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How Do Search Engines Work?

how do search engines work

If you were building a boat, the first step to making sure that it floats would be to get a good understanding of the principles of buoyancy and how your boat would behave in the water based on its structure and composition. Without this basic understanding, you might be able to get your boat to float, but a lot of your success would be based in trial-and-error. When trying to get a website to operate well on search engines, the same principle applies; having a good understanding of how search engines work can make a big difference when attempting to set yourself up for success with SEO.

With a good understanding of search engines like Google, SEO ceases to be black magic and becomes a more useful process. Even if you have an agency like FirstPage Marketing handling your website’s SEO, it can help to know how search engines work so that you can understand your results and have realistic expectations.

Should you focus on national or local SEO?

An Overview of How Search Engines Work

Search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo all work by indexing websites based on relevant keywords and terminologies and then showing those websites to individuals searching for relevant key terms. In order to index a website, search engines use bots called “crawlers”. Search engine web crawlers move through the pages of websites and inspect a variety of details that tell them how to rate that website for relevant searches. Search engines will then use the information gathered from these crawlers to rank websites based on a massive variety of factors to allow them to show up for relevant searches. Websites with higher ratings for particular terminologies will show up higher on search engine results pages. Every time a search is performed on Google or another search engine, the search engine’s algorithm immediately shows the results that it deems to be most relevant to that search based on the information gathered by its crawlers.

Is optimizing your website for Bing different than optimizing for Google?

Some of the details that a crawler will inspect in order to index a page include:


The keywords written into a page’s content, linking structure, headings, and meta-details are one of the main things that determine how a web crawler will index that page. It is important to do plenty of keyword research and planning when putting a page together, and to ensure that tactics like keyword stuffing are avoided. Keywords need to be laid out in the right density and with relevant accompanying keywords in order to be effective.

Learn how to choose the right SEO keywords.

User Interaction

Web crawlers will also inspect how website visitors interact with the website. Pages with a high bounce rate will receive low ratings, while those with high user engagement will earn higher ratings. If a visitor clicks through to more pages and revisits pages, this can also help improve rankings with search engines.

Relevant Backlinks

Links to the page from well-regarded sources are also incredibly important for a website’s search engine rankings. Crawlers look at how many links are coming to a website from relevant sources, as well as the quality of the sites from which the links are inbound.

Find out more about off page SEO and why it matters.

Page Freshness

Another important feature that search engine crawlers look at is how fresh a page is. Pages that have not been updated for a long time typically do not do as well as websites that receive regular updates to content and code.

Learn more about why fresh content is so important.

Other Factors that Factor into Searches

Search engines will determine which results to show based on a variety of other variables based on the individual user or search. Some of these factors include:

  • Location of searcher
  • Language being used
  • Browsing and search history

If you would like to find out more about search engines and how you can get your website to start winning at SEO, the team at FirstPage Marketing would love to help you out! Give us a call and get started today.

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