On the surface, Google Search could not be more simple. It consists of an almost totally blank page that features the Google logo, an input field (the search bar), and two buttons, “Google Search” and “I’m feeling lucky.” Using it is pretty simple, too. Just type something in and press Enter or click “Google Search” (unless you’re feeling lucky) and—voilà—results!

Obviously, it is more complicated than that. Google must have a way of not only displaying results that are relevant to your search, but also it needs to rank these results based on their relevance. But how is this relevance determined? The deeper you dig, the more questions arise: what happens when a new website launches? How does Google find it? How often are the results being updated? How does Google scour the entire Internet and manage to get results in a fraction of a second?

Before we get bogged down in all the questions, let’s return to our original one.

How does Google Search work?

There four basic parts that make up Google Search: the Googlebot, the Indexer, the Query Processor, and the Algorithm.

Googlebot

The Googlebot, also known as the Google Web Crawler or Spider, is a program that Google runs from its data centers. It navigates the web from page to page through links on pages, mapping the Internet and sending whatever it finds to the Indexer. Since the Googlebot only navigates through links, if you just launched a website that no one is linking to, Googlebot has no way of navigating to your website. In this situation, you can ask Googlebot to crawl your site through Webmaster Tools.

It is important to remember that the Googlebot does not see a website in the same way that a human does. A website is really just a bunch of lines of code that a browser (e.g. Chrome, Safari, Firefox, etc.) interprets for human consumption. Googlebot interprets websites completely differently, getting rid of all formatting and just viewing the titles, text and links on a page. To really get an idea of what this looks like, enter a URL in the box below to see how a web crawler like Googlebot would see the page.

Search Engine Spider SimulatorEnter URL to Spider

Indexer

Think of this as a massive (and I mean the size-of-the-Internet massive) database of all of the information that Googlebot is discovering, all organized by keywords (those things you type in the Google Search field). Google stores this information as a highly organized, text-only version of the Internet. This setup helps Google to churn out results in only a fraction of a second.

Query Processor

If the Googlebot and the Indexer are the infrastructure that allows Google to work, the Query Processor is what actually executes the search.

Algorithm

The only part that we have not discussed is perhaps the most important. Google’s algorithm determines the relevance of your web site to a search query. It is what finally determines the order that your website appears in Google’s search results for that query.

The Algorithm is top secret. Very few people know what is actually in it and I imagine they all work at Google. But, thanks to some hints from Google and tons of testing and analysis, we do have a list of pretty much every factor that could affect your ranking as well as studies on how much each factor affects your ranking.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is the practice of making your website look as good as possible to a search engine. This does not mean ignoring your human visitors, but it does mean trying to get more of them on your site. It is the job of search engine optimizers (SEOs) to understand how Google (I suppose other search engines too, as if people actually use them) works so that we can improve your search rankings and get more traffic to your site.

Each year, Google changes its search algorithm around 500–600 times. Not all of these changes are earth-shattering, but staying on top of them is key to obtaining and maintaining good search ranks. Sound overwhelming? Give us a call and we’d be happy to take a look at your site.

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This document was last updated on July 24, 2014