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search engine

A search engine is a program that builds an index of website content, that a person can then search to find relevant webpages.

A search is typically carried out by entering a keyword or phrase (query) into a text field and then clicking a button, but may also be initiated by clicking a hyperlink.

Types of search

Although the text-box and search button is fairly common-place, the type of search—often described in terms of the scope of content the search engine has indexed—is not always evident.

internal search
An internal search can only be used to find content on a single website (or intranet or extranet). For example the Motive search, at the top-right of each page, can only be used to find pages on the Motive website.
external or public search
A public search can be used to find content on any website, anywhere on the web. For example Google (also see details below on search engine registration).
meta search engine
A meta search engine uses the indexes of other search engines to find content, anywhere on the web. For example Dogpile.

Search engine registration

Linking and indexing

Only webpages that are linked to from a URL submitted to a search engine are indexed.

To add a website to its search index, a search engine must first be told where to ‘find it’. Notifying a search engine of a new website is referred to as search engine registration.

The registration process involves submitting an entry-level webpage address (URL) to a search engine. This entry-level page is typically the address of the homepage or sitemap.

Add URL pages

Quick links to the website registration pages for the top search engines and directories.

In addition to a webpage address, a search engine may also require basic information about your site, such as a short description of the website, topics covered, and owner.

Most public search engines have an ‘Add URL’, ‘Submit URL’ or ‘Suggest a site’ link that links to information on how to register a website. This link is typically found in the list of links at the bottom of the search engine homepage.

Once the website has been registered, the search engine will access the website using an indexing program (spider). The indexing program follows all the links on the submitted webpage to other webpages under the same domain. It then follows the links it finds on those webpages, ‘crawling’ the entire website, to build a index of all the website content.

Search engine results

A search engine results page (SERP) lists webpages in order of their relevance to the query entered. The webpage listed at the top of the results page has been selected by the search engine as the most likely to provide the content the user is seeking.

Each search result listing usually features the destination webpage meta title (as the link text), followed by a description and/or an excerpt showing the query highlighted in the context of the webpage content (concordance).

Search engine ranking algorithms

Each search engine has its own method for calculating relevance, usually based on an analysis of the content of the destination webpage, including:

Each of these aspects of the webpage is scored and then weighted. For example, a search engine may assign a greater weighting to meta title text than other aspects of the webpage. In this case, a webpage that includes the query in its meta title text may then be ranked higher than a webpage where the meta title does not include the query.

The calculation each search engine uses to rank webpage relevance is often a closely-guarded secret.

The scores for each aspect of the webpage are combined to determine the overall relevance of the webpage.

The calculation (algorithm) each search engine uses to rank webpage relevance is often a closely-guarded (and patented) secret. This is both to prevent websites from artificially inflating their rankings; and also because the quality of the search results translates directly into user-loyalty, traffic and revenue generating opportunities.

Related terms: crawler/robot/spider, directory, metadata, PageRank, reciprocal links, robots.txt, search engine optimisation.

 

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