Search Engines & SEO Marketing: How Search Engines Work in 2021

For modern businesses, SEO marketing plays an important role in bringing in new customers and promoting your online content. However, search engine optimization is often difficult for business leaders to understand because they don’t necessarily know how search engines work. While we might use search engines on a regular basis to look up any number of questions or terms, few really understand why we get the results that we do.

By better understanding how search engines work and what they prioritize, you can create content that is better tailored towards your target audience and more likely to rank high in search results.

How Search Engines Work

Most search engines generate their results through three basic steps: crawling, indexing, and serving / ranking (sometimes called query processing). They are as follows:

  • Crawling: Since there isn’t a central registry of all websites, search engines like Google use web crawlers — often referred to as bots — to navigate the internet, reading the content on billions of webpages. These bots constantly search for new pages and add them to a list of known pages, while also updating information on existing pages.
  • Indexing: After analyzing a webpage’s content and overall visual layout, the bots aim to understand what the page is about, then organize the content discovered during the crawling process into a database. Once it’s indexed, these webpages can be retrieved during internet searches.
  • Serving / Ranking: Each indexed page is evaluated to determine what type of content it has and how relevant it is to each search query. That way when a user types a query, the search engine will try to offer the most relevant answer based on various factors. For example, searching for “bicycle repair shops” would show different answers to a user in Paris than it would to a user in Hong Kong.

In simple terms, crawling is all about collecting and storing information, indexing is focused on organizing the information systematically, and serving / ranking is dedicated to determining relevancy. Granted, this isn’t necessarily how all search engines work. Recently, Google announced plans for using artificial intelligence to their search engine, which they claim will affect 7% of all searches. Still, while there might be different set ups for different search engines, the basics tend to be consistent across most engines, and these three steps are what businesses need to consider in order to get better placement in search results.

The Basics For Improving SEO

So now you have a basic understanding of how search engines work, but how can you use this information to ensure that your website or other online content rank higher in search results? Search engine optimization mostly comes down to various tweaks and improvements that are geared towards affecting how a webpage is processed by search engines. As such, knowing what how search engines determine where your page ranks can help you make meaningful changes that improve its performance. 

For instance, the first step to improving your SEO is to ensure that search engine bots can find your page during the crawling stage. Google has a tool available to help determine whether your website is searchable and mobile-friendly, which can determine if users can find it at all, and if you’ve created or updated a single page, you can submit a request to Google asking them to recrawl an individual URL (such as your homepage). You can also improve your page’s ranking by getting linked to by another reputable page. The more your content is linked to highly regarded and popular sources, the higher it will be ranked in search results.

As for indexing and ranking stages of the online searches, it often comes down to the language you use. You’re more likely to show up in search results if your web pages have text that is relevant to your audience and their search queries, so you need to consider what type of keywords your target customer base would be using. Additionally, search algorithms favor sources that are trustworthy and up to date. If the information you share is unhelpful and outdated or you don’t update your website often, you will likely rank lower in search results.

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of the user experience. It doesn’t matter how good content is if your web page is difficult to read or navigate, and many common usability issues can send an otherwise solid page lower in the search rankings. Make sure that your page is easy to navigate, quick to load, and mobile-friendly.

Searching For Better SEO

SEO Marketing remains a complicated process and there’s obviously more to it than what we’ve covered. But understanding how search engine works at least provide a framework for how to move forward. By knowing what search engines look for, it is easier to craft content that is meant to succeed. 

Mark Buckner
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Mark Buckner is a freelance writer and editor from Hammond, Indiana. A recent graduate of Purdue University Northwest, he has edited two books and written on topics ranging from social media to science fiction film. At this time, he is open to other freelance writing and editing opportunities.

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