Crawl, Index, Rank search engine infographic

Ranking, Crawling, and Indexing: The Functionality of Search Engines | Blog

Search engines are designed to find and organize content across the web. This, of course, is in order to deliver the most relevant content to what a user may be searching for. Another way to look at a search engine is like an answering machine. A user may ask a question and the search engine will sort out the content that answers the given question best. The way that search engines find and rank content can be broken down into three steps of crawl, index, and rank.
  1. Crawl: Groups of digital robots also referred to as “crawlers” or “spiders” search through the internet to find new content and then follows new URLs
  2. Index: Crawlers store and organize content that was found through the crawling process in a massive database. Once a page is in the index it is in the running to be displayed in search engine results pages (SERPs)
  3. Rank: A search engine will display content that it thinks will best answer the user’s question and order the results with what it believes to be the most helpful at the top.
We will break down the steps you can take to optimize for each of these individually below.

Crawling: Ensure Search Engines Can Find Your Site

There are quite a few aspects of your website that can make it challenging for crawlers to index your page. Crawlers find new content to index by following new URLs that they find and then storing the content they find on those pages. If portions of your page require a user to log in or if your site has orphan pages (pages that aren’t linked to anywhere on your site) then crawlers will not be able to index that content. You may want to picture a crawler as a lazy friend that has the best intentions. They are totally willing to find the information but you have to make it as simple as possible for them to do so and get the best results. If you feel like your content is not being indexed these are the two questions that you should ask yourself: Do you rely mostly on search forms to find content on your site? Crawlers can’t use search forms and won’t be able to find your content unless you have links to it. Can search engines use your site navigation? If your pages aren’t linked to in your main navigation they are essentially invisible to crawlers. Always remember that crawlers find content through following links so if you have pages with no links to them they will not be indexed.

Index: How Search Engines Store Your Content

The fact that your site has been crawled does not guarantee that it will actually be indexed. Once a page is found, the crawler will render the page like a browser would, reads all the information on the page and analyzes what the page consists of. If a page is satisfactory then it will be added into the index and could now potentially rank for a user’s search query. According to Moz, a few things to check if your pages aren’t being indexed are:
  • The URL is returning a not found error – This could be a simple accident. If you deleted a page and a redirect isn’t set up to a new page it could cause this.
  • The URL has been penalized by the search engine – If a page violates a search engine’s Webmaster Guidelines it can be removed completely from the index until the violation is addressed.
  • A password requirement is blocking the crawler – Crawlers can’t log in to your site so if something is passwords protected there’s no way that a crawler will find and index it.

Ranking: How do you get to the top of SERPs?

This exactly what you are all wondering. The golden question is how to beat out competitors and rank high enough to dominate SERPs at teh top of page one. Before you are able to climb your way to the top you will need to understand how search engines determine rankings first. Search engines will rank pages by starting with pages that they think are the most relevant to a user’s search query to the least relevant. They will then take what they feel is the most relevant and place those results at the top of the page. When a user enters a search query, the search engine’s algorithm sorts through millions of pages stored in the index and determines which pages are the most relevant to the user’s search. There are a lot of aspects of a page that will signal it’s relevance to search engines but focusing on two below have the most probable impact on your rankings in SERPs.


Backlinks (also known as inbound links) are links from other sites that direct people to your site. Links are usually referred to as the “currency of the internet” and having other websites with a high authority linking back to you can signal to search engines that the content on your website is relevant and valuable. You could also check out our blog post on backlinks and link building for a more in-depth look at how these can help your ranking.


Links would be useless if they didn’t point to something useful for the users. Your content does not mean just text either. Your content includes videos, images or any other media content that could possibly answer a user’s search query. Search engines are always attempting to find the answers to user questions and your content may be the answer they are looking for. The best way to handle this is to make sure that your content has a good keyword density for the searches you’re trying to rank for and that user experience is the best possible as both of these will boost your rankings.

Need Help? Consult a Professional SEO Company

Now that you have all these tools under your belt and a solid understanding of how search engines find and rank your pages, you should be on the right track to get your pages ranking well in SERP’s. If all these steps seem like too much work on top of running your business a professional search engine optimization company can manage your site for you and make sure that you rank in the valuable space on page one and in local packs.

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