Google is the most visited website on Earth, and the most popular search engine. In fact, it is visited 89.3 billion times per month!
Every single day, millions of people rely on Google to search for information – articles, images, videos, and whatever else they might need.
Of course, there are dozens of other search engines out there, however none of them can even get close to competing with Google.
But wait a minute… What defines if a website is a search engine or not? Let us answer that question and dive deeper into the matter of how Google search works.
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Search Engine Definition
A search engine is a software system that is made for users to conduct web searches. In practice, when a user enters a keyword in the search engine, it browses the available database, and presents the user with the most relevant information for that keyword.
For example, the reason Google is a search engine, and Facebook – a social media website, is that the first can browse for information across the entire Internet, while the latter is only capable of finding results within its own platform databases.
Interesting fact: The first major advancement in the field of search engines was Archie. In the 1990s, the Archie search engine made it possible to search through the file directories of a website. Later on, search engines like Veronica (released 1992), Gopher (released 1991), and Lycos (released 1995) further developed the concept and functionalities of search engines. Google was created in 1998.
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How Does Google Search Work?
- Crawling Pages
- Analyzing and Indexing
- Delivering Search Results
1. Crawling Pages
Google works closely with spiders… otherwise known as robots, or crawlers. Their purpose is to scan, also known as crawling, every page on the Internet. Google stores these scanned internet addresses (URLs), and returns to them later.
It is important to note that one of the main ways for bots to find pages is through following internal links. Also, keep in mind that these crawlers are smart, so they are able to determine the importance of each web page.
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2. Analyzing and Indexing
The next task for crawl bots is to index the web pages they found. Crawl bots start analyzing the content and context of the web page. They try to understand what that page is all about, so they crawl everything on said page – text, video, audio, images, internal links, and so forth.
There are some instances when crawl bots are not able to crawl a page, and therefore are not able to index it. One such example are orphan pages.
Ultimately, all the information gathered by Google’s bots is stored in the Google index. Furthermore, since the information on pages can change, bots come back to them from time to time, in order to check if there is anything new.
In case you do not want certain pages of your website to be crawled or indexed, you can specify it in your robots.txt file.
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3. Delivering Search Results
Finally, it is time to deliver the most appropriate search results for your query. Google has such a huge database that it is able to provide billions of results in a matter of seconds.
When you enter a Google search term, Google tries to find and display the most befitting, and high-quality results.
Said results depend on a number of factors, including device, language, user location, previous search history, and so on. That is why, for instance, a user searching for a “coffee shop” in Dublin will receive different results than someone looking for the exact term in Budapest.
Similarly, if you start typing a query in French, you will see search results in that language.
For those that are not aware, Google does not accept payment in exchange for ranking pages higher (except for Ads, also known as, pay-per-click (PPC), but those are always explicitly tagged as such). Instead, Google uses its own algorithm to determine which pages rank higher than others.
Additionally, the ranking algorithm is subject to constant updates, so that it can reflect the changes in the world of digital marketing.
Interesting fact: Google’s first major algorithm update was the Florida Update. Released back in 2003, it made significant changes to their link analysis algorithm. Ultimately, this update paved the way for many future algorithm changes and improvements.
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How Does Google Search Algorithm Work?
As we mentioned before, Google relies on a number of factors when choosing which results to display on top for any given query. Right now, these are the key factors that are taken into consideration:
- Search intent. The first factor that Google takes into account when searching for results is the search intent behind those queries. This includes not only autocorrected spelling mistakes, but also an intelligent synonym system, various language recognition algorithms, and so on. In general, search intent falls into four categories: informational, commercial, navigational, and transactional.
- Page relevance. Google analyzes the content of pages so that it can evaluate if the content is relevant to that particular user query. Naturally, the most basic signal is when the keyword entered into the search field is the same as the keyword that the page in question uses. Still, it goes much deeper than that. The advanced systems of Google also look at other words on pages in order to assess the overall relevancy.
- Content quality. Once the most relevant content for the query has been identified, the algorithm tries to prioritize the pages that have the best quality. Google’s E-A-T guide does just that – determine the content that has more expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. Some factors in this process are: whether other high-authority websites are also linking towards this page, establishing the topical authority – is your website focused on that particular topic, and so forth.
- Page usability. Another important factor is the usability of a page. In the scenario where pages are relatively equal in terms of quality, intent, etc., the one that offers a better user experience will be given priority. This includes aspects like page loading speed, mobile friendliness, as well as overall page experience.
- Context. Last, but not least, additional contextual factors play their role in determining the best search results for your query. Data regarding your previous searches, country, and location are vital to delivering the most relevant results. For instance, someone searching for “football” in the United States will receive results on American football, while a user searching for “football” in Europe will get results about “soccer”.
Pro tip: The best way to increase your chances of becoming a trustworthy industry expert is to focus on a single niche. Of course, you can eventually expand your area of expertise, but it still needs to be relevant. For instance, let’s say your site is about aquariums and fish tanks, and you start writing about social media marketing. That would make no sense, and you could lose credibility.
Another pro tip: You can assess whether your page provides a good experience by answering the following questions:
- Does your page look well on mobile devices?
- Does your page deliver a good PageSpeed Insights result?
- Is your page secure? (Do you have an SSL certificate?)
- Is it easy for visitors to navigate to the main content of your site?
- Is your page free of too many ads that interfere with the main content?
If you can answer all these questions with a “yes”, then your website probably delivers a good user experience.
How Does Google Image Search Work?
Another important aspect of search results are images. Google’s image search engine is more reliant on metadata (alt attribute, anchor, text surrounding the image) than the Internet search engine.
During the process of indexing images, Google determines the features of images, as well as their similarities, and excludes the near duplicates from their index. In the end, only the most suitable images are left. All images receive a quality score.
Afterward, once you type your query, Google uses information retrieval techniques to match your query with the most appropriate images.
Additionally, when Google browses images, it re-ranks those that display the most indispensable features (color, shape, size) to the top of the search results.
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What Goes Into the Image Quality Score?
Let us find out how exactly Google estimates the quality score of an image. There is an image quality control module that uses query-independent factors like:
- Uniqueness of the image. It is best if all the images you use are unique. There is a reason why using stock images is not advisable, since they do not bring any value, nor do they stand out… not to mention they are probably already in dozens of other pages.
- Saturation of the image. Saturation in images refers to the intensity of the colors. Avoid over saturation as images could appear unnatural or even bothersome to some viewers.
- Focus of the image. It is always good for images to be in focus. Blurry images are hard to understand, which leads to a bad user experience.
- Color depth of the image. The color depth of an image can make a great difference. Below, you can easily see how much better a 12-bit image color depth is (over 68 billion possible colors), in comparison to an 8-bit color depth (over 16 million possible colors). Needless to say, always use the highest quality possible.
Let us recap. The way Google search works is as follows: first crawl bots scan through web pages, then they analyze their content – text, audio, video, images, links, and finally they index the pages.
Finally, Google delivers the most appropriate search results according to their algorithm, and other factors like your location, previous search history, language, and so forth.
Understanding how Google search works is essential to the success of your SEO endeavors. However, keep in mind that Google algorithm changes happen regularly, so you need to constantly follow what is happening in order to stay ahead of the game.