Learning on How Does Search Engine Work

How Search Engines Work: A Complete Explanation

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Search engines provide a way for people to find the information they need. 

There are billions of pieces of content available online, and it would be challenging to present this information to every online user looking for stuff online. 

This is where search engines’ role shines –  discovering, understanding, and organising relevant data online for searchers to address what they want based on the rankings and indexing process of search engines’ algorithms. 

Understanding how search engines work play a vital role in your search engine optimisation goals. Yes, this sounds confusing and complicated to understand, but the truth is, you must have a basic knowledge of how search engines work to formulate your SEO strategies.

Here’s how. 

What is a Search Engine?

A search engine is a tool that helps websites find and rank online. It connects the users to the content or pieces of information that they want to ensure it matches their search query. 

Search engine comprises two main parts: Search index and search algorithms.  

Search index refers to a digital hub of information about web pages that assist users in quickly locating content on the web.  

Search algorithms are computer programs or formulas that search engines use to retrieve specific content available within a data structure and determine its relevance.

It attributes values to all web pages and consists of two types – linear search algorithm and binary search algorithm. 

Brief Introduction of Search Engines

With how everything is turning out right now on the world wide web, it matters to know its roots. 

The Search Engine History

1990: The launch of Archie —the very first search engine. Archie went through an index of downloadable files a year after people discovered the world wide web. Due to its limitations, it only shows listings and not the content itself.  

1991: Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, built a virtual library to assist users in finding URLs for various websites. At the dawn of the internet, CERN webservers hosted the said library.

1994: David Filo and Jerry Yang develop Yahoo! Search. The site was the first to compile a collection of online pages worldwide. They include URL descriptions that humans created. 

1996: Larry Page and Sergey Brin established the forerunner to Google BackRub. They initially utilise backlinks to help rank websites for better search results.

  • AskJeeve became the first search engine to attempt to react to search requests with human editors. The site became a spam magnet, so they purchased Teoma to replace their Direct search engine.
  • Inktomi was one of the first companies to use a sponsored advertising model and a forerunner to pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.
  • Lycos, With over 60 million documents indexed, is still the most popular search engine.

1998:  Google officially launches.

  • Overture (Goto.com) is the first company to deploy a PPC model successfully.

2002: Yahoo! acquires other search engines to find organic search results for customers.

2003: Yahoo! purchased Overture for $1.63 billion.

2004:  Microsoft releases their new MSN search engine.

2005: Microsoft’s MSN search engine favour Yahoo! results above its in-house technology.

2007: Google introduced “Universal Search,” which included capabilities for News, Video, Images, Local, and other verticals in addition to the standard 10-listings.

2008: Launch of “Google Suggest”, which offers dropdowns of suggested topics.

2009: MSN/Live Search becomes Bing.

2010: Google released Caffeine, an improvement to their online crawling system. They are attempting to provide users with real-time search results.

2011: Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft (Bing) created Schema.org to develop a more structured internet.

2013: With the Hummingbird upgrade, Google revolutionises their search algorithm once more. The algorithm is a search engine’s first attempt to comprehend the human intent behind a search query.

2014: In the United States, Yahoo! became the default search engine for Mozilla Firefox.

2015: Google launches Mobilegeddon, forcing websites to include mobile-friendly versions. Bing– follow suit. They add a mobile-friendly algorithm, too.

2016: Google Possum attacks local spam sites just like the “nofollow” tag a decade earlier removed spammy websites.

2017: Google penalised websites that used interstitial and pop-up advertising that ruined the mobile experience. 

What is the Aim of Search Engine

The main goal of a search engine is to provide the best and most relevant results for its online users. That’s why it’s important for business owner to provide SEO friendly website, so Google can list their web as the most relevant for their users/customer. Professional SEO services might be needed on certain scale.

List of Search Engines

These are the best search engines in the world today. The list includes great search engines worth considering.

Yes, you may not be familiar with some of these, but other search engines get things done aside from the popular ones – Google and Bing. 

List of the 10 best search engines in 2022, ranked by popularity.

  1. Google
  2. Microsoft Bing
  3. Yahoo
  4. Baidu
  5. Yandex
  6. DuckDuckGo
  7. Ask.com
  8. Ecosia
  9. Aol.com
  10. Internet Archive

Google Search Engine; One of the Most Powerful

With the timeline we presented in this article, it is surprising to know how Google emerged as one of the most used and sought-after search engines in the world right now. 

You may be wondering what is in Google that makes users flock to it? What makes it so powerful over others? 

Funny how now we use it as a verb when we don’t understand a word or a concept, we simply say, ‘Google it’ as if it is already part of our identity as digital natives. 

A Humble beginning

Sergey Brin and Larry Page were Stanford students when they founded Google. Google was their PhD program’s thesis and back then known as Backrub. 

For Brin and Page, what makes this search engine apart from others is that it focuses on the relationships between websites or links. 

The mission was simple: “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

The idea of focusing on links revolutionise how search engines operate, unlike the usual approach then of ranking based on how often search terms appeared in search engine results pages or SERPS. 

In 1996, Google officially and quickly made a name for itself as investors starts to gravitate towards it. One of its notable investors is Amazon’s, Jeff Bezos. Later in 2004, Google went public and became the titan it is now. 

What makes Google a force to be reckoned with?

Google’s intricate and well-thought-out system manages almost 3 billion pages a day. 

Statista’s study shows that as of December 2021, online search engine Bing accounted for over 7 per cent of the global search market, while market leader Google had a market share of 86.19 per cent. Meanwhile, Yahoo’s market share was 2.77 per cent.

The report added that Google dominated the search engine market, maintaining a 92.47 per cent market share as of June 2021. The majority of Google revenues came from advertising.

Here are 5 of the best reasons why Google is the search engine of choice.

  1. Relevancy

We are sure that you’ll agree that Google’s algorithm is far more advanced than that of the other search engines.

This search engine feels like they perfected detecting which sites are relevant and which aren’t, especially because their algorithm is constantly updated to keep up with changing digital behaviours.

Google tends to have access to a lot of data that other search engines lack. Therefore, they can release timely data and seems to know what you are looking for right before you hit enter on your keyboard. 

  1. Branding

Agree or disagree? Google is one of the most powerful brands worldwide. 

You will never see them advertise their brand, but you know they are everywhere. It is as if that quality is synonymous with their brand that when you hear services attached to their name, you will no question its authenticity but use it right away. 

  1. Market share

Ever since the introduction of Google Search in 1997, the worldwide market share of all search engines has been rather lopsided. Google has dominated the search engine market, maintaining a 92.47 per cent market share as of June 2021, according to Statista’s Global market share of search engines 2010-2022 study.

  1. Speed

Google returns results faster than the other search engines. In 0.19 a second, it may show millions of results due to its superior technical infrastructure compared to the other engines.

  1. Support

Our company, Roots Digital is a Google Premier Partner. This gives you an idea that we have access to a slew of tools and benefits to assist our clients and partners.

As a partner, Google is a cut above the rest. 

How Does Search Engine Work

To start understanding how search engines work, it matters that you know three of its main functions: crawling, indexing, and ranking. 

Crawling (Finding)

Crawling or the discovery phase where search engines send out their bots, crawlers, or spiders to look for new and updated content present on the webverse. 

Content can be a webpage, an image, a video, or a PDF. You have to keep in mind that regardless of the format, spiders discover content through links. 

Spiders fetch a few web pages and map out the links on those web pages to locate new URLs. These URLs serve as a path for these crawlers to discover new content and add to a massive database of discovered addresses or an indexing list called Caffeine.

Files from this massive database will undergo sorting and retrieval once a searcher browse online in the hunt for information of that content on that URL perfectly matches the query.

Did you know that there are factors that affect search engines’ crawling activities? These factors can be a hurdle to your SEO campaign, so you must ensure that you know how to optimise your crawl budget the best way possible. 

Indexing (Organising)

Moving unto the next stage of how search engines operate is indexing. 

Indexing is simply the search engine’s process of storing relevant and valuable information their crawlers found and storing it in caffeine – a massive database of URLs. 

These pieces of information gathered and stored on their database passes the quality check of the search engine’s algorithm. Meaning, they are good and reliable enough to answer the queries of people seeking data online. 

Ranking (Serving)

The exciting part of the three stages – ranking. 

When you search online, search engines scour their index for the best, highly relevant content they can release, then orders those results in hopes to solve your query.

The ranking is the process of ordering search results by relevance. Meaning, the higher the website ranks, the more relevant content it comprises thus, making search engines believe it’s credible or fitting to one’s query.  

Last year, an article released by Backlinko revealed that there are more than 200 factors Google’s search algorithm uses to rank websites. 

Crazy, isn’t it? We barely master one or ten out of these 200 factors and yet, they keep adding more to it. 

Several guides can help you rank your website or stores better on search engines, but there is no best way to outrank your competitor by simply, thinking like Google.  

How Does Search Engine Personalised Search Result?

You may be surprised to know that search engines personalise search results. Yes, it is possible. 

Google, Yahoo, and Bing are personalising their search results, but it seems that Google tends to do it for a larger share of searches. 

Google states that “to give you the most useful information, Search algorithms look at many factors, including the words of your query, relevance and usability of pages, the expertise of sources and your location and settings.” 

What is a personalised search?

A personalised search is a customisation of a search engine result. You create this type of search by filtering relevant information such as location, language, and history. 

Factors affecting personalisation


Location data affect searches; thus Google uses your location to personalise your search. This is beneficial to local businesses.

If you are looking for a restaurant, Google will give you lists that are within your area. These search results vary depending on where you are even if you use the same search term.   


This next factor is a unique one. Some websites are multilingual. The problem with this one is that Google will not automatically translate this one for you, as you will have to do this using an HTML attribute called hreflang.

For example, your website serves English and Spanish audiences. Google will rank your English content on English searches. On the other hand, your Spanish version content will rank on Spanish searches.  

Search and Browsing History

In case you missed it, Google creates a personalised profile for every searcher based on: browsing history, search history, and SERP clicks.

From these data, Google modifies the search results based on the searcher’s interests. Yes, search engines tailor your search experience to understand one’s behaviour and offer a piece of possibly relevant information the next time you browse online. 

What does it tell you?

A personalised search reveals people’s changing search dynamics. Meaning, there is no consistent search experience across users, locations, and devices. This is the tricky part when doing SEO campaigns. 

You must see all angles as it can affect your business one way or the other. Like, the keywords you rank now in Singapore is not competitive when you check them in the United States. 

We recommend you track your rankings on different locations, devices, and come up with a solid content strategy plan to cover all of these personalised SERPs. 

Tips and Trick to “Make Friends” with Search Engine 

Make Sure the Relevance of Your Content 

Generate top-quality, relevant, flexible content. The one that you can go back to and update depending on what is trending and addresses those frequently asked questions. 

Google loves content so bad. For sure, by now, you understand the weight your website’s content holds in the success of your business. 

When we speak content it is not limited to the articles or blogs you produce, but it involves the balance among the website’s design, infographics, videos and texts. 

When search engines crawl into your page, and you have a well-structured page title, URL and meta description the bigger your chance to have a nod from it. 

Don’t forget to establish links that came from authoritative websites to ensure that your content will not face trouble when crawling activities happen as there are links that lead to bad and unreputable pages. 

Provide Clear sitemaps.xml

When you provide clear and clean sitemaps, you are inviting Google to roam around and discover your website. 

Generating sitemaps for your webpage serves as useful and informative tour guides for search engines to get to know your page more. You are making their job easier and this helps you optimise your crawl budget leading you to a better ranking position. 

Provide robots.txt

For Google, a robots.txt file tells search engine crawlers which URLs the crawler can access on your site. You use this file to avoid overloading your site with requests; it is not a mechanism for keeping a web page out of Google. 

Having a robots.txt file is beneficial if you don’t want search engines to index the following:

  • Login pages
  • Your XML sitemap
  • Staging websites for developers
  • Internal search results pages
  • Possible duplicate or broken pages on your site
  • Some parts of your website or an entire domain
  • Certain files on your website such as images and PDFs

We recommend you update your robots.txt file each time you add pages, files, or directories to your site that you don’t wish search engines to perform the indexing. Doing this can also assure security to your page and help in optimising it.

If you are looking to learn how you can optimise your robots.txt file, check out our complete robots.txt optimisation guide.

Check Your Redirection Chain

A redirection chain happens when there are multiple redirects between a requested initial URL and the final destination URL. 

Facing multiple redirections are awful to your SEO campaigns. It delays crawling activities as it can cause confusion and gets the bots to get stuck, negatively affecting your crawl budget, link equity, and increasing your page loading time. 

One way to fix this is to remove unnecessary redirects within the chain and ensure there’s just one 301 redirect in place or simply set up redirect rules. 

List of Tools To Check Your Search Engine Result Pages

We know you have been looking for ways to improve your site’s ranking and increase traffic that is why you are reading this article. 

Before that, it matters to know what is a search engine result page or SERP. A SERP is a page you see after entering a query into Google, Yahoo, or any other search engine.

There are three different types of SERPs:  navigational, informational, or transactional.

A navigational query occurs when people search for a particular website but dont key in the exact URL. You may need to buy ads for keywords if you want to rank. 

Next is the informational query. This type of search query happens when people want to learn something about a certain product or service. It matters that you produce content that centres on your prospective client’s wants, needs, and interests. 

Last is the transactional queries; you make transactional queries when you plan to purchase something from a broad category or type. 

Do you know that this type of search query has the most revenue potential compared to the other two?  Mailchimp revealed that keywords in this type of query tend to have a lot of bids for pay-per-click spots, making it bankable for businesses. 

Here are some tools we think can help you check your search engine result pages.

  1. Google PageSpeed Insights
  2. SE Ranking
  3. Ahrefs
  4. Google Analytics
  5. Google Search Console
  6. Google Ads Keyword Planner
  7. Screaming Frog

It is challenging when you come to think of how competitive the digital arena is. Regardless of how small, medium or large the site you are managing, you need tools that work for all your SEO needs and inch you closer to your campaign goals. 

Final Thoughts

Understanding how search engines work is the first step towards ranking higher in Google and getting more traffic. 

If search engines can’t crawl, index, and rank your site it is the same as not having an online presence at all. So, it’s up to you if you still want to continue with your digital marketing journey. 

Search engines can be your best ally and your worst enemy depending on how you structure your business’s virtual store. 

The competition is tight in the digital arena. Having the most basic knowledge of how search engines work, what it takes to run a successful search engine website, and the type of contents search engines love can help you attain your goals. 

Another thing that you may want to consider is the SEO best practices these search engines adopt or support. Knowing how they behave is an advantage for your SEO implementation as you have a clear idea of the metrics they use and the lens where they are looking to weigh your content. 

How about you? What’s your experience with search engines?

If you think you’d like to explore this topic further, you can sign up for an SEO training course to better understand search engines and learn hands-on how you can optimise your websites.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Search Engine

A search engine is a tool that helps websites find and rank online. It connects the users to the content or pieces of information that they want to ensure it matches their search query.

How Does Search Engine Work?

Search Engine works in 3 steps; crawling (finding), indexing (organising), and ranking (serving).

Crawling or the discovery phase where search engines send out their bots, crawlers, or spiders to look for new and updated content present on the webverse.

Indexing is simply the search engine’s process of storing relevant and valuable information their crawlers found and storing it in caffeine – a massive database of URLs.

The ranking is the process of ordering search results by relevance. Meaning, the higher the website ranks, the more relevant content it comprises thus, making search engines believe it’s credible or fitting to one’s query.

Looking for a trusted SEO agency in Singapore? Schedule a consultation with us today.

About Roots Digital

Roots Digital is an award-winning digital marketing agency and SEO agency headquartered in Singapore, specialising in eCommerce Marketing and lead generation.

Some of our core digital marketing services include SEO servicesSEM services, Google Ads management servicesGoogle Analytics services and more.

Feel free to reach out if you’re interested in working with us. Connect with us via our service enquiry form. You may schedule a call for more information and to know more about our digital marketing services.

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Picture of Ian Ong
Ian Ong
Marketing Director @ Roots Digital, a digital marketing agency in Singapore. Aka the guy responsible for growing the digital marketing agency.
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