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How Do Search Engines Work | TwentyEleven Web Design
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What is a Search Engine and How do they Work?

Before we even start unravelling the science behind Search Engine Optimisation, it important to understand what search engines are and how do they work. Now the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the search engines is probably Google, and quite rightly so as Google generates over 90% of the world’s searches. But it is important to remember that search engines are not limited to just Google but also includes names such as Yahoo!, Bing, AOL, Ask etc.

We would recommend that your SEO efforts are focused at Google, Yahoo! and Bing as these are the 3 major search engines out there.

According to the latest research published by www.kozai.com,

Google accounts for 91% of the UK searches and its market share is ever increasing. This is followed by Bing (3.5%) and Yahoo (2.2%).

What is a Search Engine?

Search Engine is a software program that searches the Internet (websites and pages) based on the words that you designate as search terms. Search engines look through their own databases of information in order to find what it is that a user is looking for.

The information collected is usually key words or phrases that are possible indicators of what is contained on the web page as a whole, the URL of the page, the code that makes up the page, and links into and out of the page. That information is then indexed and stored in a database.

How do Search Engines Work?

By now you must have realised that the search engines are not humans and there are fundamental differences between how humans and search engines view web sites and pages. Search engines perform several activities in order to deliver search results – crawling, indexing, processing, calculating relevancy, and retrieving.

Crawlers, Spiders & Robots form what is known as the back end of the search engine and are never visible to the common user and visit the web to see what is out there. Crawlers do not see images, Flash movies, JavaScript, frames, password-protected pages and directories, so if you have tons of these on your site, you’d better watch out. If the pages and content on your website are not viewable by the crawlers, they will not be indexed will be non-existent as far as the search engines are concerned.

After a page is crawled, the next step is to index its content. The indexed page is stored in a giant database, from where it can later be retrieved.

Search Algorithm is the foundation on which how a search engine works is based. In very general terms, a search algorithm is a scientific formula of a search engine takes the word or phrase being searched for, sifts through a database that contains catalogued keywords and the URLs those words are related to, and then returns pages that contain the word or phrase that was searched for, either in the body of the page or in a URL that points to the page.

The last step in search engines’ activity is retrieving the results. Basically, it is nothing more than simply displaying them in the browser – i.e. the endless pages of search results that are sorted from the most relevant to the least relevant sites..

It is important to remember that every search engine has its own formula and it is a closely guarded secret.

This is the reason why one can never claim to have guaranteed No. 1 search engine results!

Types of Search Engines & Differences

Although the basic principle of operation of all search engines is the same, the minor differences between them lead to major changes in results relevancy. For different search engines different factors are important. The major search engines like different stuff and if you plan to conquer more than one of them, you need to optimise carefully.

Search engines can be broken down into three different types: primary, secondary, and targeted.

A primary search engine also known as the major search engines (such Google, Yahoo & Bing) are the most popularly used and will generate the majority of the traffic to your web site, and as such should be the primary focus of your SEO efforts. Each primary search engine differs slightly from the others.

Secondary search engines are targeted at smaller, more specific audiences, although the search engine’s content itself is still general. They don’t generate as much traffic as the primary search engines, but they’re useful for regional and more narrowly focused searches. Examples of secondary search engines include AOL, Lycos, Ask etc.

Targeted search engines (also known as topical search engines) are very narrowly focused, usually to a general topic, like medicine or branches of science, travel, sports, or some other topic. Examples of targeted search engines include CitySearch, Yahoo! Travel and MusicSearch etc and like other types of search engines, ranking criteria will vary from one to another.