Search engines have become an indispensible aspect of modern life. But most of us don’t have a clue about how they actually work. I’m just guessing you don’t want to dive into complex mathematical algorithms. That’s ok. You just need a high-level understanding of the basics. So let’s look at the three major components that power search engines, and the general approach to “spoon feeding” them so they understand our content and rank us the way we want.
You’ve likely heard of search engine “spiders” that crawl around the web looking for content. These are actually bits of computer code that find information on a web page, “read” it, and then tirelessly continue along their journey by following links from your page to other pages. The spider periodically returns looking for changes to the original page, which means there are always opportunities to modify the way a search engine sees and evaluates your content down the road. If for any reason the spider can’t see your content, or doesn’t understand what it’s about, your page can’t be indexed and ranked. This is why Chris Pearson created the Thesis Theme for WordPress, and why he obsesses over making it better. Clean, fast-loading code matters.
The spider is not just casually browsing content, it’s storing it in a giant database. This is called indexing. The spider’s goal is to save every bit of content it crawls for the future benefit of searchers. It’s also gauging how relevant that content is to the words that searchers use when they want to find an answer to something.
The final critical aspect of search technology is the way the engine decides to deliver the most relevant results to searchers. This is accomplished by jealously-guarded algorithmic functions. That’s a fancy way of saying that search software follows a complex set of rules. These are the ground rules for a duel between your content and other content that might satisfy a searcher’s keyword query.