How Google search works

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 11:10 AM

Leslie Meredith

Looking for something on the Web? Chances are you turn to Google. The results you see are a product of complex machinations, and for the first time, Google gives people a behind-the-scenes look at how search works.

Google has launched a new site featuring a clever infographic that not only reveals the process of search, but gives a real-time view of spam removal — a key component that shows the pages we don’t see are just as important as those we do when it comes to good results.

The numbers tell the story. Google “crawls” and tracks trillions of Web pages, ranking each page’s importance based on more than 200 algorithms or formulas. Google has accumulated about 100 million gigabytes of information.

When you type in something for Google to search, your query travels an average of 1,500 miles over the Internet to get your answer, at a pace that’s close to the speed of light. You start seeing results even before you hit enter — usually in about one-tenth of a second. To date, Google has seen 450 billion different searches.

Google has already eliminated a lot of the garbage on the Web. Every day, millions of worthless pages are created, which Google lumps together as spam. Sites have long tried to trick Google into thinking they’re legitimate, using methods like cloaking (displaying different content to human users than is shown to search engines). Google has automated formulas to find these pages and has a team that reviews questionable pages as well. You can see pages that Google has removed in the last 30 minutes or so.

Google has also included search tips and tricks that you may find useful.

First, keep it simple. Use one or two words for an initial search. The more specific or descriptive the words are, the better your results will be. But popularity trumps precise, meaning that the most common term for what you’re looking for will produce more results than one that’s obscure. As you continue to search, Google will “remember” what you’ve looked at and use that information in subsequent searches.

If you’re looking for a quote or title, type it out and enclose it in quotation marks.

Don’t worry about correct spelling; Google is pretty good at understanding what you meant and automatically searches for alternate spellings. Likewise, don’t bother with capital letters — search is not case sensitive and you can save a little time by skipping the capitals. Search also ignores punctuation and special characters. If you want to ask a question, use words like “what is” rather than a question mark.

To fine-tune your search, you can confine Google to a website by typing the name of the site, followed by a colon and then your search term. You might try “wikipedia:steve jobs.” In this case, Google recognizes the colon as a command to look only in the specified site. Using the same principle, you can skip dictionary sites by typing the word define, followed by a colon and then the word you’d like defined.

Over the years, Google has gotten a lot smarter. Track your packages by simply typing in the UPS, FedEx or USPS tracking number right in the search box. Similarly, you can get stock information by typing in a ticker symbol, such as “goog,” and sports scores by using only the name of the team.

Google could make calculators obsolete. Type in a math problem and you’ll get the answer, and if appropriate, Google will graph the result as well. If you need a conversion from one numeric system to another, type in your known amount in current units, followed by “to” and the converted unit. (This is harder to explain than do — just type “271 feet to meters.”) This works for all types of measurement conversions, as well as currency.

If you’re interested in digging into the details of how Google Search works, visit

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