How Do Search Engines Work and Why Should I Care?

Search engines – how do they really work? Should we trust everything they give us? And, if not, who can we really trust?

The internet is a downright mystifying place, when you stop to think about it. Millions upon millions of web pages are created (and destroyed) every day, in a never ending world of birth and death that can be hard to keep track of.
With all of this constant change, we should really be grateful that search engines exist to give some kind of order to the whole mess.

But, in handing over the sorting and organising to the big corporations (Google, Yahoo and Microsoft), have we sacrificed our freedom to access the information that we really want to see?

Most people like to think that Google is like one big friendly computer that takes your questions and then tries it’s very best to answer it as truthfully as possible.

Unfortunately, Google is not a big friendly giant. It’s a big giant corporation, the same as Coca-Cola and McDonalds, that has it’s own ambitions and motives, both overt and ulterior.

This corporation may want you to find the information you’re looking for, but it might also want you to see something else before hand, like an advert maybe…

Google (and all other search engines) work using algorithms – which are basically really long, complex series of mathematical rules that need to be followed in order for the right answer

Search engines are notoriously secretive about how their algorithms work as these are what gives them the edge over their competitors.

The purpose of each search engine should be to respond to the user’s query with a list of results that are ordered by relevancy. Unfortunately, due to the monetisation of the internet, the motives of these search engines have changed somewhat in recent years. Whilst User Experience (UX) is still vaunted as the number one priority for the search engines, there are now many fingers in the search pie and millions of individuals who are intent on taking a slice of it.

At some point, in the last ten years, the search engine space changed from being a place to find the things that you were looking for, to a place where you are shown what the engines think you’re looking for.

These are two very different things. The way that users interact with Google hasn’t changed: type in a search query, receive results. But the way the search engines interact with the users has changed significantly.

The search engines were once shining examples of internet freedom, a place where you could make sense of the mess of sites and directories that clog up the world wide web.

Today, though, they exist as glorified advertising spaces with millions of users willingly accepting them and countless businessmen and women taking full advantage. On the one hand, an SEO in Liverpool is now able to advertise his services out to millions of people, who otherwise might not have heard of him. On the other, there will be thousands of other people who will no doubt lose their businesses, because the simply don’t know how to keep up with times.

Search engines are the landing page for millions of internet users all over the world.

They’re fully integrated into our lives, as essential to us as our phones, email addresses and social media accounts.

Before you casually type another search query into one though, have a think about the answers you receive and if they’re necessarily what you were looking for in the first place…