How Do Search Engines Work?

In the early days of the Internet, search engines were created to locate specific websites. Some did not use natural language to locate information while others began to excel at it. Sometimes one search engine more easily located specific subject matter than another. Others based their usage upon how you would access the World Wide Web, such as AOL, Netscape, and the Microsoft Network.

Eventually, Yahoo pulled search resources into a single point of reference thus making it a central point repository of information. Yahoo ultimately gave way to Google. Consequently, Google transcended search capabilities by utilizing web crawlers.  They not only indexed web pages, but categorized them according to an assumption on the value of the information to the search criteria.

Search engines developed one primary difference; the way they achieve the results produced.

Navigating the Superhighway

Often visualizing the inter-connectivity of the Internet as a complex network of roadway systems makes understanding it easier. Each respective stop represents a specific location or address of information. The address points to a unique document such as a web page, PDF file, JPG image, or another file. In order to find a specific address, websites are mapped with a series of code that “crawls” the entire content repository.

The World Wide Web

The World Wide Web has also been described as a gigantic spider web. An automated bot, sometimes called spider bot, spider, or web crawler, discovers new content page by page, using page links to pinpoint others. It indexes billions and billions of content shared electronically. It then stores this information by reading and memorizing particular details, such as page title, images, keywords, linked pages, and sometimes more.  Later,  when prompted with an appropriate search query, it recalls the information. The web crawler completes this task within seconds. The type of crawl completed depends upon the type of resources sought, restrictions placed, and the re-visit policy of the web crawler.

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Generating Search Results

Providing results within a matter of seconds to billions of users at any given time is no small feat. Occasionally, some websites are missed when the website isn’t connected well with others, it is brand new, the design is difficult or has errors when it is crawled. (It is completely ignored when the website’s policy is to block it.) Inclusion into a search engine’s index is generally free since most use web crawlers to explore the web constantly. 

Search engines scour through their massive databases for information that was previously indexed and then display the most relevant and popular results. Hundreds of factors influence ways to determine relevance and popularity. The coded data stored within these systems is then subjected to mathematical equations, called algorithms, calculate pertinence and rank according to quality. Quality is determined by the popularity of the item. It is assumed the more popular a website, page, or document, the more important it must be. 

Your Internet Address

Universal resource locators, URLs, are addresses of websites. It provides direction to a specific location of stored information.  Different parts separate the URL. The first part identifies the type of protocol to use. It provides a set of rules and instructions for the computer to follow. The second part communicates the resource name. Since we remember names better than numbers, the common practice became a domain name. These alphabetic letters are then assigned to a set group of numbers, or an IP address.

Shifting to Semantics

Search engines progressively improve over time. Structured data, also called rich snippets or semantic markup, allows you to narrow the search to even better results. Structured data utilize meta-data to provide a narrower list of criteria from which to choose for slimming down the results without eliminating the content you are hunting. It provides a method to define “meaning” to the data and to utilize it in more efficient ways than matching text.

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