How Do Search Engines Work?

How Do Search Engines Work?

Search engines crawl websites for information, index and store the data, and then retrieve the most relevant and popular result specific to a user’s search query.


Most search engines crawl through the vast expanse of material on the internet through links. “Links allow the search engines’ automated robots, called ‘crawlers’ or ‘spiders,’ to reach the many billions of interconnected documents on the web,” says Moz’s Beginners SEO Guide.

Crawlers go through every accessible word and piece of code on every available webpage across the internet. They look at websites in much the same way a human would. This makes sense as search engines’ main goals are to try to “think” like humans would to provide the best results.


After crawling, search engine crawlers take the information and store them in massive databases that can processes information almost instantly. These databases contain information about website freshness, all the words on the page, the context of the page, links into and out of the page, and more. According to Google, “It’s like the index in the back of a book — with an entry for every word seen on every web page we index.”


Search engines work by retrieving the most relevant and popular results based on a user’s query. There are quite a few algorithms involved as well as machine learning and AI elements. However, these generally boil down to these three factors.


Most search engines’ goal is to provide the user with the best result based on what the user is asking of the search engine. Using a multitude of inputs, search engines try to present a list of the most relevant result for the user. For example, it tries to determine if a user searching “Chicago pizza” is looking for pizza in Chicago or a Chicago-style pizza place based on context clues, previous searches, and other AI factors. From there, it ranks these most relevant results in the list by popularity.


Popularity is a simple way of saying that search engines rank results based on what other users find to be the best result for that other similar queries. User signals like whether the searcher stays on the first site they choose or bounce back to the search page help tell search engines whether the result is actually useful for the searcher or not.


When search engines retrieve information they take into account multiple factors regarding the query. Algorithms help them sort through information quickly and present what their machines have learned is the best type of result based on what the user is looking for. According to Google’s overview, algorithms help with  all of the following:

  • analyze the searcher’s words
  • match the query to relevant content on the web
  • rank those pages based on the best results
  • take into consideration cues like the user’s location, and
  • give the best results–all in a few milliseconds.

Tracking Search Engine Traffic

It’s easy to track search engine traffic in Google Analytics. There you can check the referring medium, including direct, paid, referral, and organic search. This gives you basic, baseline information about how your organic search efforts are faring online.

Call tracking can also help you track the offline conversions that happen as a result of organic searches. This means you will be able to tell if someone searched a specific keyword, landed on your site via an organic search result, and then picked up the phone to call from that session.

Learn more about this keyword-level call tracking and how it works. If you’re ready, request your no obligation demo of CallRail, or go ahead and start your 14 Day Free Trial, no credit card needed.