How Do Search Engines Work?

How Do Search Engines Work?

With search engines sifting through literally billions of pages and pieces of content to evaluate what is most relevant for any given search query, it becomes clear that tailoring and properly signposting content is the best way to stand out, get rewarded by search engines like Google with a higher quality ranking, and therefore allow more customers to find you.

So, have you ever asked the question “how do search engines work?” This article is for you.

SEO in a Nutshell

Before we dive into the mechanics of how search engines work, it’s important to understand the function of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).

SEO is the process of increasing the quality and quantity of your website traffic, as well as exposure to your business, brand or content. This is initially achieved through organic, non-paid search engine results, but could potentially be enhanced with a good social media strategy, or added visibility through advertising platforms such as Google Ads.

However, organic optimisation should always be the first goal. As much as SEO can sound like an automated function, understanding what your customers need, or search for, is key in optimising your content to hit the right audience and ultimately improve your ranking.

Improve SEO by Understanding Search Engines

Search engines follow three basic functions. When we understand these steps, we can begin adapting content to hit the right marks when our website comes under evaluation by the likes of Google.

These three steps refer to Crawling, Indexing and Ranking, which we’ll go through in more detail.

Remember, even if you currently hire or are considering consulting an SEO agency to support you, which we are always on hand to do, it’s valuable to understand the basics. So, without further delay, let’s explore these search engine functions and why they are important.


Crawling is the robotic exploration or discovery where search engines send out crawlers or “spiders”, essentially an automated process, to find new and updated content on the internet. This could be a complete webpage, an image, video or uploaded presentation file. We even put together this comprehensive guide on crawling.

Remember, how content is named or categorised can significantly affect how search engines store the new findings…


When the aforementioned content is found during the “crawling” process, it can be stored and indexed to be presented later in a handy list of search results, whenever a user looks for information. Where your entry ranks in a potentially massive database of information is determined by its perceived relevance and usefulness on the subject. Bottom line, monitoring your visibility is always important. This brings us to ranking…


In most cases, you can assume that the higher the entry in the search results, the higher quality of information or usefulness compared to lower-ranking counterparts. This is in order to answer the original search query most efficiently. If this complete process is taken into account when optimising your content, there is good potential for a higher overall search ranking.

Do Search Engines Work Differently?

While some content creators or strategists may spend time attempting to rank highly among competing search engines, Google is widely known to be the most popular. Therefore, with the precious, limited time and resources of most businesses or employees, you should focus your efforts there.

In fact, according to research, more than 90% of searches take place on Google or its many platforms, such as Google Images, Google Maps, and YouTube. Furthermore, these best practices will undoubtedly serve you well and help to improve ranking across an entire network of search engines.

So, the question “How does Google work?” should serve as your starting point.

The Difference with YMYL and EAT Pages

A rare exception to these rules is YMYL which stands for Your Money or Your Life. This refers to websites or pages with content which could potentially impact somebody’s health, happiness, safety or financial stability. Through Google’s algorithm updates, these have come under additional scrutiny for their reliability, as there could be a real, negative impact from any misinformation.

YMYL pages are judged by Google’s human team of assessors worldwide, and the best way to optimise for these changes is to apply the E-A-T protocol, reflecting “expertise, authority and trustworthiness” in all YMYL content.

In fact, we created this handy guide to understanding YMYL sites, EAT SEO, and how to improve ranking, if this is your industry.

Top Tips to Improve Search Engine Ranking

Here are some top tips and best practices to improve search engine ranking

Now that we better understand how search engines work, here are some best practices to help you rank higher and, most importantly, appear in front of more potential customers:

  • Understand your customer needs – tailor your content, both written and visual, by answering their common queries. This is the first step to achieving a higher search ranking.
  • Remember Crawling, Indexing and Ranking – ensure your website is optimised to actually benefit from Google’s bot activity, which means using popular search terms, targeted page titles and appropriately naming files and images with relevant titles so that they can be ranked accordingly.
  • In-links help search engines find even more pages within your website. If pages exist but aren’t linked anyway, they are much harder to find.
  • Be wary of hurdles – anything which locks down parts of your website, such as password-protected pages or subscriber-only content is fine as a business tool, but will struggle being picked up by search engines compared to an open, content-rich page, so just be aware of this and use it carefully.
  • Take Google’s lead – as the most popular base for search queries at over 90%, it pays to follow Google’s protocol and adapt to their search criteria or any reported changes in their algorithm
  • YMYL and EAT – if your website offers health, safety or financial advice, whether for business or non-commercial use, you may be held to stricter ranking guidelines
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment – just as search engine algorithms change, your content strategy can change and evolve too. If you’re not entirely sure which content will land best with customers or on a SERP (search engine results page), try new pages, layouts and styles with quality content and in links to evaluate the results.

Do you need help ranking higher in search engines and getting the best from your SEO efforts? Get in touch for a consultation to find out how we can help you.

Managing Partner - Matt Calik

Managing Partner

Technical SEO specialist experienced in creating scalable processes based on agile methodologies. Responsible for international SEO strategies. He has strongly analytical approach to online marketing supported by over 12 years of experience. Previously associated with IT, motorsport, tobacco and financial markets. He has been building Delante for 5 years where he is Head of SEO and SEM department.

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