A search engine is a program designed to find specified keywords, or search phrases, in documents. A basic form of search engine will exist on your own computer, in the ‘Document Finder’ or ‘Search’ tab on your computer’s menu.
The origins of web search engines
The Internet is essentially a collection of documents, and as it continues to grow rapidly, the use of search engines to navigate the web is considered vital. Search engines allow users to find the content they are looking for by typing a word or phrase, and having results containing that keyword returned to them. Since the early 90s when the first search engines appeared, their importance has increased drastically and now the majority of web content is designed and written in a way that complements how the search engines work. This process is what we call search engine optimisation, or SEO. With over a trillion web pages on the Internet, without search engines it would be easy for web users to become lost and unable to find what they need, and for websites to go unfound and unseen.
Traditional search engines – the growth of Google
Throughout the late 90s and early 00s, the search engines we recognise and use today, such as Google and Yahoo, began to see huge boosts in their popularity. By this time, web users were fairly reliant on search engines to deliver them fast, relevant search results, as the volume of information would otherwise make navigating the Internet a very difficult task. Google in particular found itself growing dramatically, and is now believed to account for between 80 and 90% of the total search market share .
Programs such as Google and Bing are what we usually think of when we consider search engines. Their main purpose is to collate and index web information and to return that information to their customers. Searches are done via keyword terms, and results are returned according to a system of factors which aim to provide users with links to good quality, relevant websites while simultaneously removing poor quality and potentially harmful sites from their index.
Changing search behaviour – YouTube and Facebook
However, a new pattern of search behaviour is beginning to emerge and as some sites grow in size and popularity, their own pages contain so much information that their internal search engine becomes far more important. For example, YouTube, one of Google’s recent purchases, is used by millions of people every day, and is used to search for content in much the same way as ‘traditional’ web search engines. Similarly, more people are turning to Facebook to search for information, businesses and services, products and more. When we consider search engine optimisation, it is important that all search engines are considered, and that web users’ search behaviour is taken into account.