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What is a Search Engine?

2010 June 8

Why does the Search Engine matter to you and your Local Business?

Welcome to the Brilliant Ideas About Internet and Money Frequently Asked Questions Series, Part 4: What is a Search Engine?


Search Engine Marketing Is Marketing Local Business Online

Previously, we discussed What Is Inbound Marketing? quoting Seth Godin:

“Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.”

Marketing Local Business online demands a rigorous understanding of how best to be found when people search the Internet for what you offer.  To best understand HOW people search for what you offer, it is necessary to understand the tools they are using.  As I write this, Web Search Engines stand head-and-shoulders above other search tools; and Google dominates all Search Engines with more than 80% Search Engine marketshare.

Before we can understand Search Engine Marketing (SEM,) we must have a working relationship with Search Engine mechanics.  Effective Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is predicated on creating content that people want to find in a way that the Search Engines will notice and catalog and make readily findable by those hungry seekers.

What is a Search Engine?

A search engine is a tool used to find interesting information in a database.  In recent times, such search tools are computerized.  In its simplest form, the electronic card catalog at your public library is a search engine.

Although search engine is a general class of computer programs, the term is often used to specifically describe systems like Google, Yahoo! and Bing that enable users to search online media, the World Wide Web and Usenet newsgroups.

What is a Web Search Engine?

A Web Search Engine is designed to search for information on the World Wide Web.  Web Search Engines work by storing information from billions of web pages, which they gather from the web page code.

Web page contents are gathered by a Web crawler, or spider — an automated Web browser that reads every line of code in every web page, and follows every link on each page.  Contents of each page are analyzed to determine how to index it for later retrieval.  The index allows information to be found quickly.

Three essential features of Search Engines are:

  • crawling,
  • indexing, and
  • searching.

Search Engines evolved from Internet Directories

  • Archie [1990], “archive” without the “v,” was the first tool searching the Internet.  Archie downloaded directory listings, not contents, of all files located on public FTP sites.
  • Gopher [1991] combined document hierarchies with collections of services and gateways to other information systems.
  • W3Catalog [1993] was the first primitive Search Engine, periodically mirroring numerous specialized catalogues.
  • World Wide Web Wanderer [1993] was the first web robot and generated an index called ‘Wandex’.
  • Aliweb [1993] was manually notified by web site administrators of an index file at each site.
  • JumpStation [1993] used a web robot to find and index web pages, and used a web form interface as its query program.
  • WebCrawler [1994] allowed users to search for any word in any web page, which is now the Search Engine standard.
  • Lycos [1994] was one of the first Search Engines with a for-profit business model, followed closely by: Magellan, Excite, Infoseek, Inktomi, Northern Light and AltaVista.
  • Yahoo! [1994] founders David Filo and Jerry Yang, Ph.D. candidates at Stanford University, started their guide as a way to track their personal interests on the Internet.
  • Google [1996] began as a research project by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, at Stanford working on the Stanford Digital Library Project (SDLP).  Google’s first funding was secured in August 1998 in the form of a $100,000 USD contribution given to a corporation which did not yet exist.
  • Microsoft [2004] began a transition to its own search technology, powered by its own web crawler (called msnbot).  Microsoft’s rebranded search engine, Bing, was launched on June 1, 2009.
  • On July 29, 2009, Yahoo! and Microsoft finalized a deal in which Yahoo! Search would be powered by Microsoft Bing technology.

How do Search Engines make money?

In 1996, Netscape sought a single featured search engine for their innovative web browser.  Five Search Engines paid $5 million each to be in a rotation on the Netscape search engine page: Yahoo!, Magellan, Lycos, Infoseek, and Excite.  Today, most Search Engines are commercial ventures supported by advertising revenue.

Some Search Engines allow advertisers to pay money to have their listings ranked higher in search results.

Other Search Engines seek to categorize and prioritize web pages by measures of intrinsic value and make money by running search related ads alongside regular search engine results.  Such Search Engines make money every time someone clicks on one of these ads (Pay-Per-Click.)

How do Search Engines differ from Directories?

Historically, Yahoo! was among the most popular ways for people to find web pages of interest, but it operated on its web directory, contents of which were submitted by web site administrators.  Web directories are databases of human-compiled results, also known as human-powered search engines.

Unlike web directories maintained by human editors, Search Engines operate on algorithms, or are a mixture of algorithmic and human input.  Search Engines automatically create web page listings by using spiders that “crawl” web pages, index their information, and follow each page’s links to other web pages.

Spiders return to previously crawled sites on a regular basis to update web page changes.  Everything that these spiders gather is entered into the Search Engine database.

How do I use a Search Engine?

Major Search Engines include a simple dialog box into which you type a word or phrase, and a Search submit button to begin the search.

A Keyword is this word or phrase of words in this simplest sense.

Most Search Engines support using Boolean operators AND, OR and NOT to further refine search queries.  Boolean searching on the Internet may manifest in three ways:

  1. Full Boolean logic with the use of the logical operators (rare)
  2. Implied Boolean logic with keyword searching (typed symbols)
  3. Boolean logic using search form terminology (multiple form entries)

When a user submits a query, the Search Engine compares it to its index and returns a listing of web page information, usually with a short summary containing page title and part of its content.  Some Search Engines support natural language queries that allow the user to type a question in the same form you would ask it of a human.

What is a Search Engine Result Page?

A Search Engine results page (SERP), is the listing of web pages returned by a search engine in response to a keyword query.  The SERP typically lists web pages with titles, a link to the page, and a short description showing where the keywords have matched content within the page.

SERP’s of the major Search Engines may include different types of listings: contextual, algorithmic or organic search listings, sponsored listings (PPC,) images, maps, definitions, videos and suggested search refinements.  Major Search Engines visually differentiate specific content types, such as images, news, blogs and sponsored links.

Each SERP also includes navigation to subsequent and/or previous SERP’s, possible search suggestions or refinements, suggested similar searches, and back to begin a new search.

How do Search Engines sequence results?

Initially, web site administrators manually submitted their web site information to be included in Web directories, often for a fee.  Often as part of their business model, these “search engines” featured these sponsoring web sites according to the amount of fees collected.

By 2000, the Google Search Engine was gaining popularity among searchers because it achieved more relevant results with an innovation called PageRank.  Google developed an algorithm to rank web pages based on the number, trust and authority of other web pages that link back to them.  Google’s premise is that good and desirable web pages are linked back to more than less desirable web pages.

Now, major Search Engines operate similarly.

How each Search Engine decides which pages match best and in what order varies widely from one engine to another.  The methods also change over time as Internet usage changes and new techniques evolve.

What is an algorithm?

An ‘algorithm’ is an effective method for solving a problem expressed as a finite sequence of instructions.  Each algorithm is a list of well-defined instructions for completing a task.  In computer science, a search algorithm is an algorithm for finding an item with specified properties among a collection of items.

There are also many algorithms designed specifically for retrieval in very large databases, such as bank account records, electronic documents, product catalogs, fingerprint and image databases, and so on.

Each Search Engine uses a proprietary algorithm to index and return only meaningful results for each search query.  The index is built from the information stored with the data and the method by which the information is indexed.

While millions of web pages may include a particular keyword, some pages are more relevant, popular, and authoritative than others.  Search Engine usefulness depends on the relevance of the results it returns on each search query.

Who are Search Engine customers?

Major Search Engine business models are for-profit.

Each SERP has a clearly defined topic and targeted theme.  Money comes from paid advertisements strategically placed on each SERP.  Each ad includes a Web link to the advertiser’s web page.  Advertisers pay for these ads to attract people searching for particular keywords.

No search engine has control over the content of the universe of web pages.  The better a Search Engine responds to each search, the more money that Search Engine is likely to make.

These Web searchers are becoming more sophisticated everyday.  Everyday, more and more people search the Internet to find and buy more and more.

It stands to reason that Search Engines will continuously hone their search algorithms to continuously improve profitability.

What is a Search Engine?  Perhaps, it is the key to your Local Business prosperity …

It’s no longer enough to sit back and wait for new customers to come to your Local Business.  Fact is, in these times, your customers are more sophisticated than ever.  Barraged with thousands of Buy-Me messages everyday, they are determined to find for themselves true value.  They are not waiting around for your message; but, they are seeking what they want to buy on the Internet.

Therefore, Marketing Local Business online is your new imperative.  Now that you understand Search Engines, how they work and who uses them for what, it is time for you to seize the day.  Use the Search Engines to market your Local Business.  Put yourself in front of your customers.  Take the initiative.


Be found!

Eager customers are looking for you in the Search Engine …

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