How does internet search work?

Everyone uses a search engine and expects good quality and relevant search results to match the terms they were looking for.

But very few people know how a search engine finds what you are looking for.

When you do a search, you aren’t actually searching the internet – you are looking for results in the search engine’s index, which is just like the index in a book.

Let’s take a closer look at what happens when you enter a phrase in a search engine.

You’ve entered your search phrase and then what?

The search engine picks the important words (keywords), out of your phrase. It ignores words like ‘the’, ‘and’, ‘or’, ‘I’, ‘to’ – all common words that don’t really mean anything by themselves.

If you want the search engine to find the exact phrase, you can put quotation marks around it: “To be, or not to be”.

It then looks for your keywords in its index.

Try searching for “Tennis shoes” in findx – it’s an independent search engine index

What’s a search engine index?

No search engine has found every single web page on the internet – there are far too many new pages added each day for search engine crawlers (spiders) to keep up. The pages that a search engine knows about are added to its index. Small scripts constantly crawl around the internet like spiders and collect the information on all of the websites they visit to build and update this index.

Metasearch engines have agreements with the larger search engines to use their indexes. They don’t build their own index.

A search engine index is used just like a book’s index – the search engine takes the keywords from your search phrase, looks in its index, and returns a list of links to webpages that contain those keywords.

Each search result, when it is displayed, will typically include a title, its URL (web address), and a snippet. You can use these pieces of information to decide whether to visit the page or not.

Search result snippet

Of course, that’s a simplified explanation. It’s actually a difficult problem to choose the appropriate keywords, and quickly find matching entries in the index. Learn more about crawlers and search engine indexes here

At this point, many of the popular search engines save your search phrase, and add it to the profile they builds on you – this can identify your computer, IP, location, language, previous searches, etc. These search engines use your profile and your search history to find more ‘relevant’ results and show targeted ads. If you’d prefer to keep your searches private, it’s actually quite difficult. It isn’t easy to find out what personal data is collected by most search engines, or what your personal information is actually used for.

Search results and their ranking

Now that the search engine has a the matching pages to your keywords, it shows you a list, ranking the pages in the order it thinks you will find most useful. Mostly this is based on how closely a page matches your keyword, but there are many other factors that go into ranking results, like the number of links going to and from a webpage.

Normal search engines also use the profile they have built on you. One person might see very different results to another, even though they search for the same word. None of these ranking algorithms are made public, so it is hard to no know exactly what factors influence the results you see.

In addition to being a private search engine, findx is transparent – you can see and adjust what ranking factors are used, This means that everyone sees the same results by default, but because everyone is different, you can adjust the search engine to match your own specific requirements for searching the internet –  sign up to try findx today.

Search ranking factors

Quality rate search results

By contributing to improve search results, you can let quality results rise to the top of the list. You can flag broken, malicious or bad content and suggest improvements to titles and descriptions. Social rating of search results makes sense – it is the same method that most websites already use (product ratings, favourites on social media posts, etc).

Quality rate search results on findx

Read more about the findx quality rating feature here

Why do search engines display ads in their results?

Search result ad

Displaying advertisements to earn money is common: Large news websites, specialised blogs and also search engines show you ads.

Ads are matched to your keywords and displayed near the search results. Some search engines use the detailed profile they have built on you, to target you with personalised ads based on your previous searches and your personal information. Another common way that search engines make money, is to collect the keywords you search for, and sell that information about you via an advertising network.

We believe that ads are not the problem, but collecting your personal data and tracking you online is not ethical. That’s why findx doesn’t collect your searches or sell your personal information to anyone – but we do display ads.

What happens when I click on a result?

Some search engines will pass your search phrase on to web page when you click on a result. This was originally to help webmasters write better content, but it has since turned into a big industry. Your search phrase may be added to your profile built by the website you visit.

Findx does not pass your search terms on by default, because we want you to keep your privacy. You can turn this off in the settings if you want to ‘help’ the webmasters out.

What if I search for an image or a video?

Map search, shopping search, image search, video search – most search engines have specialised search indexes for these types of searches. They still use keywords in the same way to find and rate results for you. Read more about these features of findx

Do you want more information about search engines?

If you have any questions about search engines, if you want to know anything specific about findx, our private search engine, or have any feedback for us then feel free to drop by our online community.

Take a look inside our private search engine
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Findx is a true search engine alternative which respects your privacy, and has its own crawler and index.

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