2 Analogies to Explain How Search Engines Work

1. Academia (Don’t Run Away . . . Bear with me!)

how-search-engines-workThe way the search engines work is rather like a popularity contest. How do you determine what makes a popular website? The more popular the website the higher it is going to rank in the search engines. We need to think of ways to make the website as popular as possible. When Google came out, one of the things that made it hugely popular was they re-engineered the way their algorithm, adopting a different approach that had never been done before. The theory they came up with had a lot to do with the way citing works in academic theses. A research report became more important if it was referenced in other research reports.

This is in the real world. Let’s say someone writes a research report on cancer. There may be another report written on cancer. In that report they say ‘In such and such a paper they said this’. The more references the first cancer report gets, the more weight it has, because everyone is referencing it. Google used the same technology and theory with search engines and re-engineered the way search engines work. Now let’s move away from academia and talk in terms of a popularity contest.

2. Be Cool – A Popularity Contest

how-search-engines-work2To do well in a search engine, it is like a popularity contest. Say we have Pedro here. If we wanted to make Pedro a really popular, cool person, what determines if he is really popular and cool? It’s not what you say, you could say ‘I’m the coolest person in the world.’ Unless anyone agrees with you, it doesn’t mean anything. To increase your popularity, you have other people saying, ‘Pedro’s cool, Pedro’s cool’.

Now it’s starting to look as if Pedro’s cool because everyone else is saying he is. Not only that, certain people’s opinions are worth more than other people. Let’s say Cameron Diaz already has lots of people saying ‘Cameron Diaz is cool, Cameron Diaz is cool’. What happens, when she, who is already considered cool, says ‘Pedro is cool’. Because she already has many people who say she is cool, her opinion has more weight than all the other people. You really want to try and have people who are important and in a certain position to say ‘Pedro is cool’ because that has more weight.

Let’s transfer this thinking to the search engines. In order for a website to become popular, you need to get lots of other websites saying ‘This website’s cool, this website’s cool’. The way people say a website is cool is by linking to it. So that gets back to the idea of Google being quoted. These two analogies are the best ways to consider how search engines work. Search Engine Optimization described in its simplest terms is a method to increase how many websites say you are COOL.

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