What is a Search engine? (and how do they work)

Search engines—what are they? Are they just Google? And perhaps more importantly, how do you show up on Google? When someone searches for the best schools in New York City, Why does one website show up as opposed to another? That’s exactly what we will be covering in this search engine introductory post.

What is a search engine?

A search engine is a tool that allows you to quickly locate information on the Internet. With that said, you might imagine that Google is the only search, but there are many others. Here are a few of the biggest search engines around.


Bing is owned by Microsoft. It’s Google’s biggest competitor.


Yahoo is one of the oldest search engines still around.


DuckDuckGo is one of the newer search engines. Their main feature is privacy. 


Yandex is Russia’s primary search engine.


Baidu is China’s primary search engine. 

The point here is that Google is not the only search engine. Below is an image of the market share per search engine.

Google used to dominate 94% of the market, now it’s 92. So you can see the competitors are climbing up the ranks. 

Regardless of which search engine is currently at the top, Good SEO practice works on every search engine.

Results are dynamic

Have you ever noticed that when you type different questions in google, the entire page can change the layout? That’s because the results are dynamic. Below we have an example of two searches, on the left, leaf blowers, and on the right, Clint Eastwood. 

On the leaf blowers SERP page, we see some product listing ads. And here we see what’s called the text adam a people also asked module and an organic listing.

But if we take a look at the SERP for  Clint Eastwood, (a person) you get a completely different result. 

Search engines are smart. They know what you’re expecting to see. They know that you expect to see products if you look for a product line. Similarly, if you type “food near me”, they’re not going to show you articles about food near you. They’re gonna show you a map to help you find food that is around your proximity. The point is, that different queries trigger different results.

How do search engines work?

Ok, but how do search engines work? Search engines work in three basic phases. Crawling, indexing and ranking, 


Search engines send out little bits of executable code onto the internet which we typically call spiders (get it? spiders on the web). These spiders follow every link on a page and then they follow every link on the next page, and so on and so on. 


Next, it indexes that information. Think of it as bringing that data back to the mothership; back home. It stored that data in a repository called an index. 


Finally, it uses its algorithm to organize that data and rank pages based on a given query.


So that’s how a search engine works. Of course, there is a lot more to it than that but that’s just the basics, and for most marketers and business owners, that’s all you really need to know. If you would like more information on SEO, please email MakerHub. We would love to hear your thoughts.