How Search Engines Work

Digital Marketing » Search Engine Optimization » How Search Engines Work

Although you might use one every day, do you know how search engines work?

If you are a marketing specialist or need to spread your brand’s awareness, then you should understand how search engines, specifically Google, crawl and index websites. Since Google is the world’s most-used Web search platform, you will need to comprehend its basic functions so you can better leverage its potential.

This article will explore search engines, from crawling to indexing, so you can activate your marketing campaign more effectively.

What is a Search Engine?

Even though you should focus on Google to take advantage of its long reach, understanding the basics of a search engine can put you in a better position to create content that gets your brand seen. Besides, since Google is so popular, it has set the standards for all search engines. Knowing its ins and outs means basically discovering how other major search platforms work.

Simply put, a search engine is software that performs online searches across the Web. Users will insert text as a query. The search engine will return a list of results that best meets the query’s purpose. Results can include website links, images, videos, and other files. Search engines typically deliver real-time results via algorithms to give users the most recent and relevant results.

Google Search works on the same principles. The platform serves results after crawling and indexing web content.

What is Search Engine Crawling?

Search engines can not provide results for content they do not know exists. Crawling is the essential first step engines take to know what results they can draw from.

In Google’s case, it constantly scours the Web for new and updated content. Once it discovers new web pages and content, it crawls the page to record what is on it and add its findings to its index.

What is a Search Engine Index?

A search engine index is a database of all the data crawling has gathered.

Google does more than store information. After it has crawled a page or piece of content, it has to figure out what the content is. Its indexing process includes processing and analyzing the content. Indexing also involves determining if the collected data has value, meaning if it is good enough to share via search results.

How search engines build their indexes

A closer look at search engine index building involves breaking down the process. Typical Google indexing is a multi-step system. The platform discovers content via URLs, which are web page addresses, and crawls the attached pages. Then the information is processed and rendered for possible use.


Google must become aware of URLs before it can crawl and index a web page. In many instances, Google can discover links from known pages. In others, websites that contain sitemaps can help Google find them. Site owners can also request Google crawl their sites.


As previously mentioned, this step involves Google sending a computer bot to visit known URLs and collect data about each page and type of content.

Processing and rendering

Google’s software has to extract information from crawled pages and figure out how it will look for users. If the web page content is deemed important and not redundant, then Google will allow it to appear in its search results.

A Quick Recap

Let’s imagine you have a website. You want people searching for products or services similar to yours to find you in a search engine. Again, it will probably be Google.

Google must be made aware that your website exists. If this does not automatically happen, then you can submit your site’s URL to Google for crawling.

When Google crawls your site and finds it is significant enough to index, it will add its information to its index.

Google Search users looking for similar products or services to yours might discover your website. This is where search engine ranking comes into play.

Search Engine Ranking

Search engine ranking is the order in which search results appear. Search engines rank results by various factors.


Search queries are composed of keywords. Websites that feature relevant keywords in their copy can be listed higher in search results. Results that are featured ahead of others rank as better matches. These results can determine the best websites for users to visit.

Companies strive to have their websites place high in search results. The higher a site ranks, then the greater the chance it will be seen by more people. Google will rank sites higher if their keywords and content align closely with search queries or not. Marketing teams must find the right keywords and figure out how to best use them in site content. They can use keywords in site copy and blog articles. The key is to use them in a way that provides value to search engine users. Organic search engine optimization (SEO) can help marketers better position their websites in search engine results rankings without having to pay to be placed at the top of the results.

Organic SEO vs. Inorganic SEO

Organic SEO is the natural placement of search results. The major technique of organic SEO, and SEO in general, is the use of popular and relevant keywords in website content.

Inorganic SEO is the opposite. This practice means companies pay for their website to appear at the top of search results, apart from organic results but still above them.

Organic SEO is generally less expensive to implement than inorganic SEO. However, inorganic SEO can produce immediate and beneficial results, namely increasing the company’s visibility with potential customers.


The links from a web page to another can influence search engine ranking. Backlinks from other sites to yours tell search engines that your content is well-regarded, making it more appealing to engines.

Site loading speed

Many search engines favor sites that load quickly. Google might rank slow-loading sites lower if they rank them at all. Additionally, slow sites can ruin the user experience, turning away prospective customers. Optimizing loading times is a win-win situation. Search engines and users can both favor faster sites.


With nearly every consumer owning a mobile device, Google has changed how websites should be viewed. The platform scores sites on how friendly they are on mobile devices. This factor can weigh heavily in determining search rankings.

Make Search Engines Work for You

Search engines remain a powerful marketing tool that can get your brand’s image in front of millions of prospective customers. Harnessing its power means knowing how one works. Knowledge can inform your marketing plans so you can quickly drive the best results your way.

About The Author

Matthew Post

Matthew Post

Matthew Post has dedicated over two decades to building and optimizing websites. He has worked in-house for nationwide e-commerce companies and large local firms to increase customer engagement through conversion rate optimization and search engine optimization. His expertise covers both the development and growth of digital properties.