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Part 1 I How do search engines actually work?

September 27, 2021

In the first part of our series on search marketing, we explain how search engines work, how much Google personalizes the results and present alternatives.

“Let’s google!” When we need information quickly, we type a few words into the search bar and pages of results appear. The word “googling” has already entered the dictionary. We use search engines every day, for all areas of life, and rely on them to provide us with the information we need in real time.

The immense power of Google

Even though there are numerous other search engines: When we talk about them, we mostly mean Google with good reason. In the mobile sector, according to Statista (as of May 2021), Google has more than 90 % of the market share of all current search queries worldwide and is the biggest player in the digital sector in this respect. Including all the existing digital offerings and YouTube, Google is even the largest digital player worldwide with nearly $182 billion in revenue in 2020, of which $147 billion was generated by Google Ads alone. In addition, Google also has the world’s largest mobile operating system with Android. All in all, this is an immense “data power”. Nevertheless, few people know about the history of Google and its powerful algorithms. The company name Google is derived from the term “Googol”. This is a 1″ with a hundred zeros, also called “ten sexdecillions”. This shall symbolize an unimaginably large number, because Google manages to continuously crawl and index billions of websites with approximately 200 variables.

Search results in just three steps

Google works on the basis of three processes: The finding and recording of websites, the creation of an index for these websites, and the evaluation and classification of these sites. The first two processes create a kind of map of the entire publicly accessible web – a “mammoth task”! The third process, the rating, ensures that we get search results that are as appropriate as possible. Usually, we are just interested in the results on the first page. The art, in other wordes, is here to “rank” well – more about that in another part of this series.

Google Bot and PageRank

First of all, so-called crawlers are used to capture pages. The best known one is the “Google Bot“. This crawler examines links on each page, which in turn refer to other pages. And from these pages it continues to all other linked pages until the majority of the visible Internet is captured in its entirety. The more and the higher quality links (more of it in part 2) exist, the better a website is ranked in the so-called “PageRank”. By the way, this word goes back to the inventor of this idea, Larry Page. The recording of this “link popularity” is the original idea of Google and its algorithm.

However, crawlers also deliver other relevant information to the Google servers, such as topics, page content, usability, and above all important key words. In a second step, Google creates a kind of index for each individual page: Google checks how often topics and terms occur, and how significant and meaningful the content is for searchers. The search engine algorithm then does not examine the entire web for a search query, but only the index of the web. The results are compared with various parameters such as language settings or geographical positions. Only Google has this immense data power to guide searchers – also geographically – to the appropriate offers.

Objective or personalized search results?

How much can we trust that we receive objective “result pages”? Nobody (with very few exceptions) knows the Google algorithm completely. It is clear that Google collects and evaluates all of our identifiable search queries for a lifetime. Google itself denies influencing Search Engine Result Pages (SERP) and asserts that only in exceptional cases the last search queries are included in the new search query (read here). For the purpose of personalized advertising, however, it is inevitable that Google recognizes our preferences. This is basically welcome, because nobody likes inappropriate ads. By the way, if you want to know how Google assesses you as a consumer and correct the data, if necessary, you can do so here.

Helpful tips for “browse in private”

“Browse in private” is possible, for example, by using the Chrome Incognito mode or private browsing via Firefox. Alternative search engines such as DuckDuckgo and Startpage (former Ixquick) advertise that they do not collect any user data. But beware: surfing and searching 100 % anonymously is not possible! For example, even when surfing with DuckDuckgo, Google knows where you end up if you use a browser that is linked to an account (user ID).

How we marketers can exploit the Google algorithm in our favor to make websites more findable, you will learn in our next post on “On- and Offpage Optimization”!



Dr. Georg Feldmann
Head of City of Vienna Competence Team for the Digitalization of Communication
Department of Communication
M: +43 690 40476118

Mag.a Melanie Gratzer
Coordinator Marketing Communications / Department of Communication
M: +43 690 40476 080


Image: © I Unsplash