How Do Search Engines Function

October 5, 2017

By: Jordan Steen

A Search Engine is a software program that searches for sites based on the words that you use as search terms. Search engines look through their massive databases of information in order to provide search results that are as relevant as possible with regards to a given search query.

Are Search Engines and Directories The Same Thing?

Search engines and Web directories are not the same things; though the term “search engine” is frequently used interchangeably.

Search engines repeatedly create website listings by using spiders. The spider is used to “crawl” web pages, index their information, and follow that site’s links to other pages. Spiders return to already-crawled sites on a regular basis in order to check for updates or changes. Everything these spiders find on websites or related links goes into the search engine database.

A spider, also known as a “robot” or a “crawler”, is actually just a program that follows or “crawls” through website content. It also links throughout the Internet, taking content from sites and adding it to search engine indexes.

Spiders only can tail links from one page to another and from one site to another. That is the main reason why links to your site (inbound links) are so essential. Links to your website from other websites will provide the search engine spiders more “food” to chomp on and are even more effective when they come from sites of authority in an industry.

The more times they find links to your site, the more times they will stop by and visit your site. Google particularly depends on its spiders to create their massive index of listings.

Spiders find web pages by following links from other web pages, but users can also submit web pages straight to search engines or directories and request a visit by their spiders.

It’s a good idea to manually submit your site to a human-edited directory. Submit it to Yahoo, and usually, spiders from other search engines (such as Google) will find it and add it to their database. It can be useful to submit your URL directly to all of the different search engines as well, but spider-based engines will typically pick up your site irrespective of whether or not you’ve submitted it to search engines. **NOTE: It takes MUCH longer for search engines to do this without a submission**

How Do Search Engines Process Searches?

Search engines are not simple. They require very detailed processes and methodologies to perform effectively and are updated all the time. This is a look at how search engines work to recover your search results. All search engines go by this simple process when conducting search processes, but because there are variances in search engines, there are bound to be different results depending on which engine you use.

What Happens After You Click Search

  1. The searcher types a query into a search engine.
  2. The search engine software quickly skims through millions of pages in its database to find the most relevant matches to this query based on keywords used.
  3. The search engine’s results are placed in order of relevancy given the specific search results.

BONUS: Here’s an AWESOME guide on using Google Search Effectively.

Types of Search Engines

When you think of a search engine you probably almost always think Google or Yahoo, right? Well, the truth of the matter is that Google and Yahoo only represent one of the types of search engines available. Here are the different types of search engines…


  • Crawlers are the most common search engine. (Google, Yahoo, Bing)
  • They usually provide the best quality for search results
  • Sites are submitted to the search engine or are crawled organically over time


  • Directories are the next most common type of search engine
  • ALL articles are reviewed by a human editor to ensure quality


  • This is a combination of a Crawler and a Directory site.
  • Allows you to select between the directory search or standard “crawler” search


  • These search engines actually look at all of the search engines in the market and combine the best search results for them all.

This Article is PART 1 in the beginner’s guide to SEO mini-series. Just click the link to check out the entire series on our website!

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