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 to deliver the most relevant content to a user, given their search query. Think of a search engine as an answering machine. A user asks a question, and the search engine tries to find the best content that answers that question. Search engines find and rank. You can break down content into three steps: 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 follow new URLs
  2. Index: Crawlers store and organize content found through the crawling process in a huge database. Once a page is in the index, it is eligible to rank 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.

Below, we’ll break down the steps you can take to optimize for each of these.

Crawling: Make sure search engines can find your site.

Many aspects of your site can make it difficult for crawlers to index your site. Crawlers discover new content by following new URLs and storing the content they find on those pages. If portions of your page require a user to log in or your site has orphan pages (pages that aren’t linked to anywhere on your site), then crawlers won’t 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. So if you feel like your content isn’t being indexed, the two main questions you should as yourself are:

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

Can search engines use your site navigation?
They are invisible to crawlers if you don’t link your main navigation menu pages. Remember that crawlers find content through the following links, so they can’t be indexed if you have pages with no links to them.

Index: How search engines store your content

Your site doesn’t guarantee to index just because a search engine crawls. Once a page is found, the crawler renders the page like a browser, reads the information on the page, and analyzes what the page contains. If the page is satisfactory, it will be added to the index and 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. For example, if you deleted a page and a redirect isn’t set up to a new page, it can cause this.
  • The search engine has penalized the URL – If a page violates a search engine’s Webmaster Guidelines, it can be obliterated 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 password-protected, there’s no way 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 competitors and rank well enough to dominate SERPs at the top of page one. But, before you can maneuver your way to the top, you must first understand how search engines determine rankings.

Search engines rank pages starting with pages they think are the most relevant to a user’s search query to the least relevant, with the most appropriate 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. It 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. However, focusing on the two areas below has the most displayable impact on your rankings in SERPs.


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.


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 other media content that could answer a user’s search query. Search engines are trying to answer users’ questions, and your content is the answers they deliver. The best way to handle this is to ensure that your content has good keyword density for the searches you’re trying to rank for and that user experience is the best possible, as both will boost your rankings.

Need Help? Consult a Professional SEO Company

With these tools 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. However, suppose all this seems like too much work on running your business. In that case, 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.

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