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101 – How Search Works

With over 1.8 billion websites and growing, all competing for your time, how are you meant to find what you’re looking for?


In order to access the web to begin your seemingly impossible search requires 2 things. A browser and a search engine. 

A browser, such as Chrome or Edge is what gives you access to the internet. A search engine is what is used to explore the internet once you have access, for example, Google, Bing or Yahoo. With Google being the clear favourite among internet users with over 80% of people choosing it over any other search engine. It is likely that even an internet novice will have heard of Google as the word has become synonymous with finding out information, simply proclaiming “Google it” to someone who doesn’t know something is almost the standard response.

A business will make sure to develop their websites with these browsers and search engines in mind as they are the most popular when searching. 

Once a website is developed it may seem a huge task to get it onto the worlds most used search engine, however inclusion in Google is free and done by a software known as “web crawlers”. These explore the web every day looking for new or updated websites and pages as more are created each day. Once one is found the URL (or page address) is stored. Often a new site is found through a link from another site which Google already knows about. This process is known as ‘Crawling’. Secondly, ‘Indexing’ is done, Google visits the pages they have found and aims to understand what each is about, the crawler analyses the text, images and videos and the results are stored on many computers. Finally once indexing is complete the website or pages can then be shown to users who type in words into the search engine, Google uses these words as keywords and any results which are shown Google deems are the “best” results, filtering the millions of indexed websites in a fraction of a second. Google classifies a result as the “best” page to show depending on several factors, such as the user’s location, their language, device they are using, and even any previous query they have searched, plus many more factors. For example, a search for “mechanic near me” would have different results for someone in the UK to someone in Italy and even for someone in the north of the UK versus the south. A very similar process is done by all other search engines.

Another example is typing ‘SEO and PPC agency’ on Google will bring up Click Consults website as the first result, whereas this same search on Bing will not bring up Click Consult as the first result. To appear at the top of search results, it is possible to pay to advertise your business. Adverts on search engine results pages (SERP’s) are clearly marked and displayed at the tops of pages, it is not possible to purchase better placement in SERP’s. Other than paid adverts, you can aim to manipulate search results to get the website to appear organically through Search Engine Optimisation or SEO. Some examples include placing those keywords on the website, for the website not to be clunky and hard to navigate, for it to have meaningful content, and there are many more. These and other factors are what the search engines proprietary algorithm uses to “rank” websites organically in SERP’s. Being number 1 in a search result is important as over 25% of users do not look past the first result on a search engine and simply re-enter another search.

However, the algorithms change often meaning it is a constant battle to maintain and enhance a business’s position in SERP’s. Businesses want to appear as high as possible on all SERP’s, some companies forgo lesser used search engines in favour of Google, which is the most popular, choosing to focus all efforts to “rank” as high on it as possible.

Google releases small daily updates and large core updates to the search algorithm several times a year. These updates are designed to enhance the search process for users and often for businesses too, however these updates can have an unforeseen detrimental effect on a business, where they see a drop in click through rate to their site and less users on their site overall. 

Examples include the Penguin update which aimed to down rank sites which had unnatural backlinks, which are links from other sites to your own. This put an end to businesses buying links just to get their site higher on SERP’s. Another core update was the Hummingbird update which helped Google better interpret search queries and provide better results to users that matched searcher intent rather than just matching up to the keywords within the search. These updates effected searching for both users and businesses, it allowed users to receive less heinous and more relevant website results but meant businesses potentially had more competition for ranking positions as other sites were then being ranked on intent rather than purely matching keywords.

For businesses this means constantly tailoring a website in accordance with the changing algorithm to continuously “rank” as high as possible.

Search will carry on advancing as providers continue to update browsers and search engines, which will make the search experience better for users, but these updates mean a constant struggle to maintain position for businesses, this is the future of search.

The way browsers and search engines work is how you are able to find what you want within 1.8 billion other websites.


Need help with your search marketing? Contact us to see what we can do to take your brand to the next level. Or check out our extensive library of resources for more actionable information and search marketing knowledge.



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