Beginners Guide to Search Engine Algorithms

how search engine works

In the second part of this SEO guide, you will understand how search engines work and how internet users use them and what type of search queries they enter. We will have a look at the technical aspects behind Google.

Let us know how search engine functions and the most important ranking factors you should focus on.

How do search engines work?

Search engines consist of three main ingredients:

1. Crawling (reading a website)

2. Indexing (storing a website in a database in order)

3. Picking the right results (when the user enters a search query)

The process goes on 

    1. Crawling

Crawling or spidering means scanning the entire website, its content, sections, keywords, Anchor links, headings, images by thousands of small bots. Any data that is found on the website is crawled.

Crawlers identify all the Hyperlinks on a website that point to other websites. Then they scan those pages for new links over and over again. Bots crawl the entire internet regularly to update the data.

     2.  Indexing

After the website is crawled, the indexing takes place. Imagine the index as a library full or gigantic catalog of websites from all over the world. It usually takes 1 to 10 days to index the website. 

Pro tip: You can find what pages of your website have already been indexed by the search engine using this search operator:

Furthermore, every time it’s updated, the crawler reads and indexes once again. Always note that until the updates on the website are indexed, they are not visible in search engines.

     3. Picking the right results

Results are important for both users and developers. Once the internet user enters a search query, the search engine digs into the index and shows out matching results. It’s a process of checking the user’s query against billions of websites based on various ranking algorithms.

Companies that are running search engines (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!) keep the exact calculations of their ranking algorithms in secret. Nonetheless, many other ranking factors are well-known.

                                               Ranking factors

Most of these ranking factors are proven, but some are just myths or even speculations.

You don’t need to know all the ranking factors to learn SEO, but it is always good to know the basic overview of all of them.

One of the most important ranking factors, the backlink profile, is based on the number of high authority quality backlinks pointing to the niche. It’s a highly simplified view on Google approximation of the website’s authority. Each backlink is normally considered as a vote or appreciation by google.

 Important ranking factors include:

  • use of relevant keywords and phrases
  • link relevance
  • grammar and spelling
  • topical authority
  • social sharing
  • Age of Domain
  • AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages)
  • The layout of the website or page

Ranking factors can be categorized into on-page SEO factors (including technical SEO) and off-page SEO factors or link building.

How people use search engines

To recap: The main theme of SEO is to be friendly both to search engines and users. If you have invested all your time and money into well implemented technical SEO, it’s fine. But if the user’s interaction is poor, your website positions may go down. And that’s how the money is wasted. The user’s point of view should be a top priority.

The interactions with search engines have changed over the years. However, the major principle remains the same:

1. A need for information, solution, or an answer

2. Entering the need in the form of a query (keyword or phrase) into the search engine

3. Going through the top results or first page results.

4. Clicking on one or more results (websites)

5. Scanning websites for a better answer

6. Going through remaining results on the 1st SERP and/or changing the search query(keyword), if the answer is not found

 Classification of search queries?

There are three types of search queries:

1. Transactional search queries

2. Navigational search queries

3. Informational search queries

1.  Transactional search queries

Here the user’s intention is to make a transaction. It usually comes with a product name (Samsung mobiles) or category (mobiles). Additionally, it can be written with “mobiles under …”“… price” or in a similar manner.

There are many other blog posts on how to target a particular search query. However, this may not be that easy in the near future because of the growing popularity of using voice assistants such as Siri, Google Now, or Alexa.

Informational search queries can quickly transform into transactional by opening a new app or giving an option to purchase the product.

2.  Navigational search queries

Navigational search queries represent an intent to search for a particular website or brand. People tend to type “Amazon” or “youtube” into search engines rather than using bookmarks or browser’s history.

Based on the case study, where we analyzed 1,6 billion keywords, brands such as Google, Facebook, and Youtube recorded the highest search volumes along with other navigational search queries.

3.  Informational search queries

Informational search queries are typed when users need information about a product or service. Here they are not looking for a particular website yet for an answer or guidance on how to do something. For example, “How to apply for a Canada pr visa?”.

In the chart below, Let’s have a look at the importance of the highest rankings in Google based on their organic click-through rate (CTR) distribution for May 2019 (based on data by Advanced Web Ranking).

SERP features

However, ranking first is highly important, but this time, you also take the so-called “zeroth position” into consideration.

Let’s have a look at the results for “how to apply for a pr visa” search query. The first result you find is a Google featured snippet with utmost important information, so you don’t need to check the other results.

There are many other SERP features (also called Rich snippets). What is the need to care about them? Rich snippets influence the behavior of internet users when they see the SERPs. In other words, the normal organic search results may have lower CTR (click-through rates).

It is because the SERP features( Rich Snippets) always have bigger visual appeal, and they often provide sufficient information, so the Google Search users don’t have the necessity to click on other results. They click only on the featured results.

 Some of the common rich results you’ll see in the SERP:

  • Featured snippet (It also has many types)
  • Image pack
  • Map pack
  • Answer box
  • Carousel (images, videos, products)
  • Sponsored features (such as Google sponsored Ads, shop on Google, flights)
  • Sitelinks
  • Knowledge graph
  • Top stories
  • Events

The best thing is that there are ways to find and analyze the impact of these enhanced search results. For example, SERPChecker will do the job for you.

Just type in the keyword, select the device type and location. This shows you the search results with SERP features. It estimates the impact of SERP features on a scale from 0 to 5. To know more, click on the feature. You can also see the actual appearance or result of the SERP if you click on the “Preview snapshot.”

SERP updates

The internet grows every single day. Whenever new websites and changes are indexed by a search engine, the organic results may change, the website with better content may go up, and other website positions may come down.

Another very important factor is Google algorithms, which change all the time. Minor updates may not cause anything at all, but a major algorithm update can end up as a severe disaster.

What we’re trying to communicate is that even if you’re the winner, your positions can probably be replaced by your competitors in the same niche the other day, and vice versa.