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How do internet search engines work?

How do internet search engines find the most relevant topic to your search?
Dan Richards from London (Age 25-34)


4 Responses

  1. Different search engines have their own individual ways of working out what is “relevant, and most of them keep the exact techniques used secret to prevent people from fiddling the system to make a particular page appear more relevant than it is. A simple way of finding relevance is just to look for pages that contain the keywords you are searching for and words that are known to be related to them (using something like a thesaurus). This is too easy to fake however and search engines now tend to use mechanisms which take into account the number of links leading to a page, so that a page with the right keywords and lots of links leading to it would be regarded as more relevant than one with fewer links pointing at it. The big engines such as Google are perpetually tuning their algorithms so as to keep ahead of tricks people develop to boost their position in searches.

  2. Take a look at this series of articles by Tim Bray: http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/200x/2003/07/30/OnSearchTOC

    He walks you through most of the technology involved in building a fairly simple search engine.

  3. Tim Bray’s series “On Search” on his blog is the best public resource I know of that answers this question, from an industry insider:


    Steve Crossan works for Google.

  4. As Lindsay says, there are lots of ways to work out “relevance” and the details are often quite difficult to come by. There’s a good paper on the Google approach here:


    The essential idea behind this is that a website in the search engine is higher in the rankings if other people on the internet find it useful by “linking to it” from their website.

    I’d suggest that this measure of relevancy seems to work well, but I can see other ways that search engines might calculate relevancy in the future which may be even better. For example, something may be more relevant if my friends like it, or if I am closer to it. I would like to search for “Pizza” and find a restaurant which is close that my friends like. I think as engineers and scientists we’re just starting to explore what relevance really means, and how we can deliver it.

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