There are very few Internet users who do not rely on Google or a similar search engine every day. A very small portion of those users knows or even wonders how a search engine operates. How does it work, and what mechanisms work in the background to deliver exactly the information we need, every single hour of every day?
What are search engines?
Search engines are software systems designed specifically to search the Internet for the parameters the user sets them. They are nearly as old as Internet itself, and there have been, since 1990, as many as 80 search engines, with varying degrees of popularity; the most popular one, by far, is Google, with a market coverage of more than 92%, and which has grown into a great corporation that now does many other things apart from providing results for web searches. We hardly ever think about this seemingly simple service search engines perform, as they do it so swiftly and precisely that we have become used to it, and integrated this process into our lives.
How important are they?
We have become so integrated with web searching that we hardly see it as a task in itself –but the numbers behind it are staggering –Google receives around 64,000 searches every second of every day. We enter our words into the search bar not even thinking about it, everything from finding a recipe to reading the news requires that we rely on a search engine to lead us where we want to go. However, even though these processes occur in fragments of a second, there is a significant amount of work that goes into every Web search that we make.
How do search engines work?
There are several components working within a search engine, the most basic one being a web crawler. A web crawler is a program that works by browsing the Internet, visiting pages, and at the same time recording information about them. This is the basis of the work of a search engine. The information collected by the web crawler is analyzed and ordered, and the search engine uses this information as its index. In the process of indexing the information, the information is connected to keywords that appear when a user searches the web; the keyword is very often a single word. Upon the use of a keyword, there are thousands of pages that are related to the word we are searching for, and unfortunately, not all of them are very useful to us.
How does a search engine decide what’s more important?
After entering a keyword, the search engine has to sort thousands of web pages and provide us with the most accurate and useful results. This is in no way an accidental process; search engines use algorithms to decide which pages will be the most useful to us. Probably the most popular algorithm for filtering web search results is PageRank. Even though it appears a complicated business, the idea behind PageRank is quite simple: it counts the number of links to a certain website, under the premise that a greater number of links means greater popularity. Consequently, we are provided with the most popular links related to our keywords.
Is that all there is to it?
Of course not, there are countless algorithms employed alongside PageRank in order to customize and improve the search of each individual user, like personal preferences, location, or weather, but this is the basis upon which every search engine works. Who knows what the future of web searching holds for us?