How do Search Engines Work? Things you want to know -

How do Search Engines Work? Things you want to know

How Search Engines Work

February 20, 2020

How do Search engines work? It’s a very common question for many people. It does not matter whether you are a developer, web designer, small business owner, marketing professional, website owner, or someone who is looking forward to creating an online-based business. If you have a clear knowledge of how the search engine works then you can set up a business that will grow faster with some added benefits. It is also the very first basic task in any form of SEM (Search Engine Marketing).

Search Engines work by discovering and crawling a webpage with their own Web Crawlers or Bots. These Crawlers or Bots are also known as Search Engine Spiders. Then the newly discovered pages are indexed and the links available on those pages are followed to discover more pages available.


The Pivotal Questions to consider

Has it ever occurred to you how many times a day you use a search engine to search the web? The answer to that question is a very huge number. We use them as a part of our daily life. We use them as a learning tool, shopping tool, business tool, and a source for our entertainment needs. So it is safe to say that, we depend on search engines for almost anything we do. Why is that? Well, it has the answers to our questions and queries.

So, what happens when you search for something in a search engine? How do they decide what results to show you and in which order? Let’s dive into the discussion of how do search engines work?

How do Search Engines work


How do Search Engines work?

Search Engines are complex computer programs. Search engines present you with a set of precise and appropriate results to your query or your question. But they do that with a lot of systematic preparation work, even before you are allowed to type a search keyword to the point of presenting you with results.

Now the question is what are those preparation works and what are they including? The preparation works are divided into three main stages. They are:

  • The first stage is the process where the information is discovered. It is known as Crawling.
  • The second stage is the process of organizing the found information. It is known as Indexing
  • The third and last process is the way of ranking the results. It is known as Ranking.


The steps explained

As mentioned before search engines are like answering machines. They discover, process, and organizes the contents of the internet to offer the most relevant and suitable results to the search or query done by the user. Now the main question is the fundamentals of how a search engine works? We have already mentioned that the Search engine works in three steps called Crawling, Indexing, and Ranking. The most important thing to remember here is, if your content is not visible, you won’t find it in the SERP (Search Engine Result Page). The functions of a search engine are explained below:



Every search engine has some programs called web crawlers. They are also known as crawlers or search engine spiders. Web crawlers find publicly available information on the internet. They scour the internet for content. Crawlers look over the code or content for each possible URL.

To put crawling simply it’s a searching process where the search engine sends out a group of crawlers on the web. The crawlers scan the internet thoroughly and find the servers (also known as the web servers) hosting the websites. Then they create a list of all the available web servers and how many websites each of the hosts. After the listing is complete they start their work. They visit every website and try to find out how many pages they have. Search Engines also determine what type of content they have, whether it’s text, image, video, or any other format(HTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc). They use a variety of techniques to accomplish this task.

Search Engine Crawling


When the crawlers visit a website they also follow all the links on that website. These include any link that points to a page within the website or a link that redirects to another external website. This is how the crawlers discover any updates of pages made in the website page list. They repeat this process continues to keep track of all the changes made to the pages. Considering the fact the internet has more than 130 trillion pages (approximately) and thousands of new pages are being published every day, you can imagine how much work all these software go through daily.

Search Engine Crawler


Why crawling is important?

When optimizing a website the first concern should be making it fully accessible. If a website is not fully accessible the crawlers won’t be able to read it. It is a very important basic step for an SEO expert. If the crawlers cannot find your website then it will be invisible to the world. To ensure the website is found by the crawler, several steps can be taken:

  • Use the file named Robots.txt to specify the pages that you want the crawlers to find. Leave the pages that you want to stay invisible to crawlers (inaccessible for crawlers). The file named robots.txt is usually located in the root directory of the websites (ex: It also specifies the pages that search engines should or shouldn’t crawl and at what speed they should do it.
  • Most search engines have tools known as webmasters tools. Use them to record as much information as you can about the website for sharing.
  • Use an XML SITEMAP to list all the important pages of the website. Also, specify which pages you want to be ignored.



In layman’s terms Index is a huge database that records all the contents discovered by the crawlers. In one word index can be described as the back cover of a book. Contents stored in the index are the ones that will form the SERP (Search Engine Result Page). After the crawlers have discovered the necessary information or contents they need to be sorted, organized, and stored in the right place. After storing the information properly they are processed by the search engine algorithms this process is called Indexing.

The search engine does not need all the information found by the crawlers, so they keep only the required information in the index. This information includes all the necessary parameters needed by the search engine algorithm. These parameters include title and description of the page, content type, associated keywords, all incoming and outgoing links, the time when the website was created or updated, etc.


Why Indexing process is important?

There are many reasons why this process is important. To put it simply, if the website is not indeed in a search engine index it will not appear in the search engine results. So it means if you have more pages indexed in a search engine it will increase your chances in the SERP (Search Engine Result Page). It means when someone types a query or search the search engine will prioritize the results based on the number of pages properly indexed.



After the crawling and indexing, the last and final step of the search engine is to determine what results are to show when the user types a query and in which order they will be shown. This is done by the programs that are called search engine ranking algorithms. In layman’s term, search engine algorithms are a program that analyses what the user is searching for and what would be the most suitable result. These rules are made based on what information is available in the index.

Search Engine Ranking


If you want to understand the process of ranking properly you should know how Search Engine Algorithms work. Here we will explain this: At the very early stage of the search engine era, the search engines used just the title of the page to match it with the query and then showed the user result. But the search engine algorithm has come a long way since then. Now before showing the results the algorithm takes more than 256 rules into consideration. Those rules are still a mystery to the general public.

Due to the revolution in machine learning and computer programming these search engine algorithms have evolved a lot. Decisions are made based on some parameters outside the boundaries of the contents found on the webpage. These search engine algorithms are what we can call search engine ranking factors.

Here is a simplified step by step explanation of how the search engine algorithms work:

Step1: Analyzation of the search or query

At first, the Search Engine analyses what the user is looking for. To make it happen the break down the user’s input or a search query into several keywords. These keywords have a specific meaning and purpose. As an example, we can say that when you type ‘buy refurbished phone’ it will break it into two parts. By the ‘buy refurbished’ keyword it will understand that the user wants to buy a refurbished electronics item so it will redirect the user to an e-commerce site. Say that you typed ‘how to make a pie’. The search engine algorithm divides it into two different keywords. By the ‘how to’ keyword it understands that the user is looking for instructions and by the ‘make a pie’ keyword the search engine algorithm understands that the user is looking for cooking instructions. So it will redirect the user to a cooking recipe site.

The association of the related keyword has happened due to the advancement of machine learning. For example, if one user types ‘how to change a bulb’ and another types ‘how to change an electrical bulb’ the search engine will know that they are the same. The search engine algorithms are now smart enough to correct spelling mistakes, understand grammar errors, and parts of speech. In general terms, a search engine can extract the meaning of the query from natural language (written or verbal).

Step2: Finding out the matching pages

The second and the most important step for the search engine algorithm are to look into the index. After that picking out the pages that can provide the best answer to the user’s query. This step is the most important process for both users and search engines.

The search engines must return the user’s query with the best possible result. They have to do it in the fastest possible way. It will ensure the popularity of the search engine. This will make more users use the search engine. Doing so they would make the website owners want their sites to be picked up for more traffic and visits. This is the process known by the term matching.

How good the matching will be is determined by some core factors. They are given below:

  • How much the title and the content of the page are relevant to the query. This is called title & content relevancy.
  • What type of content is the user requesting? Whether it’s image or text or video, the results will contain what the user has requested.
  • The quality of content is also a prime factor. The contents must be thorough, useful, informative, relevant, unbiased, and covers the user’s requirements properly.
  • The quality of the websites is another important factor. If a website doesn’t meet the search engine’s quality standards then no page will be shown from them in the SERP (Search Engine Result Page).
  • If the user’s query is news-related, then the date of the publication is an important factor. A search engine must show the latest news on a certain matter so the date of publication is very crucial here.
  • How websites perceive a particular page is another important factor. The page that has more backlink ( References from other websites) is considered more popular and the algorithms tend to pick up pages with more It is also called “off-page SEO”.
  • The language of the webpage also has a crucial part in matching. Though most cases websites have the option to switch between English and other languages. It also plays a vital part.
  • The websites that have a faster loading time (like 2-3 seconds) has a bit of advantage in matching compared to the slow ones.
  • What device is being used to browse is also a very crucial factor in matching.
  • Location is another important factor concerning matching. In many cases, search queries related to specific locations or user locations will show results based on that required location. Instead of the best results of other locations the user will be given the best results suiting their location.


Some other factors are also used for matching like user’s customized search requirements etc.


Why is how Search Engine ranking algorithm works important?

Know how the search engine ranking algorithm works is very necessary. If you want traffic on your website you have to make sure that, your webpage appears in the top position of the SERP (Search Engine Result Page). No matter what device you are using, it is statistically proven that most of the users tend to click on the top 5 results. So, if you are not top 5 don’t feel bad as long as you are on the first page. In case you are not on the first page you honestly have no hope or good traffic.

Traffic is just the first benefit of SEO. If you can get to the top positions or the keywords related to your business the added benefits are way much more. Knowledge of how the search engine works will boost your website’s traffic and ranking.


In conclusion, the process of how do search engines work may be a simple-looking program with a minimalistic interface. But the way they work is far more complicated. The process starts with crawling when the crawlers collect all the information from the websites publicly available on the internet. After discovery, the process to sort and store all the information in a format that can be used by the search engine algorithms. It is called Indexing. After indexing, the algorithms make the best possible result and present it to the user. It is known as ranking.  Although the process is automated, the search engine has to digest and process a huge pile of data in a very short time.

Human intervention is only done when designing the rules for the algorithms and this process is now being done by A.I.(Artificial Intelligence). A webmaster should make websites in a way where crawling and indexing will be easy. Then we must make sure the websites have all the right signals for the search engine algorithms to pick up for the user’s relevant query. If someone can get a very little part of overall search engine traffic it’s more than enough to ensure a successful online business.

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