The basics of how Search Engines work

How Search Engines Work

The first search engines were born during the earliest years of the web. Google came to life in 1998, when there were a ton of search engines and important directories to be a part of. At that point, it was critical to be on all of them because the majority fed information to each other. Over time, the field has simplified to a very small handful. But while technology has moved forward, some of the basics are still at play.

In this tip, we take a few minutes to peel back the geek and understand some of the fundamentals of how they work, visit the tools that provide insights, and how to make the best use of your keywords in light of how the search engines work.

Define the Geek

First, let’s define the Geeky acronyms that are thrown around:

SE = A Search Engine. There really are only 2. Google and Bing. Both of these feed information to Yahoo, and Google feeds information to Ask. Bruce Clay has kept up with the history over the years and has a handy search engine relationship chart.

SERP = Search Engine Results Page

SEO = Search Engine Optimization, the art of optimizing your website to make it friendly to the search engines.

SEM = Search Engine Marketing, the art of successfully marketing your site to produce an increase in traffic flow to your website.

How Search Works

If you thought you were in for a dry, geeky conversation, you’re wrong 🙂 I’ve always turned to YouTube as there are several videos that make it fun and keep it “English”. Take a moment to watch:

Search Tools

With the basics under your belt, let’s do a quick review of the tools out there that will help you see your site the way that the search engines do and deal with any problems they uncover.

Google Search Console (GSC)

This is the technical side of the tools that Google has provided. It’s the place where you’ll submit your sitemap, check for any errors that Google sees, and be able to see your site the way that the Google search robot sees it. If you haven’t got it set up, take a read of our tip about the Google Search Console that will get you started.

Bing Webmaster Tools

The Bing Webmaster Tools are similar in focus to what Google Search Console provides, and of course, is focused on the Bing search results. But there are a few handy tools they have that GSC doesn’t. And, you should have half an eye on how your site is doing on Bing. Most people don’t have this setup, so with our recommendation – take a few minutes to walk through the setup… it really is easy. Here’s a how-to from our friends at Yoast that walks you through the steps.

Because Google and Bing feed the other “few” search engines out there, there’s no reason to go digging deeper for tools from each of those additional search engines.

Tying Keywords to the Search Engines

Understanding how the Search Engines interact with your website shows why it is so important to understand how to effectively use keywords. We’ve covered the “how-to” for keyword research and how to integrate them into your site before, so let’s cover one other element… How do people use your keywords?

If you were in the market for a new camera, would you go to Google and simply type “camera”? Probably not. To start your search, you might type “best small digital camera”. You’d get a bunch of sites that do short reviews on all the different types of small cameras. By the way, notice that we didn’t use the word “compact”, but “small” – we’re obviously not thinking in industry terms!

Now, armed with the information from your first search, your next search would likely have more detail, perhaps: “key differences between the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III and the Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II”. The huge difference with this search is the detail. This type of detail is called “long tail”, or “long neck”.

The closer people are to their purchase, the more detailed phrases they will use in their search. This is why it is important to focus not just on your main keywords and short phrases, but longer phrases that reflect the details that people would search for as they are getting ready to purchase.

Exercise: This is a 3 part exercise. Grab your pad of paper…

  • Take a few minutes to brainstorm and write down longer phrases that people might use when searching for your product(s) or service(s).
  • Once you’ve got a few, type them into Google and see what results you get. These results may give you ideas for more phrases.
  • The last step is to take a look at your website – not just the home page, but the product detail or service detail page. Does it include at least one of these key phrases?


Your Online Partner… for Success

Would you like to have someone with experience help with a review of the results of your exercise or help get your Google or Bing tools set up? Reach out – and schedule a free 30-minute session with Christy.

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