How do search engines work?

Understanding how Search Engines work is an essential part of digital marketing. With the right tactics, a business or organization can increase visibility and awareness of their brand online and reach their target customers.

What is search engine optimization (SEO)?

SEO is the process of getting traffic from free, organic, editorial or natural search results in search engines. It aims to improve a website's position in search results pages.

How do search engines actually work?

Search engines are used by people when they have questions or ideas and are searching for the answer on the internet. When searching, search engine algorithms are usually at work to look for clues and exact results to present on the screen. Search engines rely on algorithms to find web pages and decide which ones to rank for any given keyword. There are three steps to how search engines work namely: 

  • Crawling- The discovery stage
  • Indexing- The filing stage
  • Ranking- The retrieval stage.

Let’s expound, shall we?

Step 1: Crawling

Search engines send out web crawlers to find new pages and record information about them. Web crawlers are sometimes referred to as ‘robots’. Their purpose is to discover new web pages that exist, and also to check the content on pages they’ve previously visited to see whether they've changed or been updated.

Step 2: Indexing

Indexing is when search engines decide whether or not to use the content that it has crawled. If a crawled web page is deemed worthy by a search engine, it will be added to its index. This index is used at the final ranking stage. When a web page or piece of content is indexed, it is filed and stored in a database where it can later be retrieved. Most web pages that offer unique and valuable content are placed into the index. Some of the things that hinder a website from indexed are:

  • If the content has been duplicated
  • If the content is considered to be of no or low value
  • If the page or domain lacks inbound links

Step 3: Ranking

Ranking would usually happen after a web page has been crawled then indexed. Google changes its algorithm, on average, 12 times a day and uses up to 200 criteria to determine the ranking of pages. Some examples of the criteria may include: 

  • Keyword presence in title tag
  • Loading speed of web page 
  • Responsiveness of the website
  • Website reputation depending on the topic being searched 

How to improve SEO ranking for your website

  1.  Engaging content marketing

Content is very important in helping your brand connect with website visitors and search engines as well. The more the quality and relevance of a website, the more likely the search engines will rank your website higher in the search results. There are various content types that can be in a website. Some of them include:

  • Blog articles
  • Visual content like images and infographics
  • Videos and audio
  • Social media content and backlinks
  1.  Onpage SEO

On page SEO are website components that can be fully controlled by the owner. Some of them include:

  • The title Tag- 70 characters or less
  • Meta description-  This tells the search engines in detail what the web page is about and appears on the search page as a brief description of the content being presented. 
meta description
  • Sub-headings- They not only make content easier to read but also boosts your on-page SEO. Sub-headings usually start from H2 tags
  • Internal Links- Having internal links, or as they are called hyperlinks, to other content on your website, can help search engines easily crawl your site and better understand it. For example, you can provide links to the inner other pages with related content on your page. This improves your on-page SEO
  • Image Name and ALT Tags- It is important to add alt tags for images as it gives the description of an image as well as improves SEO.
  • User experience- A website should have good design that is user friendly and responsive on all devices. Visit our blog on tips on designing a website for a business to learn more.
  • Website speed and performance- This is one of the most important aspects of on-page SEO. Websites that take too long to load withdraw visitors very quickly as well as search engines crawlers. If a page speed causes Google to crawl fewer pages, many pages won’t get indexed.
  • Sitemaps- The sitemap provides search engines with sort of a guide or wireframe of all the pages and content on your website and the most important pages. Sitemaps also aid in user navigation by guiding a visitor when browsing. 



Last updated
April 18, 2023
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