Crawl, Index, Rank search engine infographic

Ranking, Crawling, and Indexing – The Functionality of Search Engines

Search engines exist to find and organize content across the web in order to deliver the most relevant content to a user given their search query. Think of search engine as an answer machine. A user asks a question and the search engine tries to find the content that answers that question the best. How search engines find and rank content can be broken down into the three steps of crawl, index, and rank.
  1. Crawl: Teams of digital robots also referred to as “crawlers” or “spiders” looks through the internet for new content and follows new URLs
  2. Index: Crawlers store and organize content that was found through the crawling process in a huge database. Once a page is in the index it is in the running to be displayed in search engine results pages (SERPs)
  3. Rank: The search engine displays content that it thinks will best answer the user’s query and orders the results with what it believes to be the most helpful at the top.
We’ll break down the steps you can take to optimize for each of these individually below.

Crawling: Make sure search engines can find your site

There are a lot of aspects of your site that can make it difficult for crawlers to index your site. Crawlers discover new content by following new URLs that they find and then storing the content they find on those pages. If portions of your page require a user to log in or if your site has orphan pages (pages that aren’t linked to anywhere on your site) then crawlers will not be able to index that content.

Think of a crawler as a lazy friend that has the best intentions. They’re happy to find stuff, but you have to make it easy as possible for them to do so to get the best results. If you feel like your content isn’t being indexed the two main questions you should as yourself are:

Do you rely mostly on search forms to find content on your site? Crawlers can’t use search forms and won’t be able to find your content unless you have links to it.

Can search engines use your site navigation? If your pages aren’t linked to in your main navigation they are essentially invisible to crawlers. Always remember that crawlers find content through following links so if you have pages with no links to them they will not be indexed.

Index: How search engines store your content

Just because your site has been crawled doesn’t guarantee that it will be indexed. Once a page is found the crawler renders the page like a browser would, reads the information on the page and analyzes what the page contains. If the page is satisfactory then it will be added to the index and can potentially rank for users’ search queries. According to Moz, a few things to check if your pages aren’t being indexed are:
  • The URL is returning a not found error – This could be an accident. If you deleted a page and a redirect isn’t set up to a new page it can cause this.
  • The URL has been penalized by the search engine – If a page violates a search engine’s Webmaster Guidelines it can be removed completely from the index until the violation is addressed.
  • A password requirement is blocking the crawler – Crawlers can’t log in to your site so if something is passwords protected there’s no way that a crawler will find and index it.

Ranking: How do you get to the top of SERPs?

The moment you’ve been waiting for. How to beat out competitors and rank well enough to dominate SERPs at the top of page one. Before you can maneuver your way to the top, though you need to understand how search engines determine rankings first.

Search engines rank pages starting with pages they think are the most relevant to a user’s search query to least relevant with the most relevant at the top of the page. When a user enters a search query the search engine’s algorithm looks through millions of pages stored in the index and determines which pages are the most relevant to the user’s search. There are a lot of aspects of a page that signal relevancy to search engines but focusing on the two below have the most displayable impact on your rankings in SERPs.

Backlinks

Backlinks also referred to as inbound links, are links from other websites that direct people to your site. Links are often referred to as the “currency of the internet” and have other sites with high authority linking back to you can signal to search engines that the content on your site is valuable and relevant. You can check out our blog post on backlinks and link building for a more in-depth look at how these can help your ranking.

Content

Links would be useless if they didn’t point to something useful for searchers. Your content doesn’t mean merely text either. Your content includes videos, images or any other media content that could possibly answer a user’s search query. Search engines are trying to find an answer to users’ question and your content is the answers they deliver. The best way to handle this is to make sure that your content has good keywords density for the searches you’re trying to rank for and that user experience is the best possible as both of these will boost your rankings.

Need Help? Consult a Professional SEO Company

With these tools under your belt and a solid understanding of how search engines find and rank your pages, you should be on the right track to get your pages ranking well in SERPs. If all this seems like too much work on top of running your business a professional search engine optimization company can manage your site for you and make sure that you rank in the valuable space on page one and in local packs.