4 September 2020

How Google Search really works

We all use Google.

The search engine processes 40,000 queries a second. That’s 3.5 billion every single day.

But how many of us actually understand how it works?

In reality, the process of working out which results to display starts long before you start typing a query. Here’s how it happens:

1. Cataloguing the internet

There are more than a billion websites on the internet. Many have hundreds — or even thousands — of pages.

That’s a lot of digital real estate to sift through.

Of course, Google doesn’t just calculate results from scratch each time — that’d be like asking a librarian to find you a specific book without using any kind of filing system.

Instead, before you search, Google has already catalogued information from all those webpages and compiled them in its Search index.

2. Matching your search

Having indexed all that information, Google responds to your query in a fraction of a second to find the most relevant, useful results.

Relevance is important here. “How to change a light bulb” might sound like a simple query. But the word “change” could mean “replace”, “exchange” or even “adjust”.

Before it displays results, Google first needs to understand the intent behind your search.

3. Presenting the results

Down the years, Google has developed multiple ways to present search results.

It strives to always use the most useful format for a given query, which means your results could be displayed in a range of formats, including:

  • A map with directions
  • A featured snippet that gives a quick answer to your question, plus a link to the site that answered it
  • A rich list of multiple relevant results, such as “Australian writers” or “sports teams in New South Wales”

4. Selling ads, not search results

While brands can bid to display ads in clearly marked parts of the results page, they can’t simply pay to rank more highly.

That means (in theory, at least) that there are no shortcuts to the top. Sites that find loopholes in Google’s rules might enjoy short-term success, but they’ll be found out sooner or later.

5. Enhancing the user experience

Google is constantly striving to improve. Its engineers carry out hundreds of thousands of tests every year, on everything from the way search results look to the way websites are assessed.

In 2019 alone, it ran almost 500,000 such experiments and introduced over 3,500 improvements as a result.

Have more questions about Google rankings or need help optimising your website’s SEO? Get in touch with us today!

Related articles