The world wide web is made up of over 60 trillion pages and growing steadily. Internet users browse pages filled with words, images and video - more pages than any one person could consume in 10,000 lifetimes. Since the advent of the internet users needed the ability to find pages online that they have never seen before. Search engines are a gateway between online users and the information they seek.
What is a Search Engine?
You probably have a pretty good sense about what a search engine is. Google and Bing are the most common in the U.S. and you’ve probably used them a time or two. Search engines go far beyond what Google and Bing can offer, however. Search engines are all around you online.
If you’ve ever been looking for something specific on a website you’ve likely used their site search to find what you’re looking for. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have search engines to help you find your friends, find content and entertainment. YouTube is just one large search engine for video, in fact the second largest search engine online behind Google. iTunes, Pandora and Soundcloud offer huge databases of music with search engines too! Search engines truly are everywhere online today, how else could we possibly sort through 1 trillion pages?
So what is a search engine exactly?
“A computer program that searches documents, especially on the World Wide Web, for a specified word or words and provides a list of documents in which they are found” - via Dictionary.com
The technology behind search engines use algorithms and web crawlers. Computer engineering experts at companies like Google develop advanced algorithms.
Algorithms are a set of step-by-step operations to be performed by a computer.A web crawler is an internet bot which discovers pages throughout the web, in a systematic way by browsing and traveling from page to page via links on the web.
Computer engineers develop algorithms to command a web crawler to find pages on the web and to then understand meaning of the page based on the words, images, video and other assets it discovers. Search engines like Google & Bing follow links from page to page all throughout the web, at all hours of the day.
The way a web bot browses is a bit different than how you and I browse the web. A web crawler will discover pages and “read” the page and it’s contents, except they can’t really “see”. What it can understand is the code on the page, the words, content and links on the page in a very quick and efficient way. It can’t actually “see” that an image on a page is that of a red corvette for example.
What can a search engine see? The code on the page which describes the image, the filename of the image and other factors about that image via code for example. The information gathered by a web bot is then stored in the search engine’s database - or Index. Algorithms work to understand the meaning of pages in its Index, the context of those pages and other factors. In fact, they use over 200 factors to determine if a page is the best for their searchers. Computer engineers are responsible for writing the algorithms, programs and formulas, to deliver the best results possible to those searching.
Search engine algorithms are constantly changing to adapt, improve and work more effectively. In an effort to keep search results relevant, search engines must combat spam. The web is filled with pages and sites that are simply there only to trick search engines into sending traffic to them. This is web spam. You’ve probably landed on a few over the years, pages that aren’t relevant to anything at all and are filled with text and irrelevant information. These can clog up a search engine’s index and disrupt user experience so search engines take spam very seriously.
If Google or Bing views your site as spam they will usually attempt to notify you via their Search Console or Webmaster Tools dashboard. These are accounts which share facts and figures about your site Not sure if you have access to yours? Set up your Google Search Console account here and Bing Webmaster Tools account too.
Over one billion searches are performed each month on Google and behind those searches is a complex system working to achieve the ultimate goal: the best results possible for your search. The incredibly intricate, carefully crafted and tested systems behind search engines on the web are truly amazing. The next time you use a search engine hopefully you’ll take a moment and think about what it took to get you to the right page and understand a bit better about how search engines work.
Interested in learning more about how search engines work, how marketers can use search marketing tactics and five things you can do to improve your SEO today? Join us in Phoenix at the Arizona Small Business Association on Tuesday, September 13th from 7:45AM to 9:45AM to hear Kaila Strong speak about these very topics during one of our monthly Enterprise University workshop series. Visit http://www.enterprisebank.com/eu to register today.
This blog post brought to you by guest blogger, Kaila Strong, SEO Strategist.