.

How does SEO work?

Without delving into a 10,000 word essay, SEO works by optimizing a website so that it achieves a high search engine results page (SERP) ranking. It looks at onsite factors such as site structure, content and title tags, as well as offsite factors such as backlinks, citations and social media presence.

SEO agencies

SEO companies take a look at all of these factors (and more) when trying to improve their clients’ rankings for search engine optimization company. Most clients want ‘page one rankings’, and therefore a lot of agencies work on a ‘pay on performance’ basis. Any firm that offers pay on performance reviews its SEO strategy constantly. SEO in America is always changing, and therefore they need to keep up if they are to maintain or improve their clients’ rankings.

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