How Google Search Engine Works – the 3 Basic Steps

Google Search works by sorting through hundreds of billions of web pages in their Search Index to find the most relevant, helpful results.

Google Search Overview

When you search, in a fraction of a second, Google’s automated systems sort through hundreds of billions of web pages and other information in their Search Index to find the most relevant, helpful results for what you’re searching.

So how does Google Search work?

The entire Google Search process has three specific steps:

  1. Crawling,
  2. Indexing and
  3. Ranking.

Google Search Index is the world’s most extensive library, containing hundreds of billions of web pages of over 100,000,000 gigabytes.

YouTube video: How Google Search Works (in 5 minutes)

Google Crawling

Software known as crawlers builds the Search Index. We know these crawlers as bots, in this case, Googlebots. Crawling Googlebots find new pages by following links. They visit available websites and follow the links on the pages. Googlebots capture (copy) and store information about what they find on these pages.

Google can render a webpage by running any code like Javascript in a browser and allowing access to all the content a user will see.

The bots continually revisit websites and update the Search Index with changes and new content. Website content creators can help google in this process by updating Google Search Console. On a website, two documents instruct site crawlers: sitemaps and robots.txt. A site owner cannot force or pay Google to crawl their website. It is entirely at the discretion of the Googlebot processes.

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Google Search Indexing

At the start of indexing, Google breaks down the parts of the webpage it has crawled and stored to identify the various components in a step called parsing.

It looks for duplicate content so that it only presents one version. This process is called Canonicalisation, with the selected result referred to as the canonical URL.

Google now examines the content on the webpage, which is analysed and categorised by various attributes such as:

  • keywords
  • freshness of pages
  • quality.

These attributes form some of the basis of SEO.

The page content then gets indexed, which can be verified by Google Search Console. Issues may stop indexing, such as:

  • robot.txt blocking permission
  • access or website design problems
  • low-quality content.
Google Search
Photo: @Unsplash

Ranking Google Search Results

When a search query happens, Google Search algorithms assess a complex set of factors to determine what pages and results it should provide and in what order.

To do this, it must first go through its Search Index and search hundreds of billions of web pages stored in its databases to find helpful content.

When we search for a topic on a search engine such as Google, the results depend on the rules and algorithms implemented by Google. Google informs that responding effectively to our search involves automated systems that:

  • find and deliver information that is relevant and reliable
  • consider many factors, including:
    • the words in your query and the context
    • what the intent is,
    • the content,
    • the expertise referenced, and
    • the location and language involved
  • each day, 15% of user searches are new and not seen before
  • use quality raters to measure if people find the results relevant and reliable.

Because information exists not only on web pages but in:

  • images,
  • videos,
  • maps,
  • news,
  • sports scores and
  • many other types of content.

So they deliver results in a variety of these forms.

A weight is applied to all the factors and used in Google’s ranking systems.

  • Meaning
  • Relevance
  • Quality
  • Usability
  • Context.

It looks through the Search Indexes for content to see whether it contains information relevant to the search query. The crucial indicator of a match is the existence of keyword matches in the content and, importantly, in the heading.

They determine which content they should present by assessing if it demonstrates:

  • expertise,
  • authoritativeness and
  • trustworthiness.

It assesses this by taking into consideration if:

  • Do other prominent websites link or refer to the content?
  • What are the Page experience aspects
  • look to see if content loads quickly

High-quality content is now an essential requirement for pages to be indexed. Google will not include low-quality content in its search results.

Google Search Intent

Search intent is one of the more complex areas of Google Search. Here google interprets what search intent is. It also has a predefined notion of what a post on a particular subject should contain based on what it has indexed and has observed of user behaviour.

Making Google Search even more complicated, slight variations to Keywords that cause minimal change to meaning can dramatically change search results far more significantly than expected.

From a definitive perspective, Search Intent breaks down into the following categories:

  1. Informational
  2. Navigational
  3. Transactional
  4. Commercial

Google Search Algorithm

How the Google Algorithm works is not known. What is known is the various updates that have taken place and their purpose. The changes arrive as significant updates named after their primary objective or an animal, such as Panda or Penguin.

While Google will give a broad, high-level explanation of their objective, how they actually work is unknown. What we will comprehend is the impact of the change. Website owners may experience significant changes in the ranking of their content in search results or substantial changes in their traffic.

Many posts and websites explaining SEO take their references from an existing consensus five years ago. There is growing evidence that the searches have evolved beyond this previous orthodoxy. People following dated advice will be very disappointed in the results of their SEO efforts.

There are also interesting and informative quotes from prominent Google SEO and Search spoke-persons that contradict much of the popular advice.

Ahrefs says, “Google ranks web pages, not websites”, which is a significant point.

Google Search is constantly Evolving

Google Search is not static and is constantly evolving. It is noticeable that Search works differently now than it did 5 or 10 years ago.

Some well-known SEO sites have quantified and listed 200 Google ranking factors. These detailed breakdowns have tended to add to the mysticism and overwhelmingness of Google SEO rather than explain or clarify.

It is possible to rank in Google searches without many of the mandatory prerequisites many sites tout.

The fundamental difficulty lies in whether you get included in search results or don’t. The overwhelming majority don’t, and many SEO articles fail to clarify this. And then, there is further intricacy in the great variety of included results, and the reasons for their inclusion do not appear uniform. Google Search Algorithm seems to function and behave organically and fluidly.

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