How Search Engines Work

What are Search Engines and How Do They Work?

Welcome to chapter 1 of the beginners guide to SEO. In this chapter you’ll learn about how search engines work.

In this guide to search engine optimization we cover the following:

Introduction to SEO

How Search Engines Work

How People Interact With Search Engines

Why Search Engine Marketing Is Necessary

How to Create a Search Engine Friendly Website

How to Conduct Keyword Research

Why You Should Focus on User Experience?

How To Get Backlinks

Search Engine Tools and Software

Fake News Around Search Engines

How To Track the Success of your SEO Campaign

Now, lets get into it.

Search engines have two main functions:

  • Crawling websites and building an index.
  • Providing search users with the most relevant web pages for any given search query.

Crawling and Indexing

Picture the World Wide Web as the London Underground with many regular stops at different stations.

Each railway station is a different place where you’ll find different things.

London underground

In terms of crawling and indexing, these come in the form of documents, like a web page, PDFs, JPG, etc.

All search engines have to somehow find a way to visit,“crawl”, the whole of London, and all of the different railway stations .

How do search engines crawl the web?


The structure of the web aims to combine all of the web pages together.

Links enable the search engines’ crawlers, also known as ‘spiders’ and ‘robots’, to discover billions of interconnected documents, webpages, and resources of information.

Every time the search engine finds a new document, it encrypts the code, and then stores the information in its huge database. The new documents are now ready to be recalled when searchers are looking for it, anytime they make a search query.

These ridiculously massive databases contain lots of machines processing large amounts of information, at a speed that makes fiber optic internet look slow.

How search works?

When a user performs a search in a search engine, like in Google or Bing, they NEED a fast response.

How Search Engines Work

Otherwise, search users will be unhappy. Even in a small one second delay of the response from the search engines, will have an impact on what results appear in the SERPs.

Search engines then have to ensure they produce the most relevant results, at the quickest time possible.

Giving a response

Search engines are like a fortune teller, but more accurate.

Search engines have to give the most accurate information, every time someone makes a search.

It has to sift through all of the information stored in its database and do two things:

  1. Show results that are the most relevant for the user.
  2. Rank the results, by how popular the websites are that serve them.

How do search engines figure out what’s popular and relevant?

Search engines use many different factors to determine what information is relevant to the user.

However, it wasn’t always like this.

During the stone ages of the web, search engines almost guessed what web pages had the most relevant information. This often led to web pages that were low quality and of no value.

Luckily, search engineers were fully aware of the lack of accuracy from the search engines, so they were determined to fix the issues.

Search engineers had to find ways that accurately matched search queries to relevant information.

Today, there are hundreds of search engine ranking factors that influence how search engines work, but we’ll get onto that at a later stage.

Search engines often make assumptions as to what resources of information are the most relevant.

They assume the more popular a: document, video, image, web page, or website is, the more valuable the information is.

What determines the popularity and relevance aren’t determined by humans.

But by robots. WTF!!!

These robots use a mathematical equation, an algorithm, to determine what is the most relevant, and then asses the quality of the information and ranks them by popularity accordingly.

These algorithms have many variables to consider when analysing a piece of information. In the marketing world, we call these “ranking factors”.

Content promotion strategy

Search engine algorithms may look like a safe that can’t be cracked open, but the search engines themselves offer us marketers some advice in how to succeed in marketing our content.

SEO information provided by Google. What does Google recommend?:

  • Create web pages for the users, rather than the search engines.
  • Don’t manipulate the search engines, by showing different sources of information than you display to users. This is a technique called “cloaking”.
  • Create a site with a hierarchy and text links. Every web page needs to be accessible by at least one text link.
  • Create content that will give value to the readers.
  • Make sure all of your tags, like your <title>, <meta>, and your ALT attributes, are accurate and describe what you are writing about.
  • Create simple & descriptive URLs.

Note:Make sure your URLs only have one version, not any duplicates. If there are duplicate URLs, use rel=”canonical” or a 301 redirect to fix the issue of duplicate content.

SEO information provided by Bing:

Microsoft engineers give the following advice:

  • Make sure to have a clean, simple, keyword rich URL.
  • Ensure valuable content is not formatted in a way that makes it hard for the crawlers to find. For example, do not use Adobe Flash, Javascript ect.
  • Regularly update site with new content.
  • Have content that contain keywords which describe what the content is about.

These guidelines are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to learn about how search engines work, and what their guidelines stipulate.

But don’t worry, Serpjump is here to help!

REMEMBER: Web search has been around for nearly 20 years, and many SEOs have devised methods they can use to discover information about how search engines work.

SEOs and search marketers alike use this data to help improve their sites as well as helping our client’s achieve better results.

Everyone should experiment

The best possible method people can use to determine how algorithms work is by experimenting.

Testing theories and hypothesizing, are great methods in getting an accurate look into how search engines work.

This is a painstaking process that requires a lot of time and effort, to accrue even small amounts information that we can use to our benefit.


How are SEO experiments conducted and created?

Something like the following:

  1. Register a new website with an irrelevant keyword.
  2. Create some web pages on the website, all targeting other ridiculous keywords.
  3. Make the web pages as similar as possible, then tweak one factor at a time, like use of keywords.
  4. Obtain links from other indexed domains.
  5. Record the rankings of the individual pages in the SERPs.
  6. Make small changes to the web pages and note the impact, if any, on the SERPs. Then determine what factors have affected the results, in either the web page moving up or down.
  7. Record the results of any positive results, and re-test the results on other domains, or with different keywords. If several results return the same results, it’s likely you have found a pattern that is used by the search engines.

Because of these methods, as well as others, SEOs have come to understand a lot of information about how the search engines operate and work.

The rest of this guide is determined to clearly outline these insights.

Hope you enjoy!!!

Next Chapter 2- How People Interact With Search Engines

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Tahir Miah

Tahir Miah is an entrepreneur, digital marketer and SEO enthusiast. He is the founder of Serpjump, a Bedford link building agency. Tahir currently advises companies on the best way to increase revenue and brand awareness through SEO, content marketing and link building. He can be found on @serpjump

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