What are search engines?

Search engines are a tool used to find information on the internet. There are about 2 billion websites and more than a trillion pages of information on the world wide web. It would be impossible to find anything without search engines. Google is the most popular search engine and is used in 92% of searches.

Google’s goal is to find the information you’re looking for based primarily on the few words you enter in the search box. To do that, it first needs to know what information is available. Then it assesses the usefulness of the different sites that provide the information you’re looking for, and provides what it believes to be the best results.

As an SEO agency we need to know how search engines work.

Definitions to help understand Google


A “bot” is a computer program that, once put into action, runs automatically. Google, and other search engines, use bots to read and assess web pages. The bots move from one page to the other, then on to the next site, continuously. This process is called “crawling”  so the bots are sometimes called crawlers or spiderbots (because they’re crawling a web.)

By comparing what they found the last time they completed a round of visits to their current round, they know which pages are new, which have disappeared, and which have changed.


Indexing is the way a search engine organizes the information that the crawlers find. It’s similar to an index at the end of a book, but far more detailed and sophisticated. There are many proprietary and “trade secret” techniques that Google and other companies have for indexing. They are primarily looking at on-page signals, including words, phrases, headings, and image descriptions, as well as context, links, and other indicators of the topics covered and the quality of the information.


A query is the term users put into Google search. These queries are often keywords that are really important to businesses because they can have tens of thousands of searches a month. A term like “New York City Plumber” or “emergency plumbing near me” can be very valuable keywords for a plumbing company to rank highly for because people in that local area put in those queries all the time.

Search intent

For Google to provide the most appropriate results, it has to consider more than just the words in the search box. For example, if you type in “airlines that fly to Miami,” Google wants to know if you’re writing a report, want to sign up for a travel points card, or are looking to book a flight.

It uses four categories of searches to sort things out.

Informational intent

  • These searches are only to get information. The results might include a Wikipedia page all about vaccines, or a curated list of the top ten action movies.

Navigational intent

  • These are queries used to locate a specific page, like your online banking login page.

Commercial intent

  • These are searches people make in order to learn more about a product or service so that they can make a purchasing decision. Examples are “best webcam”, or “lawyer near me.”

Transactional intent

  • Also known as “action queries,” these are the types of searches people make when they want to buy right now. Examples are “buy flowers online” or “New York City to Vancouver BC flights.”

When a search engine is able to understand the different types of searches, it’s able to provide the searcher with more useful results. As explained above, on-page signals (maximized by SEO) are what help Google figure out what your site is about and what users can do there.

For more information to learn about search intent click here.

Where your website ranks in the search results depends on what Google thinks the searcher wants or wants to do, but also many other factors that tell Google about the quality of your site.

Learn more about ranking

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