How Do Search Engines Work?

by | Sep 9, 2022 | Clicks Blog, SEO

A Blog written for the aspiring business owner who may be very good in business but not all that great in online marketing.

Brought to you by: Get the Clicks, a trusted and successful digital marketing agency that maintains stellar creativity and performance by utilizing the latest edge in search engine optimization.

We hope this educational blog will prove helpful to your business, and if you would like to hire an agency to promote your business, please keep us in mind!

Chapter 1: Understanding How Search Engines Work


Web crawlers and algorithms, indexing and machine learning…The World Wide Web plugs the user into a network of information attained within moments with the help of incredible tools called search engines. The world seems smaller when plentiful information is readily available at your fingertips.

But what are search engines anyway, and how do they work?

Got “bottom of Google” blues? Well then, have we got the blog post for YOU!

Blog post awesomeness in 3……2…….1……..

Awesomeness Begins Here!

Search engines, search engines, search engines…Understanding how search engines work while juggling the many ways to reach consumers online can be tricky and overwhelming to the business owner. Where should they begin in their “search” for success?

Let’s Talk About the Basics

But before we do that, let’s take our minds back in time! Let’s travel back to the early 90s, a time of fanny packs and wild frizzy hair when the Macarena was in and jorts were a thing. While all this was going on, an English computer scientist named Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee (knighted for his awesomeness) invented the World Wide Web, which paved the way to the development of the internet as we know and love today. Since its inception, the internet has brought forth revolutionary connectivity that continues to get only better and better.

People who lived through such beginnings may have the nostalgic reminder of the EEEE-errrrr, EE-rrrrrrr-eeeeee sounds while experiencing the super giddy skip in your heart upon hearing the phrase “You’ve got mail!” (And all is right with the world. That is, until the phone gets picked up by your sibling, causing you to lose the connection, and then *BAM* the process begins all….over….again). Boo!

A lot has changed since “the days of old,” as the internet has now transformed into a well-oiled “machine,” containing a vast integration of parts that harmoniously work together to provide the user knowledge and connectivity in a lot less time – a fraction of a second, in fact! Just ask our Tampa SEO team because some of those SEO veterans got into this game when Alta Vista was the predominant search engine.

Special tools, called search engines, also developed in the 90s, have changed with the times to today…a time of air pods…and fun little squishy things called squishmallows.

Archie, the world’s first search engine, morphed into machine learning search engines, a form of artificial intelligence with adaptive capabilities. My, my, my, have the times changed!

Used by billions across the globe, search engines are essential to retrieving information quickly and efficiently! So instead of waiting around, as we did back in the 90s during the baby stages of technology, praying your sister doesn’t pick up that phone again, search engines are continually improving ways to connect people in a new, sustainable, and efficient manner – faster than you can say, “You’ve Got Mail.”

Yet, sharing knowledge across the globe may seem messy! Now, trillions of websites are on the net (holy cheese and crackers Batman – That’s a LOT!). Still, these search engines unceasingly keep everything tidy in the user’s search experience on the web…sort of like the Marie Kondo workers of the net….aiming to restore “joy” to the user experience. But how does it do that exactly? Read more to find out!


So what is a search engine exactly? According to Wikipedia, a search engine is a software system specifically designed to conduct internet searches. As simple as that! Yet, although simple to users, there is more than meets the eye. Search engines have two main components to their functionality: Search indexing and search algorithms, and by their powers combined, a Captain Planet-sized concoction of results is provided to the user.

A search index is a digital library of information collected from web pages, and search algorithms are programs designed with ranking factors that sort relevant results from top to bottom. More on indexing and algorithms soon!  If you can’t wait to read it all you may just want to consider contacting our Orlando SEO team to answer all of those burning questions.

Various popular search engines are available today, including Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Google. Yet, Google, a word officially added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in July 2006, is the most popular search engine, containing 92% of the search engine market.

Search Index

Imagine yourself in the early 90s, with wild hair, and a neon green fanny pack, making your way inside a library filled with books. You just want to find your favorite book from the Goosebumps series, so where do you go? Well, the card catalog, of course – the massive vessel containing an indexed listing of all the books in the library. This bibliographic database was the primary information hub of the time with the exclusive purpose of selecting and locating available resources. Searching for things such as works by an author or subject often included item-specific information relating to the resource, like call numbers, which helped the individual physically locate the book among the thousands of others.

Much the same as the library’s card catalog back then, search engines today work similarly, just a lot better! Each search engine has an army of unique minions called spider bots that scan, or crawl, the net from one web page to the next, collecting information and storing it in a huge database. This database is essentially a digital library of trillions of web page counterparts.

When a person performs a search query, the search engine does not go through the digital library in real-time, as that would probably take forever. Instead, search engine bots continually scan, or crawl, pages on the web in advance; allowing the fast upload of relevant query results pulled directly from the search indexes. These mechanisms are called web crawlers.

Search Engine Algorithms

The second component of search engines is search engine algorithms. These special computer programs take the digitally indexed library of web pages and rank matching results according to relevancy upon each user’s search query.

Search Engine Purpose

The purpose of search engines is to provide the best and most relevant results. Let us delve deeper into a deeper explanation of how search engines turn the

request into a result!

How Do Search Engines Make Money?

Attention small business owners! Has anyone ever told you that nothing in life is free? Yeah? The same rules can apply to search engines also; here is why:

Two Types of Results

Upon a user query, two types of search results become available: organic search results and paid results. Organic search results are web pages from the digital search index that are not paid. In contrast, paid results are paid by the entity posting the page as advertisements.

Organic Results

When the user enters a particular query into the search engine software system, organic results are presented in a line of listed web pages. These pages from the search index are not paid. These results will shows organic listings, featured snippets, sitelinks, videos, thumbnails, Knowledge Panels, Image Packs, etc. From a local SEO perspective, you could see maps listings, Carousels, Related searches, etc.

Paid Results

The second type of results is paid results from advertisements. Usually located at the top ranking results, the advertiser gives the search engine a payment every time a user clicks on a paid listing. This is also known as a pay-per-click advertisement.

Market Share

Search engines work to provide the very best results to grow their market share. This means there is a positive correlation between the quality of results and increased market share. As a worthy note, since Google search console has a 92% market share, it has dominated other search engines and is considered the top choice by business owners.

Google and Market Share

As the most popular search engine, Google search engines are what most search engine optimization professionals and website owners care about. This is because Google can send more web traffic than any other search engine.

Chapter 2: How Search Engines Build Their Index

Now here comes the fun part!


There are four steps to the web index process needed to build and maintain the search engine’s index. The method includes the following:

1) URLs

2) Crawling

3) Processing/Rendering

4) Indexing

Step 1: URLs

Discovered URLs are located through high-quality backlinks, XML sitemaps, and URL submissions.

High-Quality Backlinks

Remember those creeper bots that crawl the net discussed before? Well, if any web pages are collected into the indexed library, this would also include any links. Therefore, if someone adds a link to one of those pages from an indexed web page, it can be found there.

XML Sitemap

A sitemap is a listing of all the relevant pages on your website. Submission of this information to Google may assist them in discovering your website much faster.

URL Submissions

Google search console allows submission of individual URLs.


Step 2: Crawling

Search engine crawlers work by sending off these little spider bots that jump from one URL to the next, continually scanning the contents of each web page and downloading them into a massive digital library. Crawlers, such as Google’s crawlers, move from page to page when they encounter any type of internal links.

Page Rank of URL

Page ranking is the center of discussion, and did you know that the term was named after Google co-founder Larry Page? His “page” rank invention is used by search engines today to order web pages based on popularity.

How Often the URL Changes

Whether or Not It is New

H2c SE might crawl and index some of your pages before others

Search engines might web crawl and index some websites before others.


Step 3: Processing / Rendering

The Google search engine interprets and extracts essential information from crawled web pages. It takes links and storage for content.

Step 4: Indexing

The indexing process involves crawled pages added to a search index database. This is a digital library of trillions of websites from where Google’s search results are accessed. All search engines perform this work through the use of their web crawlers.

Important Information

When the user’s search query is made, it is not being pulled from the internet magically in real time. This means matching results are from the existing search engine index of downloaded web pages.

Get it Indexed with the Big Boys

This is important for business owners! As a website owner, if your web page has not gone through the indexing process of significant search engines like Google and Bing, then relevant content in the search engine results will not be shown in response to the user query. For this reason, getting your web page indexed by Google and Bing is very important.

Chapter 3: How Search Engines Rank Pages

The other piece of the pie about how search engines work includes the rankings aspect by sorting webpages according to relevancy. Essentially, search engine algorithms do just that.

Since Google search engines are considered the most widely used search engine in the western world, we will focus on their unique algorithm for simplicity.

Algorithms and Ranking Factors

Search engine algorithms provide search results unique to that search engine console, and ranking web pages will be pulled from the information by the user’s query.

Search Engine Algorithm – To Each Their Own

Since each search engine has its own unique application for indexing into its very own digital library, this also means that while search queries may be the same, search engine rankings may reveal completely different search results.

In other words, Google’s algorithm may produce different results, sorted by relevant content compared to other pages by Bing’s search algorithm.

Google Ranking Factors

200+ Ranking Factors

Since Google search engines are the hot topic of the online world, we know they famously have over 200 ranking factors!

Although no one knows what the ranking factors are, there are some essential key factors that we will explain in greater detail.


As Andrey Lipattsev, Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, said in 2016, the two single most important ranking factors for the Google search engine are content on relevant websites and links pointing to the site.

Upon Google’s introduction of PageRank in 1997, link quantity and quality were assessed using this formula to judge the value of web pages based on backlinks directing users to them.

There is a positive correlation between the number of sites linking to a website and organic traffic.

However, quantity does not necessarily influence quality. In other words, the number of backlinks on a website is not entirely the most significant factor in judging the quality of backlinks.

So, what are the characteristics of a high-quality backlink? Here are 6:

1) Authority

2) Relevance

3) Anchor Text

4) Follow vs. NoFollow

5) Placement

6) Destination

While each link attributes works together with synergy to produce a high-quality backlink, let us look at the two main components: authority and relevance.

Link Authority

Authoritative sites have a highly influential impact on search result ranking. However, in the context of search engine optimization, or SEO, what constitutes an authoritative site?

Link authority is defined by websites with many “votes” or backlinks, and two metrics are used to gauge the relative authority of these sites.

Domain Rating (DR)

Domain rating is used to rate the authority of a website on a scale from 0 to 100.

URL Rating (UR)

The URL Rating determines the authority of a page on a scale from 0 to 100.

Link Relevance

Link building involves using relevant links that create the most value related to the content.

For example, if multiple sites on a particular subject link to one page, the information is likely high quality and relevant.

Regarding relevant queries and sites that search engines find and extrapolate as relevant…as it pertains to life, we should think about how relevancy matters!

For example, you would probably trust your chef friend’s recommendation of your area’s top restaurant cuisine over that of your physician friend. Yet, finding the best medical treatment centers may be the other way around. See? Relevancy matters!

Relevant Results

The Google search engine results page will reveal all the relevant pages to a user’s query, pulling from a vast database of Google index websites.

Google determines relevant content through various factors, such as keywords that match words entered in the user’s query and interaction data, which assesses whether searchers find the page meaningful. Therefore, the more practical it is, the more relevant it is.

Interaction data goes a step further to determine search result relevancy accurately. It takes what the user queries and matches the result with what most searchers are looking for and would most likely be. Then those discovered pages will be reflected on the search results page.

In addition, Google search engines use knowledge graph technologies to distinguish between entities like people, places, and things and the relationships between them.

For example, apple, the fruit, and Apple, the technology company, are different entities in the Knowledge Graph that help to understand page relevance better. This adaptable technological understanding allows users to search the web in a highly efficient way seamlessly.

Also, based on past search history findings, Google discovers the relevance of new web pages and can connect the dots using its effective search algorithm technologies. This improves the overall user experience.


Freshness can mean recently-added movies and TV shows or new page-published content. These freshness content queries get bumped up in the ranking signal.

While queries like “best laptops” may not seem to matter as much in freshness, technological advancements could make a post published 2 to 3 months ago more helpful and relevant than one from 2015.

On the other side of the coin, “how to tie a bow” may not need freshness relevancy since nothing may have changed in this process in decades or years. Therefore, Google would already know that search results from a day ago or 10 years ago, the same site may have the same information and likely remain unchanged.

Topical Authority

Topical authority means that a site, such as the Centers for Disease Control, may be an authoritative site for a health-related query but not given authority for posts that are not within the scope of health-related criteria.

Google recommends that local SEO companies promote a reputation for expertise and trustworthiness in a specific area to website owners.

Page Speed

Google is all about having its search engines discover and search queries in a lot less time. That’s why they made page speed a ranking factor, avoiding a slow experience for users.

Yet, while increasing page speed by a few milliseconds off an already fast-loading site won’t boost rankings, improving performance on poorly loaded sites will positively influence rank.


Many people use their phones in the digital age for added portability and convenience. There is no wonder that 65% of Google searches occur on mobile devices.

For this reason, search results with mobile-friendliness and usability are ranking factors. In 2019, mobile-friendliness was applied to desktop searches as part of the mobile-first indexing initiative, shifting to a more mobile version of page content for indexing and ranking.

Since mobile-first indexing affects ranking across all devices, mobile usability is now considered an essential component and affects rankings everywhere.

Chapter 4: How Search Engines Personalize Search Engines

Express Your Creativity!


Location matters and search engines work to conveniently list results that are at an approximate distance to your location.

For example, when searching for veterinarians, Google will list results near your present location. Results are personalized in this manner because it is likely that the user will want to see a veterinarian close to their home and unlikely to fly thousands of miles away for a comparable one.

Similarly, the same rule applies to the purchasing of a home. Google will provide results with a listing of homes in the area close by.


Personalized content applies to language settings, as search results will not reveal any content in a different language.

For example, the English-speaking user will not be provided with content that is in Spanish.

However, Google may not pick up on sites containing multiple language versions. If this is the case, website owners would need to contact Google directly to institute user language compatibility across the board.

Search History

Search history is how your personalized results rank as a previously visited site when you run the same search.

This is common when pages are visited frequently during a short period.


So there you have it! Although it may seem as though they are simple, search engines work in a complex way to bring the user a highly efficient and seamless experience.


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