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How Do Search Engines Work

Though it may seem like magic, a search engine is a computer program designed to help us navigate the endless information on the World Wide Web ("WWW"). Because so many of us use search engines in our daily lives, these few companies and the systems they created possess a remarkable amount of power. You could even say they run the world. And here’s why. Think of a search engine as both the library and the head librarian of the web. Not only do search engines scan, index, and track every website in the world — they’re also charged with helping us find just the right website when we enter a keyword phrase or “query” into their search tool.

You See W, Search Engine Sees Z

When search engines view websites, they don't see them exactly as humans do. In fact, search engines cannot actually see at all, at least not visually. Instead, they read the HTML code of the Web page, and the actual text that it contains. All the search engines can read is text.

When you see a beautiful website filled with colors, images, fonts and buttons, search engines peer behind the scenes to the code of the site. The pages of code are known as “documents" — and to most humans they look like gibberish. The search engines are able to make sense of this data, however, and use it to understand what a website is all about.

Different search engines use different algorithms. This means that some sites will give their results in a different order, or they may even show completely different results altogether. Search engines use algorithms to sort the results and try to place the links which are most useful to you at the top of the page. By examining the code, they can differentiate between headlines in large, bold text or small fonts that describe details about a business.

They can tell which buttons are clickable and what pages on your site are interlinked to each other. However, they can't absorb and make sense of images and pictures like humans do. Instead, search engines rely on "alt text" to understand what's depicted in each given image.

Search Engine Result Page

A search engine results page, or SERP, is the page you see after entering a query into the search engine. Each search engine's SERP design is different.

The company frequently tests and improves these features to provide a user-friendly search engine experience.

Here are some of the most common SERP features you may see on Google:

  • Featured Snippet

  • Local Pack

  • Reviews

  • Sitelinks

  • Videos

  • Top Stories

  • Images

  • Google Ads

  • Shopping Ads (Product Listing Ads)

  • Rich Snippets

And so on.

Why are SERPs important?

SERP is important because the higher a company's website ranks, the more searchers will click on the website. This is done several different ways, SEO experts suggests using relevant keywords, meta-tags and descriptions and other strategies.

Why Links Matter

Search engines are not infallible, and they don’t find every site on the web. There are over 1 billion websites on the Internet and crawlers do their best to find and index them all. But search engines find websites by following links — if a website is not linked from other pages on the web, bots have a harder time finding and indexing it.

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