Naturally, if you have a website, you want people to be able to find it, and the best way to do this is by appearing in search results — specifically Google. But, it takes more than just creating a webpage for it to appear in search listings (much less highly ranked). However, before you dip your toe into the depths of search engine optimization (SEO), it’s necessary to first understand the basics of how Google Search works.
It’s important to realize when you make a search via Google, you aren’t really searching the entire World Wide Web, but only the sites Google has found (indexed). Of course, this is still an incomprehensible amount of information, and you probably wouldn’t want to search through the whole web anyway since you’d end up with a lot of garbage and irrelevant content. In this way, Google acts as a great filter.
So, how does the search engine find websites? As you probably guessed, Google doesn’t have a bunch of people sitting around reading and cataloging websites all day –that would take way too much time. Instead, it relies on a system of computers, collectively known as Googlebot, which scan and “read” webpages continuously.
Googlebot begins its scan with a relatively small group of websites, but every time it encounters a link it will send out a “spider” to follow that link, which of course leads to another webpage. Once on the new page it will undoubtedly discover more links and send out additional spiders to track those sites. This process continues on and on until Googlebot’s spiders have “crawled” through an infinite number of websites.
Plus, once the search engine knows about a site, it will continue to visit it, look for added content, and follow any new links. So, Google is always growing and expanding its registry. And for each page it analyzes, Google will store a copy, or a “cached” page, to keep in its index.
Then, when someone makes a search, Googlebot will hunt through all the pages it has indexed and, based on the search terms and more than 200 other variables, will provide the user with what it feels is the most appropriate and worthwhile result.
That said, one of the main hurdles in getting your site ranked is making sure Google understands your pages. The spiders won’t see your site in exactly the same way as humans do and are much better at deciphering text than things like images or Flash. Of course, there are ways to make those elements more spider-friendly, but that’s a topic for another discussion.
For a visual representation of how Google Search works, check out this video from the Google team:
If you want to check and see if your website is in Google’s index, simply perform a site search operator by typing [site:yourdomain] in the Google Search box.