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How Search Engines Work (2020)

What Is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to techniques that help you achieve better rankings for your website in organic search results. It’s all about making your website more visible to people who are using search engines to look for your product, brand, or services. Search engine advertising (SEA) involve you paying for your website to be listed above organic search results for target keywords. How are you going to stand out from the competition?

Why is it important?

Each year more than 2.8 trillion search queries are made on Google alone, or 88,700 searches worldwide per second! Every second that your website is not indexed on Google, you miss out on hundreds, if not thousands, of opportunities to engage with potential customers. Check out more Google Search Statistics.

SEO is constant process in which you are constantly changing your website. You will satisfy users’ needs by providing unique content and a fast website that works well on any device.

How Search Engines Work

Every search engine has a program known as a “bot” or “crawler”. These programs follow links and visit websites. As they do so, they index website content and follow the links on the website to other sites. If your website has not yet been indexed, it will not appear in search results. Major search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo are continually indexing billions of websites.

There are two key things which help search engines to classify websites:

  • The website’s content: Search engines browse the HTML code for metadata so they can determine the relevance of individual pages.
  • Links to the website: The more high-quality inbound links the website has, the greater its link authority. This boost from inbound links is called “link juice”, and it’s quality over quantity. Here’s just a few tools to analyze inbound links to your website.

Every search engine uses its own proprietary algorithm based on various so-called “ranking factors”. Google uses over 900 different factors to determine the relevance of a website to a search query. Here’s a few of the top ranking factors:

  1. The website’s content
  2. The website’s structure and internal links
  3. The searcher’s geographical location
  4. Mobile optimization
  5. Loading times
  6. Server accessibility
  7. Social signals (links from social networks)

With a market capitalization of over $470 billion, Google dominates the search engine market with a staggering 93 percent adoption in Germany. The company fundamentally revolutionized the way in which search engines work with a simplified user interface.

What To Do for a Good Ranking

Search engines look at four things when deciding ranking: rank, authority, relevance and technical issues. Your rank is an indicator of how relevant your website is for a search term from the search engine’s perspective, and what authority it has. You should check regularly on your website’s rank and positions in the SERPs in order to assess whether your SEO measures are having an effect. There are many online tools to choose from. Based on personal experience, I recommend signing up for a free trial of SERanking.

Search engines determine the authority and credibility of a website using such factors as the type and quality of inbound links from other websites. It’s simple to check your page/domain authority using Moz Open Site Explorer.

Relevance is one of the most important ranking factors. Search engines examine the website structure, use of keywords in your URLs, formatting on the page, and which keywords appear in the title and body of text.

Technical issues include poor mobile experience, slow page loading, duplicate content, shady link building, poor navigation, and improper redirects. Check out the Top 10 Technical SEO Issues (and How to Fix Them).

Long-Tail Concept and Theory

Even though it seems logical to strive for a ranking using high-traffic keywords, this will most likely result in a lot of frustration. There are far more unique search queries than generic ones. If you added up the search engine traffic of the most popular keywords, the number wouldn’t even come close to the amount of unique, niche keywords. This concept is known as “long-tail theory”. If you optimize for long-tail keywords you will find it easier to achieve good rankings in search engines, get qualified traffic, and convert that traffic into leads and customers.

Content Is King

Without rich content, you will find it difficult to achieve good rankings with specific keywords and to direct traffic to your website. If your content is not engaging, it will not help to acquire leads and/or customers. It is not about quantity; it’s more about the relevance of the content to potential searchers. Blogging is a great way to stay up to date while easily generating new, relevant content, and can have significant implications for SEO, since each new blog entry represents a new web page.

On-Page SEO

On-page optimization is one part of search engine optimization and it covers all the modifications that you make on your own website. Here’s a few elements you can influence to enable search engines to index your content.

You can affect your website’s indexability using a file on your service called “robots.txt”. It stores instructions for bots on which areas of your website are open for crawling. Another element you can use to manage your indexing is the XML sitemap. This is a list of all your website’s important URLs.

  • The URL structure can also help search engines to better understand your website content.
  • Images are a great way to break up pieces of text, and also to communicate with search engines. It’s important to use file names that accurate describe the associated image. You can also help search engines by adding alt attributes to all your images.
  • The title tag (up to 70 characters) is a very important ranking criterion for Google and other search engines.
  • The meta description (up to 175 characters) is a piece of text that describes what a specific page is about. Try to use a call to action in the description for each webpage. Keep in mind that the title and description are usually the first elements that a new visitor sees in the SERPs, so you can influence whether or not a visitor clicks on a search result by optimizing these elements.
  • If you use different headline tags, you make it easier for visitors and crawlers to understand the structure of your website.
  • If you create content on your blog or specific web pages, you should also refer to other pages within your own website known as inbound links.


Search engines also assess the technical aspects of your website. For example, how quickly the site loads plays a major role in your website ranking. I highly recommend testing your page speed with Pingdom.

Mobile Optimization

  • If your website is not optimized for mobile devices, on average, you will be giving 50 percent of your visitors a poor user experience. Here’s a few mobile optimization tips:
  • You should always use “responsive web design” to ensure that your website adjusts to any display size.
  • Make sure that image files are not too big to reduce load speeds.
  • Keep in mind that mobile users will be using touch screens, so buttons should not to too close together.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page optimization involves measures which ensure good-quality, relevant backlinks are created in the long-term, otherwise known as “white hat link building”. Important: Don’t try to improve your website’s reputation by buying or deliberately sharing links. Google will quickly discover your shady link building practices and you’ll risk falling heavily down in the rankings.

Use Social Media to Distribute Content

Search engines also take into account the traffic generated by links from social networks. You should not only use social networks to acquire potential new customers, generate leads and build brand awareness, but also keep in mind the SEO benefits of having a brand presence on social networks.

Use Email to Distribute Content

There is so much email noise that every email you send needs to be useful. Your emails should include a clear call-to-action, you should maintain your lists, generate leads, and convert them to customers, but you should also make it easy for your email readers to share their content with friends and post on social media.

Guest Articles

Guest articles are a good way of improving your branding and getting high-quality backlinks. You should begin by looking for publications that would be a good fit for your subject matter.


Blogging creates high-quality, relevant content that offers a lot of added value to users and potential customers. It enables you to increase traffic to your website while also encouraging backlinks. Sharing your blog posts on social networks and in your newsletter will generate additional traffic. Check out my previous blog post Top 10 SEO Tips to Rank in Google Search.

Identify Keywords

Relevance is the key issue when choosing the right keywords. Keep in mind that the more specific and niche the keywords, the better. It’s also important to take into account the location of a user. For example, I would rather rank for “Austin Aerial Photographer” than simply “Photographer” which is far too competitive and not relevant to my specific target market.

Keyword Research

You can use the powerful keyword research tool Twinword Ideas to search for target long-tail keywords; ideally ones that have a high search volume and low-medium SEO difficulty ranking. Traffic data and trends can also be used to identify how frequently searches were run for each keyword. For example, you can run searches on Google Trends to look for global or regional search trends with terms of interest.

Analyze SEO Performance

SEO measures can take some time and effort. It’s a continual process. There are numerous metrics you can check on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis in order to keep your SEO plan on track and measure your long-term success. Here’s a few of the top metrics:

  • Traffic: Every week, you should study an analysis of all the traffic from organic search queries to your website. This enables you to determine whether changes from previous weeks or months are having an effect.
  • Leads: How do you turn your visitors into customers? Use Google Analytics or a similar to get a good idea of your ROI.
  • Indexed Pages: Measuring the number of search engines that have indexed your site is an easy way to check the website growth resulting from your SEO efforts. You can also run a site query to show you how many of your website pages are currently indexed. ust enter “site:” and your website URL. I recommend forcing Google to recrawl your website every so often using the Search Console.
  • Inbound Links: This is the easiest way to determine how successful your off-page SEO is.
  • Keywords: Keep a list of keywords that bring traffic from organic search queries to your site. Study the organic search traffic in detail once a month, and analyze which keywords are responsible for most of it.
  • Rankings: Create a list of the top 10 keywords you want to rank for. Do a Google search and see where you stand in the current rankings. Note jumps by more than five places in the ranking, because these changes are not usually due just to search engine updates.
  • Technical Status: Check your website’s technical status regularly. There are thousands of tools out there to accomplish this task. TechnicalSEO a great resource for free analysis tools.
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At this point, you should already have a good understanding of what SEO is, and why every online company should be aware of how crucial search engine optimization is to the business. Drawing up and implementing a SEO strategy can be a daunting task. However, the process can be manageable if you invest enough time and resources.

You may also be interested in my article Top 10 SEO Tips to Rank in Google Search.

How Search Works – by Matt Cutts at Google
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