Search Engines may look uncomplicated from the outside – a simple box that you type your search query into. However, behind the scenes is a whole other story. Complex doesn't begin to cover the intricacies of how search works.
Imagine a giant cobweb bigger than anything you can comprehend and all over the intricate silk threads a family of spiders crawl speedily around capturing their prey and binding it in silk to feed on later.
The process of search begins in a similar way with virtual spiders crawling all over the web to find relevant content to index in the search results in answer to a typed search query.
The World Wide Web currently consists of more than thirty trillion pages and every minute of every day this number continues to grow.
Endless Crawling and Vital Content Indexing
A search engine such as Google navigates around the web using their virtual spiders to crawl, by following links on web pages, from one page to another. These web pages are sorted by their content, along with other relevant factors, and are stored in the Index, where they stay, until a search query ultimately determines whether or not they should be returned as search results.
Site owners can opt out if they don't want their pages to be crawled, by blocking the pages from a Robots.txt file that resides on the server.
The index contains over 100 Million Gigabytes of Content. In addition to all the sorted web page content, the index is made up of copy from millions of books from International libraries and a variety of other collaborators.
Algorithms: The Power Behind The Search
Computer Algorithms are the driving force that provides the searcher with the answers they are seeking. An algorithm is a computer program made of formulas based on over 200 factors that get to work searching for clues to better understand what your search query means and what exactly it is you are looking for in order to deliver the best results possible as you seek out answers.
Solving these clues, result in appropriate documents being pulled from the Index and in turn the results are ranked in order of relevancy. This consecutively is what the searcher sees when they view their search results in Google or another search engine. All this happens in 1/8th of a second.
There is no option to pay for a high ranking as Google does not accept payment to improve a site's position in the search engine; if a site owner wants to appear prominently in search results without relying on SEO rankings, they must pay for the privilege using Pay per Click (PPC) advertising, which is completely separate from organic search results.
Google search algorithms change constantly. This entire process begins as ideas are sparked in the engineer's minds; these ideas evolve into algorithmic tests. The results are analysed, amended and run again, with the process being repeated countless times until relevant search results are achieved. With new content constantly being added to the web and old content becoming outdated, these algorithm tests are a never-ending progression.
The results a Google visitor is presented with after running their search query can vary and types include the following:
- Google’s Knowledge Graph: This offers search results that come from the real world knowledge database of people, places, their interests and the associations between them. Thanks to Street View, results can also be included from the physical world. The Knowledge Graph then provides better answers by organising information about real-world people, places and things.
- Snippets: A small preview of data, such as page title and content overview for each individual result.
- News: Up to date news results via online news stations, press associations, twitter trending and International blogs.
- Voice Search: Using Google’s Search App you can say anything you feel like and have the answers spoken back.
- Mobile: The Mobile search results include developments specifically intended for mobile devices, such as Smartphone handsets and tablets.
- Answers: This section returns answers immediately to your questions, along with information on daily enquiries for topics such as sports scores, quiz facts or weather reports.
- Videos: Video-based results appear with thumbnail images so you can speedily choose which video you want to watch.
- Images: The Google Image results show a selection of images in relevance to your keyword search term. Each image appears as thumbnails so you can choose which you want to navigate to. These can also be sorted via size, colour, type, time or a related search term can be chosen if the images don’t quite match what you are looking for.
- Refinements: This allows you to further fine tune your search by refining it using additional options such as the Advanced search, related searches, and any other search tools (such as size, type etc., found in image search) all of which help you fine-tune your search.
Fighting Back Against The Onslaught of Increasingly Clever Spam Techniques
Fighting spam has never been more prevalent and Google is making it their business to fight spam 24/7 in order to ensure the search results are relevant and helpful to the searcher.
The majority of spam removal is automatic in response to algorithmic program detection.
In addition to this, Google staff carefully examines other questionable documents by hand. If spam is found, manual action is taken, such as written warnings to site owners, a drop in rankings or a complete ban from the Index.
What Google has removed lately is readily available for visitors to see in real-time –These page results include ‘pure spam’, which are pages deemed to use destructive spam practices such as automatically generated spun content (which results in gibberish nonsensical reading to humans), cloaking and content scraped from websites around the web.
When action is taken against spam, a notification is sent from Google to the website owners to allow them a chance to rectify the problem.
So there you have it; behind the simple looking search box, is a multifaceted web of ever-evolving tests designed to support more than one-hundred billion searches Google receive each and every month.
This overview of ‘How Search Works’ is derived from this fascinating depiction on Google: www.google.com/search/howsearchworks/