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Search Engines and Their Capabilities

By: Andrew Carr - Updated: 21 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Search Engines And Their Capabilities

Today, when we type something into a search engine box such as Google, we expect and take for granted that all the results returned will appear as if by magic. We don't think about the methods used in the background in order to make it happen, all we are interested in is the results. This is an example of what is known in IT circles as "transparency" in that we don't see or appreciate the technicalities of the process. In fact, the best IT software operates when it does the job we expect it to do without seeing any of the technical aspects or code which performs the process. When it comes to search engines we just expect it to return useful results and to do it as fast as possible.

Search Engines Do More Than You Think!

The best known search engine is Google, and is based on an idea called the "Page Rank Algorithm" developed by the founders of Google, Sergey Brinn and Larry Page. Their idea has made them very rich indeed, but not just from the search engine, but from the clever sale of advertising space and many similar products. Google is the best known search engine and has made them the market leader. However, not all search engines use the Google method of finding your results when you look for something specific. Yahoo! for instance use their own version of search engine technology but at one time they utilised the Google method.

How Do Search Engines Know Which Pages Come First?

So what happens when you type something into search box? Well, each search engine has a specific way of ranking web pages so that they appear first in the list of search results. For instance a search of "golf" will return a list of pages on the topic of golf and golfing. So how does the search engine order its results and how does it know which pages come first? Well this is where the "ranking" of a page comes into the equation. The pages with the highest rank for the search specified are returned first in the results. Those pages which are less likely to be as relevant to the search are returned further down the list.

In order for a search engine to be recognised at all, it needs to be indexed by the search engine. The site owner will submit their web page to the search engine and this is then "queued up" to be added to the database. It is not always necessary for a web page to be submitted as it will be found eventually anyway. It just makes the process a little quicker as it can take months for a search engine to find the new web page, due to the billions of web pages the engine has to search through.

Anyway, back to our original question, how do search engines know which pages come first? Once a page is indexed it looks for a variety of features, including certain keywords within the web page hierarchy which are most likely to be searched. When someone types these words into the search, the page with the most matches or similar matches is returned in the results. Google like to call this "relevance" and the more relevant your web pages are to a users specific search, then the more chance there is that your page will be amongst the first in the list of returned results.

Try The Advanced Search Options

So, just because the search engine has ordered the results into the most "relevant" order that is not all it can do. When you search for something most of us use a single keyword search or a phrase. What we don't tend to use are the advance capabilities available in all the search engines. For instance if you choose the "advanced" option in Google you can list keywords, phrases in quotes and use the keywords AND, OR or NEAR. Google provides a friendly set of menus in order to provide an advanced search.

You can even type in an advanced search directly in the search box. If you type in "WHITE HOUSE" NEAR WASHINGTON this means return all the web pages with "WHITE HOUSE" quite close or next to the word "WASHINGTON". You can also use combinations of words in the search box using AND or OR. For instance you can search for "London" AND "Dog Shows" to find all the dog shows in London. You can type in full phrases in quotes, or single keywords.

If you want to find out more about the capabilities of search engines, experiment and try out a few searches. You will be amazed at the results you are able to return.

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