Search engines started off as online tools designed to assist users to search for information on the Internet, but since 2001 they have developed an incredibly sophisticated business model. In simple terms, users type a string of words into the search box of a search engine, and magically the available information is displayed as a list of relevant web pages. To deliver these lists of relevant results, search engines operate on algorithmic principles or more simply, the search engines match keywords from the string of words entered by the human conducting the search with indexed web pages (we'll explain this in more detail shortly).
While it would be extremely kind and generous for search engines, such as: Google, Yahoo or Bing to index pages on the Internet for free out of the goodness of their corporate hearts it's not the way it works. Search engines are businesses- just like your local yellow pages, and they need to make money in order to pay their staff and turn a profit. The business of search is to provide free searching capabilities to the masses while capturing all of the data resulting from these searches, but that isn't where things end- that just where they get started.
We can know what types of things they search for and how often. We can know what locations spawn searches of particular niche products or services. We can know what time of day and on which days of the week more people are looking for particular things. And we can figure out the best possible words to use in order to get their attention.
All of this information is valuable, and search engines are not going to give all traffic away for free. Instead, search engines provide an option for businesses to promote and advertise their products and services to people who enter specific words (or keywords) into a search engine. These are referred to as 'sponsored links'. The ads are commonly PPC (pay per click) or pay for placement and appear not only on search engines, but also on the search engines content network (an example would be YouTube for Google or Flickr for Yahoo). Adwords and Adsense are two products Google created to provide businesses with the ability to create their own online advertising campaigns.
In addition, in order to have the pages of your website indexed properly by search engines you need to ensure they follow specific guidelines. Most webmasters know these guidelines, but sometimes web developers or desginers don't see the impact of ignoring a few aspects of best practices. Sometimes it's as simple having the wrong layout or content structure that can cause pages of your website to not appear in search results, but most often it's your web copy that fails to deliver traffic from search engines.
Consider this, Google logs 2 billion searches a day- there are approximately 300 million people using Google every day. If you were able to acquire even a small percentage of that traffic by optimising the pages of your website to get indexed properly by Google you'd be able to out-perform any offline business. There is more opportunity to generate revenue online then to acquire new offline customers.
For internet search engines, the robots crawl the web at periodic intervals to find as many web pages as possible through following as many links as possible. This information is then fed back to a central warehouse where an 'indexer' reads and analyses all the information to create (or update) an index. Quite often, the index is sorted according to the words found in the web pages that the robot has crawled. This assists with the sourcing of search results that are determined according to the word query.
While the term 'search engine' technically refers to all types of electronic/computer tools that can perform searches, the term is often generically used to refer only to internet search engines. Such search engines are extremely popular with all mainstream users of the internet with the most commonly used engines being Microsoft's Live Search, Yahoo and Google. In fact, Google is so popular the term 'Google' is now used to refer to any form of online internet search. As in, "I just Googled you" - meaning, I entered your name into Google and reviewed the web pages the mentioned your name.
"Our enquiry levels have increased by 400% and we are converting a high percentage of these into sales!"
CEO, Sprocket Kiosks
St Kilda, Melbourne