Our life is warped around technology. It forms the blueprint of our daily lives as a source of engagement or help. Information that requires much time, effort and money can now be accessed with ease in a matter of seconds. There is no need to make countless trips to the library to find newspaper articles of events that occurred in the past anymore. The information can be gotten quickly with the aid of a search engine in the comfort of your home. By definition, a search engine is simply a software that provides a list of results to a user based on keywords entered by the user. This list of results is called the Search Engine Results Page or SERP.
In reality, however, the work done in providing those results is much more complicated. There are a lot of search engines online. Google readily comes to mind but there are even more. Some web browsers also have a default search engine on their homepage. Generally, all search engines operate the same way. But there is more; digital marketers, SEO experts, and creatives have made tremendous use of Search engines to an amazing effect. Search engines link different aspects of the internet, making a business thrive, and bringing users closer to their intended goals. Whether you are a business person, tech enthusiast, creative or emerging digital marketer, knowing how search engines operate will position you in the best spot to make the most out of it. This article thus explains how search engines work and lists some popular search engines.
How do Search Engines Work?
Each search engine is different and their method of operation also differs. However, they all follow 3 basic steps. These are:
Result Creation (Ranking)
Crawling is a process where search engines send robots (also known as spiders or crawlers) to a website. The crawlers go through the website in search of content. The content found could be anything from webpages to audio files and they are found by links. These links, thus provide new material for the crawlers to search through.
The bots first download the robots.txt file of the website. This file contains what webpages are allowed to be crawled and those that are not. Popular webpages are usually crawled regularly. This is done to see if any change(s) has been made to the webpage so it can be updated. Search engine crawlers are given a set of rules to determine how often they crawl a webpage in search of updates.
All the data gotten from crawling are compiled and arranged in a database. This database or structure is called an index. Indexing is the process of organizing the collected data in order to provide responses to the search engine result page.
A search engine will not index a page if any of the following reasons apply:
If the robots.txt file is not included.
If the search engine algorithm determines that the page is of low quality. This means the webpage does not have enough content or its content is duplicated.
If the webpage has a “noindex” tag or canonical tag. A “noindex” tag instructs the search engine not to index that page. A canonical tag tells it to index a similar page.
3. Result Creation (Ranking)
Once the user clicks the 'search' button, the search engine checks the index to find websites that match the search query. The best results are then selected and displayed on the search engine results page. The order of the results is usually determined by the search engine algorithm. Each search engine uses different rank algorithms. This means that a website that ranks highly on Google might have a different rank on Ask for the same search query.
What a Search Engine Algorithm really is
Algorithms are used by search engines to ascertain the quality, theme, and the kind of query a website would show up for in search results. The search engine algorithms deliver a set of high-quality results that will fulfill the question input by the user.
There are several ranking factors that determine an algorithm of which Relevance is the most important. A search engine's most primary objective must be to find what its user searches for but the fact is that even when some of these factors are known, how they really determine the result of a search is not exactly known. That is why each search engine algorithm is a unique formula, a trademark of that search engine, hence it is kept as a secret.
The most popular Search Engines
Many internet users cannot do without search engines as it helps string the web together. That said, there are lots of search engines in existence. Here are the widely used search engines across the world that bring users closer to their needs.
1.) Google Search
Alexa global ranking: 1
Google Search is a search engine made by Google. It is the largest and most used search engine in the world. The word 'Google' has even become part of the vocabulary. You need something? Just 'Google' it. Google is a global giant. There are more than 5 billion searches every day on the platform. Google has amassed over 90% of the global search engine market share.
Google makes use of machine learning and RankBrain to serve quality results. RankBrain is an algorithm that adjusts the weights of ranking factors thus providing personalized user experience. This means that your search results get better each time because the algorithm is constantly adjusting the results based on previous searches.
Another algorithm used by Google is PageRank. PageRank was designed to help deliver relevant search results. To determine a webpage's value, it calculates the number and quality of other webpages linking to it. PageRank is Google's oldest algorithm.
Google ranks websites on different factors. These include the relevance of content and backlinks found on the website, backlink’s strength, usability, accessibility, social signals, page speed, content structure and optimization, as well as mobile optimization.
Alexa global ranking: 5
Baidu is the biggest internet company in China. Founded in 2000, it handles about 90% of all search queries in the country. Baidu is not just involved in providing search results. Like Google, it also offers other services such as maps and social networking. Baidu also helps in providing technology for the Chinese health sector. It also partners with top companies like Microsoft, Intel, as well as Ford to provide AI solutions.
Alexa global ranking: 12
Originally “Yahoo Search”, Yahoo is one of the biggest search engines in the world. It is the 3rd largest in the US with over 3% of market share after Google and Bing. Verizon Communications bought Yahoo in 2017. This search engine provides indexed and cached popular file-types including PDF, PowerPoint, Excel spreadsheets, plain text files, RSS/XML, and Word documents. The list includes common HTML formats. With Yahoo, you can search a large variety of vertical properties that exist outside the internet such as Directory, Images, Videos, Local, Jobs, Shopping, Yahoo! Answers, Mobile, Travel, News, and a host of services found on the About Yahoo page.
Alexa global ranking: 34
Bing is the second most popular search engine in the United States. Launched in 2009 by Microsoft, it provides competition to Google. In the US, Bing handles about a quarter of search queries. It also provides rewards to users. Users are given points for searches which they can later redeem at the Windows store.
Alexa global ranking: 41
As Google is the big thing in other areas across the globe, so is Naver the biggest search engine in South Korea. Naver is coined from the word ‘navigate’. It was launched in 1999. It handles about 75% of search queries in the country. It was the first search engine in the world to introduce compiled results from different categories on a single page. Naver has been long recognized for its innovative capabilities as a search engine. It has a Q&A database, which is still admired by users. The introduction of “Knowledge In” and “me.naver.com,” set a precedence as a social search engine.
Alexa global ranking: 222
Ask is a search engine founded in 1996. It has a simple user interface designed to provide answers to search queries. As a result of the Ask toolbar, it was able to provide competition to other search engines like Google and Bing.
Alexa global ranking: 180
DuckDuckGo is different from other search engines because it does not save personal information. User privacy is highly valued. The search engine does not track any personal information. Each search result is different as previous searches are not taken into account to provide results. This also means that adverts cannot be provided based on user experience. However, DuckDuckGo partners with Bing, so ads can be sent through Bing.
8.) AOL Search
Alexa global ranking: 378
AOL (also known as America Online) was one of the largest internet companies in the 90s. They provided a large range of services including email, instant messaging, and web browsing. Verizon Communications bought AOL in 2015.
Alexa global ranking: 409
Ecosia is an environmentally friendly search engine. It was launched in 2009. Ecosia uses the profit made from search queries to plant trees. It donates about 80% of its profit to organizations focused on reforestation. Ecosia search results are powered by Bing.
Alexa global ranking: 889
Yandex is mainly used in Russia. It covers about 50% of all search queries in the country. It is also used in Ukraine, Turkey, and Belarus. Its algorithm makes use of machine learning and AI to learn from previous searches.
Alexa global ranking: 1604
Startpage is a private search engine. Google powers its search results, but without the use of trackers. This enables users to browse the web anonymously without having their data saved. StartPage places a huge value on user privacy. They also offer a private and encrypted email service called StartMail.
Alexa global ranking: 47,192
Dogpile is a search engine that uses metasearch technology. This means that Dogpile compiles the best results from other search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. Duplicate results are removed and the relevant ones are presented to you. It was launched in 1996.
How Search Engines react and rank
Due to the enormous amount of information available today on the web, Google, for instance, uses a series of algorithms to find the most relevant, useful information and deliver results instantly. To feature high on a Search Engine Result Page (SERP) involves a lot of factors considered by the search engine. Search algorithms may be determined by the relevance and page usability, words of your query, location, and settings. But the weight applied to each factor is reliant on the nature of your query.
Here are the major factors that decide the ranking of websites on a search engine result page. They include:
1.) Optimized website for technical SEO
Search engines must be able to access a website properly, else there is not much in terms of ranking for that site. The way search engines work is grouped into discovery, crawling, indexing, and the ranking phases. All publicly available web pages are found during the discovery phase and relevant information is extracted during crawling and then added to their index, to be used for the ranking process by the algorithm.
2.) Website Security
This is one of the publicly known ranking factors. Secured websites, that is, websites that are SSL enabled and serve links as HTTPS have an advantage to non-secured websites. All things being equal, the website with an HTTPS link will rank higher than the non-secured website.
3.) Domain Authority
Search Engines want to give the best possible result and one way they do this is by checking the authority of a domain. Domain authority is determined by:
Domain age: pages as old as up to 3 years tend to rank higher than newer pages. This doesn't mean that newer pages cannot be ranked higher but it is more difficult and takes time than already established sites.
Domain status: A domain has to be free from penalties to be legible to rank.
Domain reputation: This has to deal with how people view your domain. A domain with a good reputation receives more ranking than one with no reputation at all.
4.) Mobile Friendliness:
A website not optimized for mobile devices will not show up on any mobile searches and this will not include any possibility of gathering traffic via mobile use.
5.) Webpage speed
The speed of a website often turns visitors off if slow. When certain pages take time to load, users are compelled to look elsewhere for the content that suits their needs. The increase in bounce rate (the rate at which users leave your website on clicking on a page) affects ranking on the search result page.
6.) Content quality:
This is one of the most important factors in search engine ranking. Any content published on a website must be unique and not a replica of another content. Although no outright punishment may be given for this by some search engines, it is not encouraged and search engines, like Google, penalize websites that duplicate content. Furthermore, websites with duplicated content are difficult to rank. This is counterproductive to any SEO or marketing effort.
7.) High-quality Backlinks:
Once upon a time, those websites that have a huge load of backlinks are ranked higher than the rest. But these days it is not about the number of backlinks, rather the quality of backlinks decides what websites rank high. What this means is that websites should get reputable sources of content to feature higher on a SERP.
Whether you are an average web user, designer, creative, business owner, SEO expert, or digital marketer, you get to deal with search engines in one way or the other. Knowing the type of search engines that are available for use would not only give you alternatives, but will increase your chances to reach vast extremes of the internet. Also, you will know how to position your website on the web to reach your target audience or get to your desired objective.