The Three Steps of Search

istock 1181766636 1

At MyAdvice, we’ve been designing, building, and optimizing websites for the medical and now legal professions for over two decades. We understood the intricacies of improving a practice website’s ranking in organic search long before anyone had even heard of the term search engine optimization. Plus, as a Google Partner, we know when changes to the company’s famed algorithm are coming long before they’re even made public.

We’re so deep into optimizing search we can forget the fact that most people only have a cursory understanding of why one website comes up on the first page of a search return while another is nowhere to be seen. Kind of like driving a car, but having no idea how the thing works.

Every now and then, we like to use this space to cover a basic of search or how pages rank. Stuff like that. Let’s use this blog to do just that, detailing how Google search works.

Three steps

When you type in a search term in Google, something like “What is a dental implant?” the Google algorithm then works to quickly generate a search engine results page (SERP) that provides the best, most satisfying result to your query. It does this using three steps: crawling, indexing, and serving.


Google needs background information on all the webpages on the internet. There isn’t a central registry of all webpages, so Google constantly is searching for new webpages and adding them to its list of known pages. This list is a combination of pages Google has visited before, pages that are found when Google follows a link from a known page to a new page, or pages submitted by website owners (sitemaps) for Google to crawl.

This job is up to Google’s web crawlers. Web crawlers go by different names, including spiders, robots, and bots. Google’s main web crawler is Googlebot, although it also has additional bots for various areas, such as Googlebot Images. Web crawlers crawl across the internet to index pages for search engines.

Once Googlebot discovers a page URL, it crawls the page to find out what’s on it. The bot analyzes both the text and non-text content and overall visual layout to get an idea of what the page is about for possible use when answering a search query. The key here is to make it easy for Googlebot to understand your site.

The most important page to have Googlebot crawl is your practice’s home page. Once it hits your home page it gets the basics and then it follows your site’s navigation that links to all of the important sections and pages on your site. That’s why good design is so important, making it easy for Google to understand each page’s content, along with its links to other areas of your site it needs to learn about.

Once your site has been crawled, it needs to be indexed.


After a page is discovered, Google tries to understand what the page is all about. This process is called indexing. Google analyzes the content of the page, catalogs images and video files embedded on the page, and otherwise tries to understand the single page and the conglomeration of pages that is your site.

You can imagine how much information is gained by indexing. This information is stored in the Google index, an immense database stored on a sea of computers.

Keys to improve page indexing:

  • Pages should have short, meaningful titles
  • Page headings should convey the subject of the page
  • Pages need good, helpful text content (Google can understand text better than video or images)

Serving (and ranking)

Now the good part. When you type in a query, Google has the noble goal of delivering the most relevant answer it can find in its Google index. The goal is to perfectly answer the search query. Google tries to determine the highest quality answers, and factor in other considerations that will provide the best user experience and most appropriate answer, by considering things such as the user’s location, language, and device (desktop or mobile).

That’s why search is more and more local. For instance, if you’re searching for “ski shops,” you’ll get different results in Manchester, New Hampshire than you would in Manchester, England. Google assumes you want to go to the ski shop near your location.

Google is constantly trying to better understand the search query. It’s an incredibly difficult undertaking, especially considering the nuances of language (double meanings and such) and mistakes made by the typing skills of the user. Most of Google’s algorithm updates seek to provide better, more useful SERPs. That makes for happy searchers.

We’ve addressed the various things Google rewards in search results, but here’s a brief list of ways search ranking is improved:

  • Build the page to load quickly and cleanly.
  • Build the site to be mobile-friendly.
  • Populate the page with useful content.
  • Constantly update and add to your content.
  • Make for a good user experience by not having tricks like clickbait, bad grammar, and various other items. These are measured by various methods, such as loading performance, cumulative layout shift, and others.

That’s your short course in Search 101. If you’re a client, you’re already enjoying all of the ways we help your practice website perform well in all three of the above-described facets of search. If you’re not a client, don’t you want a website that Google feels provides a great experience to users and returns higher in search rankings? Call us at (435) 575-7470 or fill out our contact form and let’s talk.

Before you go...

Do you know how your current site is performing? Find out now for free -- it only takes a minute!


Get free Advice delivered to your inbox.