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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Snow

How Do Search Engines Work?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, which means optimising your online content for search engines. But it’s no good trying to improve your SEO if you don’t understand how search engines like Google actually work.

In layman’s terms, search engines discover, understand, and organise content to present the most relevant results to questions and queries that users’ search for. The process in which they do this, though, is quite complicated. Check out our guide below to understand more about how search engines find, index, and rank content…

What is the Aim of Search Engines?

Each search engine ultimately aims to provide its users with the best and most relevant results to their queries. Search engines compete to present a relevant set of high-quality search results that will answer a user’s question as quickly as possible. The user then chooses one of the search results to follow – and this action feeds into future algorithms, which will influence search engine rankings going forwards.

Step 1: Crawling

The first step in this complex process is crawling. Search engines send out an army of crawlers (also known as bots or spiders) to find new and updated content on the web. This content can vary – it could be a webpage, image, or video – but regardless of the content type, new content is discovered via links. The bots then follow these links to find new URLs. By following this chain of links, crawlers can discover new content to be added to the search engine index.

However, be mindful that Google doesn’t necessarily crawl pages in the order of existence.

URLs are crawled based on several factors, including page ranking and age. Therefore, search engines may crawl some of your pages before others. If you have a large website with many pages, it could take a while for search engines to fully crawl your site.

How to Improve Your Site Crawling

  • Ensure that Google can reach every single page on your website and that each page looks correct. Google needs to see all images and content on a page in order to understand it correctly. We recommend doing a quick check to see whether your pages are mobile-friendly.

  • If you’ve recently added or updated a page on your website, you can submit the individual URL to Google for crawling. If you’ve added or updated lots of pages at once, we recommend submitting a sitemap.

  • If you’re going to ask Google to crawl just one page on your site, make it your home page. Ensure that your home page features a good navigation system that links to all the main pages and sections on your site, as this will help Google (and other users) to find their way around your site.

  • Try getting your page linked to another reputable page that Google already knows about. However, this cannot be a paid advertisement, as this does not adhere to the Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Step 2: Indexing

The next step to the process is indexing. Once content has been discovered during the crawling process, it is then stored and organised in a huge online database and will be in the running to display as a search result.

It’s important to note that when you type a question or query into a search engine, you are not directly searching the web for matching results. You’re only searching that specific search engine’s index of web pages. If a web page doesn’t appear in the search index, then users won’t be able to find it. That’s why getting your site indexed on major search engines such as Google and Bing is vital.

How to Improve Your Page Indexing

  • Ensure that every page has a short, relevant title.

  • Use page headings to illustrate the subject of the content/page.

  • Use text to convey your point and use images to support your point. Google can understand some images and videos, but not as well as it understands text – that’s why your main content should always be in text format. If you do want to use videos and images, annotate the alt text to tell Google what’s in the images.

Step 3: Ranking

The final step to the process is ranking. When a user types a query or question into a search engine, it searches its index for the most relevant content, and then orders that content to solve the user’s query. The higher a website is ranked, the more relevant the search engine believes that page is to the query. Every search engine has a unique algorithm for ranking web pages. Google has over 200+ ranking factors, including backlinks, freshness, topical authority, page speed and how mobile friendly a site is.

The top results are determined by various factors, including the user’s location, language, device, and previous search history. For example, a user who searches for “hairdressers near me” will be presented with unique results depending on their location.

How to Improve Your Search Ranking

  • Ensure that your pages load quickly and are mobile friendly.

  • Regularly update your pages with fresh and relevant content.

  • Follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines to ensure for good user experiences.

Specialist SEO Support from Melissa’s Copy

Okay, so now you understand how search engines work. But actually improving your website SEO is a whole other can of worms…

If you need help with improving your SEO, drop us an email today at We would be happy to help!

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