Search engines are the internet window for businesses. They gather colossal amounts of information on each website, break it down, and decide how well it responds to a particular request. But with so much data, how do search engines actually work?
To more efficiently search, classify, and rank the billions of pages that make up the web, search engines use sophisticated algorithms that make decisions about the quality and relevance of an article or video.
This is a complex process that involves the processing of significant amounts of data, and all of them must be presented in the most convenient way for the end user.
Search engines analyze all of this through numerous different ranking factors based on a user’s query. This is the relevance of the question entered by the user, the quality of the content, speed, metadata and much more.
Each data point is combined to help the search engine calculate the overall “quality” of the page. The site is then ranked based on these calculations and is made available to the user below or above on the search engine results page (SERP).
Knowing the hidden behind-the-scenes processes that occur in search engines to make these decisions helps businesses understand why certain pieces of content rank highly, but it also helps create new content with potentially higher rankings.
Let’s take a look at the general procedures on which each search engine algorithm is built, and then analyze the mechanisms of their work on the example of giants Google and Youtube.
How Search Engines Work
To be effective, search engines must accurately interpret the information available and present it to users logically. To do this, the systems perform three main actions - these are scanning, indexing and ranking.
Through these actions, they discover recently published content, store the information on their servers, and organize it for our consumption. Let’s take a look at what happens during each of these actions:
During this process, computers must determine the value that any website can potentially provide to the end user. These decisions are guided by an algorithm. Understanding how a search algorithm works helps create effective content that ranks higher for each platform.
Whether it’s RankBrain for Google and YouTube, the Graph and Spatial Section Tree (SPTAG) for Bing, or the proprietary codebase for DuckDuckGo, each platform uses a unique series of ranking factors.
If a business takes these factors into account when creating content for a website, adapting certain pages for good rankings will become easier.
Each search engine processes search results in its own way. We’ll take a look at the two most popular platforms in today’s market (including a video platform) and look at how they make decisions about the quality and relevance of content.
Google is the most popular search engine on the planet. It occupies more than 90% of the market, receiving more than 3.5 billion individual search queries daily. It is known that Google’s search algorithms quite cleverly determine the priorities of websites and sometimes cause distrust and critical attitude of users.
New sites are created every day. Google can find these pages by clicking on links from existing content they’ve crawled previously, or when the website owner submits their sitemap directly.
Any updates to existing content can also be sent to Google if asked to review a specific URL. This is done through Google Search Console.
While Google doesn’t say how often sites are viewed, eventually any updated content related to existing content is bound to be found.
When bots collect enough information, they return it to Google for indexing.
Indexing begins with the analysis of the site’s data, including text content, images, videos, and the technical structure of the site. Google looks for positive and negative ranking signals, such as keywords and site freshness, to understand the quality of the page being crawled and its importance to the user.
The Google Sites Index contains billions of pages and 100,000,000 gigabytes of data.
To organize this information, Google uses a machine learning algorithm called RankBrain and a Knowledge Graph knowledge base. They work together to help the system deliver the most relevant content to the user. Once the indexing of the site is completed, Google moves on to ranking.
Everything up to this point happens invisibly to humans, in the background, before the user interacts with Google’s search features.
Ranking occurs depending on what the user is looking for.
In doing so, Google looks at five main factors:
As soon as all this information is qualitatively processed, google’s algorithm will provide search results on the monitor screen that look something like this:
Let’s break down the search results page:
Such a detailed provision of information became possible only because the system disassembled into fragments and stored billions of pages in memory. Before the user performs the search, Google checked the sites to find out which keywords and intents they best matched.
This process allows you to fill in the results pages within a fraction of a second when performing a search and helps Google give us the most relevant content.
As the most popular search engine in the world, Google has more or less managed to create the basis for how the rest of today’s search engines look at content.
Most marketers specifically tailor their content to rank on Google. On the one hand, it is the correct use of forces and budgets. On the other hand, they potentially miss opportunities to promote content on other platforms.
The YouTube platform is the most popular video hosting service. Their search engine operates effectively under rules similar to those of Google, which owns the platform, and it focuses on keywords and relevancy.
The algorithm is broken down into two separate functions – ranking videos and finding relevant recommendations. Below we will analyze them in more detail.
The specific reasons why some videos stand above others, like everything inside Google, are hidden from prying eyes. However, most experts are inclined to the novelty of the video and the frequency of downloading the channel as the most important factors.
In terms of recommendations, a recent research paper detailed YouTube’s top priorities, such as scale, freshness, and noise:
These and possibly other ranking factors lead to the formation of recommendation pages for each individual user account. As a result, we enjoy those videos that we are really interested in.
This shows how “Subscriptions” affect the provision of YouTube search results. When a user subscribes to a particular channel, it increases their ranking in search results, recommendations, and choosing what to watch next.
Other ranking factors include what the user is watching, how long they’ve been passionate about different videos, and what the overall popularity of The Videos is on YouTube.
Let’s analyze the search results using an example:
The best result is the most viewed video. This is followed by a newer download with fewer views but with an exact keyword match. The third video has more views than the second, but without an exact keyword match – it’s also a slightly older download.
Based on these results, we see that popularity breeds popularity and is one of the most important youTube ranking factors – and even higher than the novelty of a video with an exact keyword match.
To get good rankings on YouTube, you’ll need an authoritative profile and a consistent download pace. Their focus on the popularity and strength of the profile requires more investment in marketing – these investments quickly pay off for brands that concentrate their efforts on the video platform.
Understanding how search engines work helps create better content.
When you know how certain platforms display their results, it’s easier to create content with ranking potential. This insight also helps you diagnose why other types of content rank better or worse than your own.
Based on this, we’ve put together five tips to help you create better content:
At the end of the day, it all comes down to understanding the customer. You can’t create content that ranks well if you don’t know what your target audience needs.