How Search Engines Work – Crawling, Indexing, and Ranking

We all use search engines every day. They are a big part of our lives. From giving us information about the world’s politics to finding the next digital marketing trends, they help us in many ways.

When we talk about search engines, most of us think of Google. Yes, Google is a big search engine (and one of the good ones). But there are other engines as well. For example, Baidu is huge in China. Yandex is very famous in Russia.

All of these search engines have one thing in common: the way they function. Sure, every good search engine has its unique selling proposition. But at their core, all search engines are the same.

Have you ever wondered about how search engines work? That’s what I’m going to talk about today. I’ll discuss things from crawling to indexing to ranking.

Let’s get started.​

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How Search Engines Work

I was talking about how search engines help us find answers to our queries. In other words, they are like giant answer machines.

Think about how vast the internet is. There are billions of web pages online. Without search engines, it would be impossible to discover, understand, and organize these web pages across the internet.

Search engines are an important invention of our time. They help us find the most relevant answers to our questions.

If you are a marketer, you should understand how search engines work. From SEO to PPC, understanding search engines will do wonders for you.

The first thing you must understand is that your content needs to be visible to search engines. Before you start to curate content or build backlinks, you have to make sure that search engines can find your content. Failing to do so means that you’ll never show up in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page).

The working of search engines comprises three main functions. I’ll discuss them in more detail, but first, let’s see their basics:

Crawling: Search engines scrub the whole internet to find code or content for each URL.

Indexing: It involves storing and organizing the content found during crawling. After indexing, a page is ready to be displayed as a result of relevant queries.

Ranking: It involves retrieving the content stored during indexing whenever someone searches a query. It is based on relevance: The most relevant result is shown on the top of the search engine and then relevance decreases from there.​

Search Engine Crawling

What is the meaning of search engine crawling? It’s scouring the internet for content.

It involves groups of robots (crawlers or spiders) discovering new and updated content on the internet. The type of content is not restricted to a web page. It can be an image, a video, or a PDF as well. Crawlers discover these pieces of content using links.

For example, if we talk about Googlebot, it starts by fetching a few web pages. After that, it follows links on those web pages to find new URLs. This helps it find new content which is indexed in a form called Caffeine. Whenever a person performs a search on Google, it gives the best matching URL.

How Search Engines Work

Search Engine Indexing

It’s the process of storing and organizing information in an index. You can think of it as a huge database of content. Search engines also consider the fact that if the content it has indexed will serve the searchers or not.​

​Search Engine Ranking

This is the main concern for people. Everyone new to the web wants their website to rank in a couple of hours. Soon, they realize that it’s not as easy as it seems.

Whenever you perform a search on a search engine, it looks through the indexed pages and gives you the most relevant results. This ordering of search results is known as ranking. The goal is to give you the best possible answer and solve your problem.

As a rule of thumb, consider a website relevant if it’s ranked for a particular keyword.

You can also prevent search engines to index your site (or a part of it). There are a few reasons to do that, but if you want to rank your website, make sure that search engines can find it. If your website is not indexable, it will not show in search engine results, no matter if it has hundred of great pages.

You can check how many pages of your site are indexed by Google typing “site:yourdomain.com” into the Google search bar. This data is not always accurate, so use the Index Coverage report in Google Search Console for better results. This tool will also let you submit sitemaps for your site. You can monitor the number of submitted pages in Google’s index.

These are a few reasons why your website is not crawled by Google.

  • Your website is new.
  • Your website doesn’t have any links.0
  • The website’s navigation is not good for crawlers.
  • Technical codes called crawler directives might be preventing search engines.
  • Google penalized you for not following rules.

In addition, search engines can’t find content hidden behind login forms or search forms. Make sure to add text within the <HTML> markup of your webpage because it might be hidden behind non-text media forms (images, video, GIFs, etc.).

Also, make sure that your website has clear navigation and helpful URL folder structures.

Final Words on How Search Engines Work

The working of search engines boils down to three main functions:

Crawling: The process of finding a website’s pages.

Indexing: Saving and organizing content found during crawling.

Ranking: Retrieving relevant content when someone performs a search on the search engine.

Do you think that search engines are fair with rankings? Let me know in the comments below.​

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