Search Engines: An SEO Focused Intro to How They Work (So You Can Game Them To Your Benefit)

Search Engines: An SEO Focused Intro to How They Work (So You Can Game Them To Your Benefit)

Most of us associate “search engine” with Google.

After all, Google receives more than 63,000 searches per SECOND.

And “the internet” is what most people think of when they search for something on Google.

However, the results you see are only those that Google has discovered and wishes to include.

Google does not contain the majority of the internet. Why? Because:

Google does not support it (ex: websites doing illegal things)
Google dislikes it (ex: a website that Google sees as providing no value)
The website does not want to be there (and thus informs the crawler, “Hey, don’t include me”).
As a result, these websites are “unsearchable.”

They are not discoverable through a search engine. To access them, you must know the exact website address.

Fun fact: It is estimated that 96–99% of the internet is “Deep Web.”

In this article we are going to talk about what a search engine actually is, how it works, and we will even cover the most popular search engine types & search engine companies.

Table Of Contents

  1. What is a Search Engine?
  2. How do Search Engines Work?
  3. An Example of How A Search Engine Works
  4. Search Engine Algorithms
  5. How A Traditional Search Engine Algorithm Works
  6. Non Traditional Search Engines
  7. Examples of Search Engine Algorithms

  8. Crawler Based Search Engines

  9. Examples of Crawler Based Search Engines
  10. Directory Search Engines
  11. Meta Search Engines
  12. Examples of Meta Search Engines
  13. Hybrid Search Engines
  14. Map Search Engines
  15. Examples of Map Search Engines
  16. Multimedia / Image Search Engines
  17. Examples of Multimedia Search Engines
  18. Voice Search Engines
  19. Examples of Voice Search Engines
  20. Shopping Search Engines
  21. Examples of Shopping Search Engines
  22. A List of Popular Search Engines
  23. Google
  24. YouTube
  25. Bing
  26. Yahoo
  27. Amazon
  28. Baidu
  29. Ask
  30. Facebook
  31. AOL
  32. Duck Duck Go

  33. How Do Search Engines Make Money?

  34. Final Thoughts
  35. Ready to learn the really profitable stuff??

What Is A Search Engine?

Search Engine Definition: An internet search engine, or web search engine, is a web-based software designed to conduct & carry-out an internet search (performed by a user) on the “World Wide Web” based on a set of rules (called an algorithm) that is intended to bring back a page of search results (called a SERP, for Search Engine Results Page) that the algorithm “believes” will help answer the users search query (aka question).

Wow that was a mouthful.

Basically, it’s a program that brings back a bunch of websites it thinks will be the absolute best fit to satisfy the reason you typed in your search query in the first place.

So, when you Google “How to make a grilled cheese sandwich” the search engine is going to look through it’s entire index (like the digital version of a library) and give you a bunch of recipes, videos, pictures, etc.

It doesn’t know EXACTLY what you want to know about making a grilled cheese sandwich, so it will show you what it “believes” (they don’t actually have beliefs) will be a good variety of resources that will help you solve your problem.

How Do Search Engines Work?

Search engines compete with one another.
Yahoo, like Google, is its own company, and Bing is its own company; they do not collaborate to determine how a search engine should function.
They are competitors.
So, each search engine has a “secret formula” (extremely complex mathematical calculations called an algorithm) that the company has created that it believes will deliver the best search results.
Why? Because their clients are internet searchers.
You will return if they consistently produce good results.
I gave up on Yahoo a long time ago because it stinks. When I search for something, I never find what I’m looking for.
To make matters even more complicated, these businesses are constantly innovating. They constantly update their algorithms in order to improve the results, so we (the general public) never really know how it works.

An Example Of How A Search Engine Works

Let me give you an example to illustrate how a search engine works, but also give you a little diatribe about why the thing that powers my entire agency (it is named SERP Co, after all) is actually one giant extortion machine.

Disclaimer: This is an educational rant, but I will try to keep it short.

Search engines crawl around the World Wide Web by following hyperlinks (aka “links”).

A link is that clickable thing that takes you somewhere else. Here is an example of a link to SERP Co.

As they follow links they read everything they can from the page.

They read the HTML, the CSS, Javascript, etc.

So, when you see this:

They see this:

As they are reading the page they begin to form an “understanding” about what the website as a whole (and the specific pages on it) are about.

When they crawl around & read our website, they can understand they we are a digital marketing company (it says it prominently in the HTML of our home page title tag, and also as the main heading (called an

) on the front page).

After the search engine forms an understanding about your website it will “file it away” in a large database, called an Index, that acts like a digital library of all the websites on the internet (that it has crawled).

So, when you perform a search on a search engine, the search engine does not go out and quickly crawl the entire web for answers, it simply looks up in its own database to find the closest match to your search query.

Search Engine Algorithms

So, you want to know how search engines work, huh?

How A Traditional Search Engine Algorithm Works

If you search for “digital marketing company in los angeles,” the search engine will look through its already formed index and find all the websites that it has previously crawled, categorized, and included in its index that are relevant to your search.
It will then return ALL of the results.
However, each page of search results can only contain ten organic listings.
As a result, the search engine must decide “who should I show first, second, third, and so on.”
This is done using a wide range of search engine ranking factors that assist the search engine in determining who is the “best” or “most relevant” result.
This is where the algorithm comes in — the set of rules that determines how a search engine understands and prioritizes your website.

Non Traditional Search Engines

Colloquially when we say “search engine” most people think of text based search, like (a crawler based search engine).

That would be the example we just gave above.

However, with the continual progression of technology we have seen many more types of search engines (and thus search engine algorithms) arise.

Basically, anything you “search on” is a search engine — but it does not necessarily have the same algorithm as the text based search engine.

Let’s get into some examples.

Examples Of Search Engine Algorithms

Crawler Based Search Engines

Crawler-based search engines find and categorize websites and webpages using software algorithms or programs.
They “crawl” (the digital equivalent of clicking on a link) these links from page to page and website to website, forming a massive “web” of relationships and categorizations.
As a result, these crawlers are referred to as “crawlers,” “spiders,” or “bots.”
Web crawlers visit websites, download them to their “index,” and then analyze the information to properly categorize it (and then display / serve it to a searcher looking for that type of information).
When a user searches for something, the search engine searches its “index” for relevant websites to which the user can be directed.
The end result of all these “spiders crawling around” is a massive, interconnected “web” known as the World Wide Web, also known as the internet.

Examples Of Crawler Based Search Engines

  • Google
  • Yahoo
  • Bing
  • Vivisimo
  • Dogpile
  • Altavista
  • Overture
  • HotBot
  • AlltheWeb
  • AOL
  • Blekko
  • Duck Duck Go
  • Excite
  • ExactSeek
  • ePilot
  • ICQ
  • iWon
  • Jayde
  • Kanoodle
  • Kosmix
  • LookSmart
  • Lycos
  • Netscape
  • Open Directory
  • 7Search
  • Teoma
  • WiseNut
  • Yebol

Directory Search Engines

A directory type of search engine has humans decide which categories the websites will belong to.

People manually add & organize the websites into categories, check the sites for quality, determine the ranking, etc. based on a pre-defined set of evaluations / rules.

Meta Search Engines

Meta search engines are like a search engine of search engine results — they take the search results from the other search engines and then combine these results into one aggregated results page.

Sound a little ridiculous? I think so too, for the most part.

Examples of Meta Search Engines

  • Clusty
  • DeeperWeb
  • Dogpile
  • Excite
  • Harvester42
  • HotBot
  • Ixquick
  • Kayak
  • LeapFish
  • Metacrawler
  • Mobissimo
  • Turbo10
  • WebCrawler
  • yolink

Hybrid Search Engines

Hybrid search engines are a mix of directory based search engines & crawler based search engines.

Map Search Engines

Map search engines help users find business locations on a map.

They usually combine user submitted data, algorithmic prioritization, street views from car video cameras, satellites, user reviews, etc.

Examples Of Map Search Engines

Multimedia / Image Search Engines

Image / Multimedia search allows multimedia to be searchable by using search queries in multiple data types.

Because computers are still learning how to understand what an image is, we can add other layers of data to our multimedia to help it understand, categorize, etc.

This additional data, called Metadata, can be things like text descriptions, links to other related content, or even additional “code markup”, from a set of descriptive standards, that tell the machines what the image/video/etc. actually is.

Read more (and bore yourself to death) at:

Examples Of Multimedia Search Engines

  • Bing Videos
  • blinkx
  • FindSounds
  • Google Images
  • Google Video
  • Picsearch
  • Podscope
  • ScienceStage
  • Songza
  • TV Genius
  • Veveo
  • TinEye
  • Yahoo! Video
  • YouTube

Voice Search Engines

Voice search allows us to speak to devices and get feedback in return.

You are probably familiar with this already.

Examples of Voice Search Engines

  • Amazon Alexa
  • Google Home
  • Apple’s Siri

Although, these still need a bit of work…

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Voice search just ain't what it u̶s̶e̶d̶ needs to be...Search Engine FLOPtimization--👋 Let's connect on social…]( "")

Shopping Search Engines

Shopping search engines help consumers find products.

The most obvious example is Amazon.

They are based off of their own algorithms, product uploads, user reviews, etc.

Examples Of Shopping Search Engines

  • Amazon
  • Ali Express
  • Bing Shopping
  • Google Shopping
  • ShopWiki
  • Shopzilla


Google is a multinational tech company that specializes in Internet-related products & services, including: online advertising, search engine technologies, cloud computing, software & hardware.

Google is the largest search engine on the internet, with over 90% market share.


YouTube is an video-sharing platform, originally founded by 3 former PayPal employees — Steve Chen, Jawed Karim & Chad Hurley in February 2005.

YouTube has over 1.5 billion logged in users every month, streaming 1,000,000,000 (billion) hours of video every day by users.

YouTube is now owned by Google, and is the 2nd largest search on the internet.


In 2009, Bing replaced “MSN Search” as Microsoft’s primary search engine, and their attempt to gain market share back from Google.

Bing ships on many PCs and is the default search engine for all machines running on the Windows OS


Founded in 1994, by Jerry Yang, and currently owned by Verizon Yahoo was one of the earliest search engines on the internet.

It’s popularity has continued to decline.


Amazon is an online shopping platform, founded by Jeff Bezos in 1995.

Amazon is a leading company in data & is considered one of the powerhouse companies fighting for control of search (having great success through their Amazon Alexa products).

More than half of ALL online shopping searches start on Amazon.


Baidu is a Chinese search engine / internet technology company, headquartered in Shanghai.

It’s basically the Chinese equivalent of Google.

Ask, originally called “Ask Jeeves”, was created as a website search-engine that could get answered to everyday questions, and return those answers back in natural language — as if you were actually asking someone an answer to your question.


Facebook is an online social media & social networking company.

As of June 2019, there are more than 2,410,000,000 world-wide active monthly users of Facebook.


Also acquired by Verizon, AOL is one of the original web based services.

Who still uses AOL as a search engine? I don’t personally know anyone — but my parents still have email addresses!

Duck Duck Go

DuckDuckGo is an internet search engine that emphasizes protecting searchers’ privacy and distinguishes itself by showing all users the same search results for a given search term — emphasizing returning the best search results, rather than the most results, from over 400 individual sources, including crowdsourced sites such as Wikipedia, and other search engines like Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex. As of August 2019, it had 44,196,092 daily direct searches on average. (source)

How Do Search Engines Make Money?

Search engines make money by serving advertisements in line with the “organic” results.

Companies can pay the search engine to “show up” on Page 1 by paying money to be there.

They also make money by putting affiliate links inside of search results.

Final Thoughts

Search engines are where (almost) everywhere goes now to get answers to their questions, recommendations of businesses, shop for products, learn new skills, etc.

They run our society & our markets.

If you are a business owner you need to have first page real estate for the products & services you sell, if you don’t you will be missing out on an astronomical amount of new business.

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