How Search Works – Google Search Engine

Let’s imagine that a potential customer uses a search engine to solve their problem. If you’re a business that provides a solution, you’d want to get found in the search results. A really important aspect of digital marketing is getting your website found in search engines. In this article, you will learn how the Google search engine works and how to determine website rankings, the structure of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), and Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

How does the Google search engine work?

Before you learn about how to optimize content for a search engine, you need to first understand what a search engine is and how it works. The three main processes of the Google search engine: crawling, indexing, and serving. The Google search engine uses these processes to locate the most relevant content to a user’s search query.

So what is a search engine? A search engine as any software that locates information on a search query. The processes Google uses to organize information online: crawling, indexing, and serving.

Main processes of a search engine: crawling, indexing, serving.

The first step the Google search engine takes is crawling, which is the process of finding new and updated webpages. Google explores the internet with automated programs called crawlers. These crawlers find new and updated webpages, and once the crawlers discover a new or updated webpage, Google then stores these page URLs in a big list to review later. A page URL is a web address such as

Once the new pages are crawled, Google then stores them in an index. Think of an online index as similar to an index in the back of a book. A book index is a list of content and its associated pages. Similarly, Google stores web content with its location: the URL for each webpage. Google index almost anything on the page including text, photos, and video content. Remember, indexing is only possible if the website owner allows the webpage to be crawled.

Then the Google Search algorithm goes to work. An algorithm is an automated software that helps locate information to answer a user’s query. The Google search algorithm sorts through billions of webpages to deliver the most relevant content for a given search to deliver the best results for a search. Websites and platforms use different algorithms to decide what to show users. A search algorithm for an e-commerce site may display the most likely products a shopper would purchase. Factors like price and shipping time might influence the results. A social media algorithm may focus on what it thinks is most entertaining for the user. Factors such as popularity and content length may influence the results the social media algorithm provides its users.

How Google determines website rankings

In digital marketing, understanding how pages show up in a search can help you get the most out of your marketing efforts. Key factors that determine the ranking results:

  1. Meaning of the query
  2. Relevance of webpages
  3. Quality of the content
  4. Usability of webpages
  5. Context and settings

Creating content to rank high in the search engine results pages (SERPs) is often open to interpretation. For now, consider these key factors from a search engine’s perspective to understand what the search algorithm considers when ranking websites.

The meaning of the query

A query is simply the words typed into a Google search bar. To return relevant results, the search algorithm needs to establish what the user is searching for. In other words, the intent behind the query. Google’s algorithms have created language models to decipher the meaning and intent of a search. In marketing, you want to understand your potential customer’s searches to create content that addresses the searchers’ needs. That’s why it is important to have a customer persona to better understand your customers.

The relevance of web pages

This is when the algorithm determines what content is relevant to the search. The most basic signal that information is relevant is that the webpage contains the same keywords as the search query.

A keyword is a word or multiple words that people use to find information, products, or services online.

The keyword either matches or is similar to, this searcher’s query. For example, if the keywords appear in the headings or body text of a webpage, the search algorithms may determine that page to be more relevant. The Google search algorithms review more than just keywords for relevance. They will match phrases and topics at the searcher may be interested in. For example, the keyword “dog” instead of showing only dog content, there will be a mix of results relates to the keyword “dog” such as “dog breeds”, “dog videos”, etc.

Quality of content

One way Google determines quality content is by understanding if prominent websites link or refer to the content. Google uses several factors to try to work out the quality of a piece of content, as well as the quality of a website overall. Google search uses aggregated feedback from a search quality evaluation process to further refine the algorithms used for ranking.

The usability of webpages

Google algorithms also consider the content’s ease of use. If you have two webpages with exactly the same content, the webpage that has a better user experience may perform better. Google calls this the page experience ranking factor. Better user experience means a page is mobile friendly or it loads quickly. These are among the many factors that contribute to how a page ranks.

The searcher’s context and setting

Information such as the location, past search history, and search settings help the search algorithm deliver relevant and useful results. The result of the football game is different from one country to another, for example. Google may tailor results based on activity in your Google account. If you search for “events near me,” Google may tailor some recommendations to even categories they think you might be interested in.

Breakdown of the Google search engine results pages (SERPs)

Google search engine results pages (SERPs)

There are different types of SERP features based on what you search. For example, if your search is about a product, it may be structured with shopping or products. Or if the search is news-related and timely, then it may be structured with news articles. A best practice is to always Google Search your product or service for the brand name and several related words. When analyzing the SERPs, you should keep in mind that there are both search listings and ads. Typically, you’ll find paid ads towards the top of the search results page as well. After the paid ads are search listings.

There several SERP features you should know about. Let’s cover some common ones. A featured snippet displays when the algorithm determines the format or how people more easily discover what they’re looking for. It’s a non-paid feature. Google systems will determine whether a page would make a good featured snippet for a user’s search request. Rich results provide specific information about a website. This information helps a website display with additional features in search results. An example of this is for a product-based webpage. Additional product information showing search results, such as its review rating, price, and availability. Images or videos may appear in any search position including the top, the middle, and the bottom of the SERPs.

The bottom line is to study the snippet displays from the search results. What websites, products, and featured snippets appear? Where they’re located, and why do you think that they’re there? By studying these results, you’ll get more comfortable with search results and one step closer to thinking like a digital marketer.


  1. Elements of the Google Search Engine Results Page
  2. In-depth guide to how Google Search works
  3. Overview of Microsoft Search

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