How Do Search Engines Rank Web Pages?

Search Engine search bar


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Search engines are extraordinarily complicated. Basically, search engines exist to connect users with information. There is an amazingly huge amount of information out there on the Web, with more being added every single day. How do search engines connect this vast array of information with users who are looking for something in a meaningful way? It's a complex process involving a wide variety of factors, and this process evolves as technology — and the way we use search engines — changes over time.

How Search Engines Retrieve Search Results

We've all used search engines, without giving much thought to what's going on behind the scenes as we see our results retrieved within a matter of milliseconds. Search engines do this by analyzing words and other content on web pages, placing special emphasis on words that appear on specific locations on the web page: the title or "meta title," headlines, image attributes, overall content emphasis, outbound and inbound links, etc.

Every search engine can offer a drastically different experience to the user, and there are major differences depending on where you’re located geographically. For example, search engines that are in both English and German-speaking countries offer both English and German language descriptions of search results. It's amazing to think about how different people all over the world will view the same search results, presented in different ways depending on in which geographical region they might reside in.

Social Signals and Search Results

More and more, search engines are also looking at social media signals that contribute to the site’s overall authority; that is, if a website is linked to from Twitter, or is mentioned on LinkedIn or Pinterest, this is just another signal that gives search engine intuitive clues about what that site is attempting to convey. Social media signals also help in online discovery, as you have probably seen on many of your favorite websites, which integrate social sharing buttons. For example, you might have been invited to share a web page that you found on Facebook or Twitter. Some search engines give a heavier weight to social signals than others.

Relevancy and Search Results

When a searcher types what he or she is looking for into a search engine’s search field, the search engine attempts to match those words — or what it thinks that the user intends to look for — with signals and words from the vast number of web pages that it has analyzed, delivering a list of matches that are organized from what that particular search engine recognizes from most relevant to least relevant. This does not necessarily coincide with what the user deems most relevant; however, the websites placed at the top of the results are the ones that the search engine has ranked according to a wide variety of criteria, including how many other people have actually found that page valuable by clicking on it.

The vast majority of people who search for something via a search engine don’t go past the first page of search results. In fact, studies have shown that the first five to seven search results are the ones that get clicked on the most. More clicks mean more page views, more page exposure, more revenue, and a greater recognition of authority in whatever field the site might be placed in. Obviously, getting a front page search result is an optimal target for anyone who’s looking to get their product, application, or website in front of the people who are interested in it.

This process is much more complicated than the scope of this article; suffice it to say that search engines rank results according to a complex set of factors that work together to bring searchers relevant results that are as relevant as possible to what the searcher is looking for. This process is not perfect; we all know that there are times when our search results are completely off-base, and we have to continue to filter and tweak our search queries to drill down to what we're looking for.