Have you ever wondered how search engines operate? They provide us with so many answers, whether they're a general search or vertical, and there's so much information on the internet for them to sift through.
A search engine, no matter how simple or complex, really only has a few basic functions:
How it does all of this, of course, depends on how it was built. At Yext, we're confident that a powerful search engine is a key to a successful online company.
These relatively simple functions provide search engines with content to analyze and provide to users based on their search entries and the reliability of the content.
In this article, we'll talk about what search engines do in detail, what an index is and how you can optimize your search engine results by making sure you're doing everything right.
How Do Search Engines Index Websites?
As we said, search engines have three primary steps: crawl, index, and rate.
Each one of these steps is a constant process due to the overwhelming and regularly expanding amount of information on the internet. But that's what we rely on search engines for, providing the highest quality content regarding our search query.
So what are they?
What is a Search Engine Crawler?
Crawling is the process of sending small collection programs, called crawlers to newly created websites. The crawlers begin with a home page, then follow every link on the page until it's seen everything the website has to offer.
They collect data on written content, images, videos, even links to other websites and create a web of interconnecting pages. By following every link on a website, the crawlers can constantly find and index new websites as most pages rarely exist without any external links.
Crawlers are the first level of assessing and filtering quality data from the web. They use all of the data attributes they can find to determine whether the content is reliable, up to date, and worth adding to the index.
If you have a new website and want to make sure that a specific search engine crawls your content, you can submit a sitemap instead of waiting for the crawlers to look for you naturally.
What is a Search Index?
Unless the search engine is brand new, it already has an index that's being filled every second, and it's massive.). So the crawlers collect as much quality data as they can and send it all back to the index — essentially a library of every piece of data the crawlers can find, which can be up to billions of websites.
A second level of spam filtering goes on in the index to reduce the amount of low quality or damaging content, but content ranking, which determines whether or not your page ends up on someone's first search result page, is the next step.
What is Search Results Ranking?
Search result ranking separates advanced search engines and basic ones because there are levels of complexity they can use to rate pages.
When a user enters a search request into the engine, it combs all of the information stored in the index. A simplistic search engine may only use keywords and match the content that has similar words in it with the words the user used in their search.
But recently search engines have been expanding how they rank the content in their index.
Using multi-layered algorithms search engines like Yext Answers cross-examine the user's search history, similar users' search histories, metadata within content and reliability factors on the pages. This could include how many linked websites it contains vs. how many other websites refer to this specific page.
How to Optimize Your Website for Indexing
The crawlers inspect every element of your page and feed that to the index, so in order to optimize your website's rank you need to address a few important keys that the crawlers look for.
Back before 2009, there were meta keywords — words that developers could include in their HTML code that wouldn't necessarily be visible to the viewer but would boost the page's relatability to specific searches by raising the number of matches to the user's search.
However, people took advantage of meta keywords and started blasting their code and pages with the same words over and over. At the time search engines would put a lot of value on how many matches your page had with the search query, so there were a lot of unreliable websites that would pop up on the first page of a search just because the developers stuffed the code with matching keywords.
This changed when all of the major search engines decided to collectively abandon meta keywords altogether and focus on a combination of metadata, website content and internal references.
This means that it's more important than ever to make sure that your page is full of the content that you say that it is, and that your content is honest and reliable. OtherwiseOtherwise, the search engines will pass you over as spam, and you won't end up in the index.
While meta keywords were one form of meta data that were dropped by search engines, they still use other meta tags when indexing and rating webpages.
The two most regularly analyzed and easy to use meta tags are meta titles and meta descriptions.
Meta Titles: These are the headlines and titles of every page within your site. Whether they're article names, product headers, or home page titles, Crawlers check these to make sure that your content is what you say it is and not just clickbait. Further down the road, search engines will use these tags to determine whether or not your content is an accurate answer to a user's search.
Meta Descriptions: You've probably read meta descriptions before without thinking too much of them. When you're on the first results page of your search and see a list of potential websites, the meta description is the short summary of the content on the page.
Search engines employ their complex algorithms to analyze your content and metadata and determine how highly to rate your content based on the user's search query.
Submit For Indexing
If you want your page to be indexed sooner than later and you have all of your content ready and tagged, you can simply submit yourself to the major search engines for indexing.
This may seem simple, and it doesn't mean that you'll be crawled and successfully indexed immediately, but if your content needs to be available as soon as possible, this is an easy way to jumpstart the process.
Make Sure Your Content is Available
It's important to ensure that when the crawlers do come to your site for potential indexing, they're able to access all of the data you want them to.
Web pages that require customers to log in or answer a question before entering will have a hard time being indexed because the crawlers can't get past those walls. For example, an online tobacco or alcohol store asking for a user's age.
Another thing to keep in mind is that crawlers will acknowledge and catalogue images as images and text as text. So if you have inserted images that include text headers such as banners or buttons, always make sure to image tags and alt tags in your HTML so that the crawlers can find them.
As any SEO will tell you, optimizing your website to be crawled and indexed as successfully as possible is incredibly valuable today.
Making sure that your content is high quality and reliable is essential when the crawlers come to search over your data. Create unique but related meta tags for every page so that your information stands out, not just to the index, but to the users as well.
At Yext we believe that anyone with the right content, tools, and information can use search to benefit their business.