Major Functions of Search Engine (How Search Engines Work)

Anyone who’s ever looked up anything online has likely wondered how search engines work their magic and how they always deliver exactly what we are looking for.

There is a significant communication platform between your target audience and the website: Search Engines. They allow users to find your website by searching for specific keywords, thus enabling the flow of visitors to you.

Considering a user’s standpoint, search engines are nothing less than a miracle. You must input a query into the address bar, and the www (World Wide Web) results are ranked and sorted within seconds. 

Most sought-after search engines like Google and Bing have already started offering answers directly within the search results, which saves time and clicks. How do search engines work? Before we get to that, let us know what a search engine is. 

What is a Search Engine?

A search engine is a keystone of the internet. For many, it’s their starting point whenever they open a web browser. You can use a search engine if you need to know the exact address of a website you want to visit or the actual website you want to look for.

At its heart, a search engine is just an internet-based computer program. This program has 3 main functions: it collects enormous amounts of information about what is on the internet, categorizes that information, and helps users search through that categorized information.

A search engine is a repository of content that can be searched via the World Wide Web. When users type a keyword or any phrase into a search engine, they get a list of web results in the form of images, websites, videos, and all other online information—the SERP (Search Engine Result Page) is the source of the fetching a list of content searches in the query response.

One of the search engine components is a web crawler/ spider that crawls the web for content that is auxiliary to the search engine page’s index. When a user generates a query on a search engine, relevant results are fetched based on the search engine’s algorithm.

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How do Search Engines Perform?

Search engines solely rely on automated algorithms, i.e., web crawlers. They crawl for credible links on every page and tab of the search engine and send an identical page for the SERPs. The search engines must distinguish and comprehend the requested information before presenting it to the users. The web crawlers extract sound, relevant, and correct information. 

As the internet is a hub of an enduring archive of uncountable data and files, search engines, via web crawlers, eventually sort, trace, hoard, and rank the content and information. That’s why so many businesses invest in SEO and PPC to improve their website’s search engine ranking. 

Also Read: What is SEO in Digital Marketing? Beginners Guide 2024

Functions of Search Engine

The internet is a permanent repository of valuable data and information. Search engines offer a platform for sorting, locating, storing, and appropriately ranking the value of specific information on the Internet. Google, Bing, and Yahoo search for appropriate information and offer it to the user. 

It is vital to illuminate the major and universal functions of search engines to understand their impact effectively.

1. Crawling

Crawling is the foundation of search engines. It locates the requested content and information within milliseconds and has all the algorithms to identify data and stats from any point of its publication. 

Crawlers have the potential to search from a wide range of websites and also present tons of information concurrently. While it searches and reviews the current and already-established websites, the crawlers explore all sorts of data, including keywords, page speed, URLs, active videos, codes, etc. 

2. Indexing

Indexing is purely related to data syncing. Once the crawlers have reviewed the data, the search engine segregates the collected information into different segments. 

It also includes the data bifurcation for positive and negative ranking signals and saves it in the correct compartment of online servers. Note that your website must be indexed to get a SERPs display. 

Both crawling and indexing are simultaneous and continuous sequences. It keeps the information and data relevant to be exhibited as a potential search query.  

3. Ranking

The ranking is directly connected with indexing, as the search engine also starts ranking the hyperlinks during indexing. It considers various factors such as quality, relevancy, and authenticity of the content with the end-user. Eventually, it creates a set of results and hyperlinks for the users. 

We have multiple search engine options apart from the few big ones, and all search engines illustrate different results on identical keywords or phrases. The reason is each search engine’s algorithms and crawlers work differently. 

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How do Search Engine Algorithms Work?

Search engine algorithms inspect multiple factors and signals to identify the best match for a user query. This includes examining the content’s relevance to the words the user types, the page’s usability, the user’s location, what other users found helpful for the specific query, etc.

Google’s ranking algorithm contemplates more than 255 rules before making a decision. Search engines use AI and machine learning to decide based on parameters inside and outside the boundaries of a web page’s content.

Below is the simplified process of how search engine algorithms work:

1. Analyze User Query

In the first step, search engines understand what kind of information the user is looking for. They analyze the user’s query, i.e., search terms, by breaking it down into several meaningful keywords.

For example, when you type “How to prepare a vanilla cake,” search engines understand from the words how-to that you are looking for information on how to prepare a vanilla cake, and thus the returned results that contain cooking websites with recipes.

If you search for “Buy solid wood table,” search engines know from the words buy and solid wood table that you are looking to buy a solid wood table and the returns results, including e-commerce websites and online shops.

Search engines are smart enough to clarify spelling mistakes, understand plurals, and extricate the meaning of a query from written or verbal language in the case of Voice search.

2. Finding Matching Pages

The next step is to look into their index and determine which pages give the best answer for a given query, an important stage in the entire process for search engines and webmasters. 

Search engines must return the best possible results as quickly as possible to keep their users happy, whereas webmasters want their websites to be picked up so that they can receive visits and traffic.

This is also the stage where good SEO techniques influence algorithm decisions.

To give you an idea of how matching works, below are the significant factors:

  • Title and Relevancy of the Content – How relevant are the page titles and content to the user query?
  • Content Type – If the user asks for images, the returned results contain images only.
  • Content Quality – Content must be thorough, helpful, unbiased, informative, and cover both sides of a story.
  • Website Quality – Typically, the overall quality of a website matters. Google won’t display pages from websites that don’t meet its quality standards.
  • Date of Publication – Google wants to show the latest results for news-related queries, so the publication date is also considered.
  • Popularity of a Page – This does not have to do with how much traffic a website has but how other sites perceive the page. A page with many references, i.e., backlinks from other sites, is more popular than pages without links.
  • Language of the Page – Users are provided with pages in their language, which is not always English.
  • Webpage Speed – Websites that load fast have a slight advantage over slow websites.
  • Device Type – Users browsing on mobile are offered mobile-friendly pages.
  • Location – Users looking for results in their area, i.e., “House for rent in Bangalore,” are shown results related to their location.

3. Present the Results to the Users

Search results, typically known as SERPs, are presented in an ordered list. Depending on the nature of the query, the layout of SERPs includes several elements, such as organic listings, featured snippets, paid ads, knowledge graphs, rich snippets, and more.

For example, a search for a particular news item might bring up current news articles, while a query for a local restaurant displays a map with nearby locations.

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How Search Engines Rank Results?

How Search Engines Rank Results

Not every search engine ranks content similarly. Some have similar ranking algorithms. Google search and other search engines rank relevant results based on the following criteria:

1. Backlinks

Page links are links from one website or medium to another. They are among the most influential and successful factors in improving your business’s search engine ranking. What matters in backlinks is the quality. 

2. Relevance

Usually, search engines look after 2 types of relevance: 

  • Primarily, they compare the page keywords with the search query.
  • Secondly, they also compare the interactions of previous users. For example, determine whether the previous user achieved the desired result with the same query.

3. Freshness 

It is a dependent ranking factor and significantly more impactful for queries that demand instant results. 

4. Language

Search engines rank websites supporting multiple languages to cater to diverse users.

Search engines use other website performance metrics, such as bounce rate and time spent on a page, to decide where websites rank on a results page. For the same term searched, search engines might return different results for text-based content versus an image or video search.

5. Page Speed

Page speed is a ranking factor on mobile and desktop. However, it’s more of a negative ranking factor than a positive one because it negatively affects the slowest pages rather than positively affects lightning-fast pages.

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What is the Goal of Search Engines?

A search engine’s primary goal is to help people find information. It is designed to provide people with the correct information based on criteria such as relevance and quality.

Webpages and website providers use search engines to make money and collect data about searchers, such as clickstream data. These secondary goals require users to trust that the content they get on a SERP is enough to engage with. Users must see that the information they get is correct.

User trust can be earned in several ways, including the following:

  • Organic Results: Unpaid, organic results are trustworthy compared to paid, ad-based results.
  • Authority: Google seeks to establish a web page’s authority to identify it as the source of accurate information.

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FAQs on Search Engine Functions

1. How do search engines work?

Search engines perform three crucial functions that enable them to deliver the most relevant results to your queries:
Crawling: Scour the internet for content review the content for every URL they find.
-Indexing: Store and organize the content obtained during the crawling process. Once a web page is in the index, it is displayed to relevant queries.
Ranking: Offer the pieces of content that best answer a user’s query. That means the results are arranged from most relevant to least relevant.

2. What are the three steps a search engine works in?

A search engine uses 3 basic steps when searching for content: crawling, indexing, and ranking.

3. How does Google search actually work?

When you search, Google looks through billions of web pages and other content stored in the search index to find helpful information — more information than all of the world’s libraries. Most of our search indexes are built through the work of software known as crawlers.


Search engines are pivotal in interconnection between people, businesses, and computers. Understanding search engine functions can seem perplexing, as the underlying mechanics involve a complex interaction of many different elements. 

From the search operator that interprets your typed query to the array of content types, a search engine sifts through to find relevant content, and a lot happens behind the scenes of your simple Google search.

Whether deciphering complex queries to provide the most relevant query results or generating an appropriate image for search engines to display, search engines work relentlessly to connect users to the information they seek.

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  • Puja Sutar

    Puja Sutar is a proficient Content Writer at WsCube Tech. She holds B.Tech. in Electronics & Communication, and M.Tech. in VLSI Design. Her passion for technology and communication is evident in her insightful articles that simplify complex concepts for readers. Puja's writing is a valuable resource for tech enthusiasts and learners alike.