How do Search Engines work?

Have you ever wondered how Google works? When you do a search in Google, how does it work out what to show you? How does Google make their money? These are all important questions for search engine optimisation. After all, if you understand how Google works and what they are trying to do, then you also have a better understanding of what you should be doing to get your website ranked. NB: Where we use Google you can swap this with Bing or Yahoo, we just use Google because it is by far the biggest search engine.

How does Google make their money?

This is the best place to start as by understanding how they make money will help understand what is important to them and therefore what they are trying to do.

Google makes the majority of their money from advertising (between 80-90%). The bulk of this revenue is from what is known as Adwords. When someone does a search in Google they are shown a list of website links (SERP) that Google believes best suits their search and part of this page are a few related Adwords (those top 3 and side column listings). If these ads are clicked, Google charges the advertiser an amount per click. Across the internet, there are billions of adwords being shown with billions of clicks making Google money.

So what does this mean to us?

It means that for Google to continue making money through Adwords, they need as many people as possible using their search engine for finding information on the internet. They don't want people deciding to use Bing instead, as then they will never see their Adwords. So to ensure we keep using Google, they need to make sure that they deliver the best possible results when we do a search. We need to have a list of websites that will answer our questions or show us the best product or service for what we need. If they show spammy websites with no decent content, then we will become frustrated and may move to Bing. So it is in Googles' best interest to keep improving their search engine so it will always show the best possible results. Once again, the same can be said for Bing and Yahoo.

How do Search Engines find and rank websites?


Crawling is where the search engines send out software programs (called spiders or crawlers) onto the internet to search for content. These crawlers will then read through the content to work out what that content is about. This is where onsite optimnisation helps. These crawlers will follow all links etc to uncover as much content as they can. They also never stop and will re-crawl the same content regularly.


Indexing is where the search engines decide how good the content is for particular search terms and then rank it accordingly. This is then filed onto their servers under that search term at whatever rank they decide it should be. The program that a search engine uses to rank content is called an Algorithm. They are continually developing this Algorithm to get the best search results that they can. These Algorithms take into account 100s of different factors (or signals) and the impacts of these are kept secret to prevent unscrupulous SEO people from trying to get high rankings with poor techniques (eg. spammy links).

Search Results

So when we do a search on a search engine, it simply goes to its' servers and retrieves a list of content that it has already filed under that term.

Why you shouldn't game a search engine.

Firstly, by "game a search engine" I mean how do you trick a search engine to help you rank high. This is also often referred to as Black Hat Optimisation (as opposed to White Hat).

The most common method used is spammy link building. By spammy we mean links coming to your site from unnatural methods. Search Engines assume that when someone links to your website it is because they rate your content highly and want to share it. Unfortunately this has lead to dodgy SEO practices where they try to get as many links to your site as possible through spammy techniques. These spammy techniques generally fall into 2 main areas:

  • Spam Comments - where they go and make as many comments in as many different blogs etc as they can with links back to your website. In most cases, these comments make no sense and don't even relate to the article.
  • Spam Websites and Articles - this is where they build spammy websites or submit spammy articles to other blogs etc just so they can link back to their website. A lot of this content has gone through an Article Spinner where an article is mixed up and words swapped out with synonyms etc by a software program to make many different versions of the same article. As you can guess, they generally don't make much sense.

The problem is we still see websites using these techniques ranking very high.

So if it works, why not do it yourself?

The reason we don't use or recommend this method is that sooner or later you will be found out. Google and other search engines are fully aware that this is going on and are continually developing their algorithms to stop it having an impact on their rankings. In some cases they will even do a manual review if they hear about a particular website. When this happens, your website will suddenly drop way down the rankings or even out of them completely. So all that time, energy and money you spent is now completely wasted. Not to mention, your business is now in real trouble due to falling leads and sales.

Find out more about Search Engine Optimisation.

Probity Web Marketing Newsletter

Learn tips & tricks to get the most out of the internet for your business. Keep up to date with changes in Google etc and find out some of our proven strategies we have developed over 10+ years.