The first basic truth you need to learn about SEO is that search engines are not humans. While this might be obvious for everybody, the differences between how humans and search engines view web pages aren’t. Unlike humans, search engines are text-driven. Although technology advances rapidly, search engines are far from intelligent creatures that can feel the beauty of a cool design or enjoy the sounds and movement in movies. Instead, search engines crawl the Web, looking at particular site items (mainly text) to get an idea what a site is about. This brief explanation is not the most precise because as we will see next, search engines perform several activities in order to deliver search results – crawling, indexing, processing, calculating relevancy, and retrieving.
First, search engines crawl the Web to see what is there. This task is performed by e piece of software, called a crawler or a spider (or Googlebot, as is the case with Google). Spiders follow links from one page to another and index everything they find on their way. Having in mind the number of pages on the Web (over 20 billion), it is impossible for a spider to visit a site daily just to see if a new page has appeared or if an existing page has been modified. Sometimes crawlers will not visit your site for a month or two, so during this time your SEO efforts will not be rewarded. But there is nothing you can do about it, so just keep quiet.
When a search request comes, the search engine processes it – i.e. it compares the search string in the search request with the indexed pages in the database. Since it is likely that more than one pages (practically it is millions of pages) contains the search string, the search engine starts calculating the relevancy of each of the pages in its index to the search string.
There are various algorithms to calculate relevancy. Each of these algorithms has different relative weights for common factors like keyword density, links, or metatags. That is why different search engines give different search results pages for the same search string. What is more, it is a known fact that all major search engines, like Yahoo!, Google, MSN, etc. periodically change their algorithms and if you want to keep at the top, you also need to adapt your pages to the latest changes. This is one reason (the other is your competitors) to devote permanent efforts to SEO, if you’d like to be at the top.
The last step in search engines’ activity is retrieving the results. Basically, it is nothing more than simply displaying them in the browser – i.e. the endless pages of search results that are sorted from the most relevant to the least relevant sites.