How Do Search Engines Work

How do Search Engines Work
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Do you want your website to be found on search engines? According to SEMrush, in October 2020, google.ca received over 314 million visits from people searching for things to learn about and things to buy. 

Canada Post found that 58% of consumers found new places to buy from using search. This means that Canadian consumers – your local customers – are using search engines like Google to find your business. 

Additionally, an average of 22 thousand people in Canada search for information about SEO – search engine optimization – each month. That means your competition is looking for ways to beat you in search results. 

In this post, I’m going to discuss how search engines work, focusing on how websites get added to and ranked in search results. And most importantly, how you can get your website more visibility in search results. 

First, let’s start with the basics.

What is a Search Index

A search index is a continuously growing database of publicly accessible web pages on the internet. Search engines like Google use web crawlers (also referred to as spiders or bots) to explore the web. Their goal is to discover new content for the search index or make changes to existing content in the search index. 

How Web Crawlers Work

Web crawlers find new content by following links. For example, let’s talk about two web pages – Page A and Page B. Page A is a web page that already exists in the search index. Page B is a new web page that was created this week and does not exist in the search index.

Web crawlers from Google visit Page A daily. Each time the web crawlers visit, they will scan Page A for changes. The web crawlers will update the search index’s content with any changes they find while analyzing the page. 

Once they are finished, they will continue their journey throughout the web by following links on Page A. If a web crawler finds a link to Page B from Page A, it will visit Page B, analyze its content, and add it to the Google search index. 

The exception is nofollow links. According to Google Search Central, any link with a nofollow attribute will not be crawled from that page. In the previous example, if Page A created a link to Page B and added the rel=nofollow in the link attributes, web crawlers that visit Page A would ignore the link to Page B.

Note that this doesn’t mean Page B will never be crawled. It simply must be crawled from another web page linking to it. 

How to Check if My Website is Indexed on Search Engines

A quick way to check if your website has been added to search engines is to search using site:yourdomain.com or site:www.yourdomain.com on each of the major search engines. 

It should show you if your website is indexed and how many pages from your website are included in the index. An example search for site:www.rbc.com on search engines found that google.com had about 25,600 results, google.ca had about 14,600 results, bing.com had about 73,100 results, and ca.yahoo.com had about 58,300 results. 

RBC Search Results

These numbers will show you if your website can be discovered in search results and the number of pages from your website that can be discovered in search results. It may even identify an issue, such as a website indexed on Bing and Yahoo, but not on Google due to a penalty. But it doesn’t tell you a few other important things:

  • Where your pages will rank in search results (a web page that ranks 20 pages deep in search results is still indexed). 
  • What keywords your pages will rank for in search results.
  • How many people see your web page in search results.
  • How many people click on your web page in search results.

Before we get to those things, let’s talk about what to do if your website isn’t appearing in the top search engine indices yet. 

How to Get My Website in Search Engines (According to Search Engines)

In a perfect world, you already own another website that is regularly crawled by Google and other search engines. You write for a publication whose articles appear daily in Google News results. Or you know someone that has a popular website in your niche that is crawled daily.

All you would need to do is get a link to your new website from a page on the other website you own or from the next article you write in a publication on Google News. Web crawlers would check the page or the article and follow the link over to your new website.

But if it were that easy, search engines wouldn’t offer advice on how to get indexed. 

According to Google, there are a few common reasons that websites don’t appear in their search results. If your site has been recently launched, it may be too new for Google to have crawled it. Likely due to the fact that your new website may not be connected to any other websites in the Google search index just yet. 

In other words, it may not have any links that web crawlers can follow to discover your new website.

Google offers a couple of suggestions on ways to get your content discovered by Google web crawlers. Website owners can start by submitting a sitemap to Google Search Console and adding structured data markup to your web pages. This data would tell Google exactly what each page on your website is about and how to index it relevantly. 

Bing suggests that you add your website URLs to Bing Webmaster Tools. Microsoft powers yahoo’s search results. Ideally, when you submit your site to Bing, it will be added to the Yahoo search index as well. 

After you submit your website to these search engines, you can use Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools to monitor your website’s health on each respective network. For example, Google Search Console’s Coverage report will help you find any errors that prevent web crawlers from properly viewing and indexing the content on your web pages. 

Traffic Acquisition

Google Analytics is one of the top tools used to monitor the results of their marketing efforts. If you notice your traffic from Google organic has drastically declined, it’s time to visit your website to ensure everything is in order. 

If your site is up and running, head over to Google Search Console to see if you have any error messages or messages from Google itself. Websites that haven’t played by Google Webmaster Guidelines may receive a penalty from Google, resulting in a loss of rankings in search results and a loss of traffic from search.

For help getting listed on Google, and getting visibility in search engine results with your target customer base, learn more about our SEO services or contact us. 

Google Search Console

Google offers more ways to get your content on its platform. They include the use of Google Ads, Google My Business, Google News, and YouTube. This suggests that the following actions could get your website crawled and indexed by Google.

  • Creating an ad in search that links promotes your new website to customers in your vicinity.
  • Creating a local business listing on Google My Business that links to your new website.
  • Getting featured on a publication whose news appears in Google News results (these sites and their content are crawled frequently).
  • Creating a channel and uploading a video on YouTube and including a link to your new website on both. 

Once your website is indexed in search engines, the next goal is to get your web pages in front of the Canadians searching for local content, products, or services. This is where SEO comes into play.

How Search Engine Optimization Works

Getting indexed isn’t the only step in getting found on search engines. Search engines like Google have an algorithm that ranks the items in their index based on the data from 383,605 search quality tests, 62,937 side-by-side experiments, 17,523 live traffic experiments, and 3,620 launches conducted in the past year alone.

This data helps Google’s algorithm rank web pages on specific criteria (factors) to help Google deliver the best results possible for any given search query. It would ensure that Google search users have the best user experience when they click from Google search results to the web page that sounds the most relevant. 

Search engine optimization (SEO) is optimizing content for search. SEO is optimizing your content for performance and keyword relevance in a way that gets it to the top of search results for the most relevant keyword search queries.

To optimize your website for search, you must:

  • Find the most relevant and profitable keywords for your business. These are the search terms and queries most likely to be used by your customers to find your content on Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.
  • Tailor the content of your web pages to target one or more of those relevant and profitable keywords.
  • Ensure that your web pages perform well for the best user experience.
  • Let Google know that your web page has the best content, product, or service for those relevant and profitable keywords. 

Here’s an example. It can be assumed that one of the most relevant and profitable keywords for the University of Calgary is top degree programs. The reason? They include it in the title tag on the homepage.

Source Code

The title tag of each page on your website is one of many elements that you can use to optimize your web pages for search. The keywords in this title should suggest to Google web crawlers that the website offers the top degree programs in Canada.

But is it the best website to appear in search results for top degree programs in Canada? Google won’t determine this based on title tags and alt tags alone. Google will also judge web pages based on how fast they load, how well the content is written, how many links the web page has, how many links the website has, and how high quality the links are as a whole. 

Website Performance for SEO

How fast do your web pages load? You can find out the type of data Google is interested in measuring in terms of website performance by using their PageSpeed Insights tool

PageSpeed Insights

In this instance, CBC News in Canada gets a 31 for desktop performance and an 8 for mobile performance. It specifically states that the website does not pass Core Web Vitals, which is a part of the ranking factors as of May 2021.

While they currently rank #1 for news on Google.ca, the question remains whether their rankings will be affected when Core Web Vitals become a ranking factor. While a loss of one or two positions on the first page of search results may not sound like much, the average click-through rate is cut in half (from 34.2% to 17.1%) between positions 1 and 2. 

Website Quality for SEO

Google offers specific quality guidelines for webmasters who want to get their web pages visibility in Google search results. Quality guidelines focus mainly on content and links. 

If you want your page to rank well in search engines, you need quality content. The common definition of quality content is content that is written with your target audience in mind and optimized for search engines. 

In addition, you need links to your web page from websites that have a strong reputation according to Google. These links will tell Google that another high-quality website believes your web page has the best content about a particular subject. 

For example, if you sold DIY home improvement products in Canada, you’d want a link from House & Home magazine editors. A link from their website would let Google know that a Canadian source for home resources recommends your DIY home improvement products. 

Similar types of links from strong Canadian or home reference websites, built over time alongside other links, would allow you to move up in search engine rankings. 

Measuring Search Engine Marketing Results

The goal of most search marketing campaigns is to increase traffic from organic search. Most business owners aren’t just looking for an increase in any traffic. As a business owner, you need to focus on acquiring the kind of traffic that is likely to go from a website visitor to a paying customer.

To ensure your marketing efforts help increase your website’s visibility in search, you need professional tools that monitor your keyword rankings and overall visibility in search. 

SEMrush Keyword Results

Improvements in ranking and visibility should translate into an increased amount of organic search traffic. Website owners can review this in their Google Analytics and compare date ranges to see if improvements in rankings have led to increases in website visitors and conversions.

Stephen Gagnon
Stephen Gagnon

I have been working as a digital marketer for several years. I’m continually learning better ways to rank websites within reputable search engines. When I’m not working or studying, I’m spending time with my family exploring random activities.


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How Do Search Engines Work

by Stephen Gagnon time to read: 9 min
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