Posted by Tony Endelman

If you’re a living, breathing human being in America today, then you’ve almost certainly used an internet search engine to gather information. Need a recipe for split pea soup? Can’t remember the name of that actor who played that character in that one movie you loved in high school? Looking for the cheapest hotels in Bora Bora? As you know, there’s one very easy way to find the answers you so desperately seek. Google it! 

The internet brings endless amounts of information to our fingertips, while search engines like Google enable us to quickly sort through it and find what we need. But, have you ever wondered how a search engine actually works? Why does Google seem to have an almost frightening ability to read your mind? Well, believe it or not, knowing some fundamental basics about the way search engines operate can help make your nonprofit more visible. 

Search engines have two major functions: crawling and indexing plus giving the user a ranked list of the most relevant websites. 

Crawling and Indexing
As describes, the internet is like “a network of stops in a big city subway system. Each stop is a unique document (usually a webpage, but sometimes a PDF, JPG or other file). The search engines “crawl” the entire city and find all the stops along the way, so they use the best path available—links. Links allow the search engines’ automated robots, called “crawlers” or “spiders” to reach the many billions of interconnected documents on the web.”

When search engines find these pages, they store selected pieces of code in databases, which are later recalled when you enter a search query. This is commonly referred to as “indexing.”

Relevance and Popularity
When you perform an online search, the search engine does two things: First, it returns the results that are relevant to your query; second, it ranks those results according to popularity. Search engine optimization (SEO), a process you’ve likely heard of but may not know much about, is meant to influence both relevance and popularity. 

“Search engines typically assume that the more popular a site, page or document, the more valuable the information it contains must be,” describes Moz. “This assumption has proven fairly successful in terms of user satisfaction with search results. Popularity and relevance aren’t determined manually. Instead, the engines employ mathematical equations (algorithms) to sort the wheat from the chaff (relevance), and then to rank the wheat in order of quality (popularity).”

Why You Should Care
Your website is your number one marketing tool, and having a high ranking within Google is vital to reaching the masses. Knowing the basics about search engines can help you craft your website in a way that makes it Google-friendly and visible to users who are searching for words and phrases relevant to your nonprofit. In other words, understanding search engines will make understanding search engine optimization a whole lot simpler.