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    Jan 2012

    How search engines work

    Posted by / in Marketing / Link

    We all know what search engines are but perhaps not how they work. Knowing how they work can help you when marketing online.

    Search engines

    Search engines do four things: Crawl – Index – Assess Relevance – Provide Results.

    Crawl – spiders crawl the web via links, visiting pages and capturing titles, words near the top of the page, links, and frequently used words. In the diagram below, the spider would crawl to the home page and continue through to each of the other six related pages.

    multiple pages

    Index – the “crawled” info is captured in a database…a list of pages, every word in those pages, and where the page was found. Images are also indexed in a similar fashion. The purpose of an index is to find the information as fast as possible.

    Assess Relevance – using complex mathematical equations or algorithms (that seem to be continually tweaked and changed, much to the chagrin of search engine optimizers), the search engine ranks the information based on relevance and perceived value or importance. Importance is tricky to determine so the search engine would look at how popular a site or page is. The greater the popularity, the more likely the information is of value or importance.

    Provide Results or SERP (search engine results page) – When someone does a query (i.e. when someone ‘googles’ a word or phrase), the search engine goes to work quickly assessing relevance based on the query. The outcome of this assessment is the search engine results page. The objective is to present the most useful pages first so that the searcher sees value in using that particular search engine. Remember, they make money by channeling traffic to advertisers. The more traffic, the more potential impressions, click throughs and conversions.

    How layout affects Search Engine Placement

    Let’s start by viewing this video by Matt Cutts from Google.

    Most websites follow a conventional block format. There is a logo and header block at top, a block on the left sidebar, another on the right sidebar, a footer block and the main page block. Search engines know that most headers contain company information and the navigation menus. Most footers contain links to other sections and usually have copyright, company contact info, terms of use and privacy policy pages.  The core is the main page block, and nowadays the search engines are getting better at figuring out which parts of the page are more user-oriented content versus just plain old advertising. Google talks about testing algorithms that determine “what are the things that really matter, how much content is above the fold.”

    Another thing to consider is optimizing your site for mobile search.

    How to effectively use a search engine for marketing and revenue

    I’ll cover this topic in a few weeks as part of the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) discussion.

    Search User Behaviour

    It is important to understand the search behaviour of your particular target market and design your pages accordingly.  You want to know what they are really doing when they are searching. There are four main activities as shown below:


    • looking at general info
    • they don’t know what they want
    • you should focus on top-level category pages and articles


    • they are comparing – looking at a narrow range of features
    • you should focus on comparison pages and categories

    Ready to Buy

    • they know what they want – they are looking for a place they can trust
    • focus on specific product pages

    Problem Solving

    • they want to know what/ how/ why
    • focus on article pages

    Fresh Content

    Don’t create content just for the search engines. Create fresh content so you stay relevant to your target market. If you’re relevant and offering value, visitors may become customers and customers may become repeat customers and referrals for even more business.

    If what you have to offer is stale, outdated or just plain useless, customers won’t come back. Not only that, with social media, they’ll tell others to not even bother coming to your site.

    What do search engines do and why should I care?

    what do search engines doThey provide useful links!  If they don’t provide good, relevant links, then people will stop using them.

    If people stop using them, they won’t make money!

    If you make it easy for the search engines to do their job, you will be rewarded by higher rankings.

    Here is a good PDF resource on how search engines work.


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