Understanding Search Engine Crawlers: How They Discover and Index Your Content

Search engine is a service that allows internet users to search for content via the World Wide Web. The general purpose of a search engine is to provide a way of exposing the information contained on the web. Search results are not only lists of URLs but also combinations of descriptions (Title/Meta tag) and the page content extract. Crawler is a program that visits web sites and reads their pages and other information in order to create entries for a search engine index. The major search engines on the web all have such a program, which is also known as a “spider” or a “bot”. These crawlers are also known as web bots or web spiders. As the crawler visits web sites, it gathers information from the pages’ META tags and also content. The gathered information is stored in the search engine’s index database. It is updated if the crawler returns to the site and finds new or revised information. Now, we come to a situation that you create a new web site or a new page on an existing web site. Most of the web traffic comes from search engines. If your site is not listed in these engines, you are losing a great deal of potential traffic. The goal of every web site is to be “search engine friendly”. This basically means that when a search engine sends its crawler to your web site, it can easily read your web pages and gather the right information it needs. This ‘right information’ would probably be the correct META tags or even content. This would lead to a good and accurate site entry in the search engine’s index database. An accurate site listing is crucial, as it would bring the “right” visitors to your web site. A web site often loses traffic when its site listing in the search engine is not accurate. This would be based on wrong information or no information gathered by the crawler. This would lead to confusion as the visitor would not find what he/she is looking for. The visitor would most likely exit the site and the site owner does not want that to happen.

What are search engine crawlers?

The data inside the index is what the search engine uses to give a relevancy ranking to the web pages within its search engine when specific keywords are queried. An index has a very high demand for storage space, so some search engines store the most frequently accessed data on multiple databases, and others store it all on one massive database.

Crawling is the process by which the search engine retrieves data from the web pages, so the data in the index is always up to date. The search engine retrieves data from the web pages in many different ways but usually doing so by following hyperlinks. It is for this reason that it is imperative to have a web of links on your site, or to create a sitemap, as these will increase the visibility of your pages to the crawlers. The search engines store the data that they retrieve from the web pages in the index, but the index and the methods by which the search engines store the data and retrieve it from the index vary from one search engine to another.

A web search engine has well-defined guidelines in order to enhance the accuracy of the results. The search engines build an index based on the crawling process for the ease of finding the required searched data. The index is a place where all the crawled data is stored. Search engines use a crawler to retrieve data from the websites. If you submit your web page and a search engine uses a sitemap, or an XML page, or a text file with the URLs on it, and it does not contain links to your other pages, then the search engine will never find your other pages.

Importance of search engine crawlers

Web searching has become an essential component of accessing information, and one cannot deny that the content of the web is constantly changing. Websites are often being updated, and new ones are always being created. As a result, it is important for search engines to have up-to-date information and to find new pages when they are created. The timeliness of search engine results has been noted as one of the key aspects of retrieval satisfaction; users are more satisfied when they can find recent information (Voorveld and Neijens, 2007). In order to satisfy these users, it is vital that web crawlers continuously revisit web pages in order to find any changes or updates, and also to find new pages.

We need to understand why search engine crawlers are so important. Okumura (1998) stated that search engines can only be as successful as the overall coverage of the web. The deeper the search engine can go, the more useful it can be. By using a web crawler, search engines are able to go beyond the homepage by following hypertext links, which leads them to an even larger selection of web pages. Bj√∂rneborn and Ingwersen (2004) conducted a study on search engine coverage, in which they stated that web crawlers should be able to cover the entire web, since not all information is accessible from the first page of a search engine. Their research emphasized that this is of particular importance for academic researchers, since many valuable academic papers are often far removed from the front page of any search engine results. Finally, shorthand versions of web pages (such as mobile or PDA versions) often do not have direct links to the regular web pages and it is only through web crawling that this information can be found (Adar and Skinner, 2008). This shows that web crawling is important in order to access different versions of web pages. The idea that a website’s content is often fragmented or duplicated is a common theme in literature and our own experiences, and can be frustrating for a regular web user as they are often unable to find specific pieces of information.

How search engine crawlers work

Search engines discover new or updated content to be seen in their search results through their spidering process. A web spider is a program that is designed to go out on the internet and get data and bring it back to the warehouse for processing. In this context, a web spider is a type of bot. When a web spider is sent to a web page, it reads the web page, much like a person would, and then follows the links on these pages. When the spiders arrive at the web pages, they are designed to do so by reading the address off of an index of all of the pages. This is essentially an online copy of an address bar. Then the spider will grab the source code of the main web page and will proceed to read it. The spider will then prioritize the links on that page and then begin to load the pages. The process works like a person loading a web page in a browser, but the spider can usually only load the text of the page. The reason that a spider only loads the text is because the text is the only data that the search engines warehouse processes. Next, the spider will record the data from the loaded pages and then add it to the search engines warehouse to be processed. This process is what adds new data to be seen in the search engines index and is the way that changes to the content of web pages are detected. Web sites being added onto the web for the first time are detected in much the same way. This process is constant and is the way that search engines keep their data up to date. Web sites are revisited by spiders on different schedules. The frequency with which spiders return to web pages varies. Spiders often revisit pages that change often. When the content of the web site is recorded to be added to the search engines index, it is stored with the web pages URL. This is important to note because changes to the URL at a later time will prevent the crawling process from placing the data with the new page. This means that new pages created after a URL is changed will not be found until the new URL is linked to from another page on the internet. Any URL with a DNS record can be reached by a web crawler. This means that even pages on protected servers are often visited and recorded by web spiders which have been fed their URL from the server’s administrator.

Crawling process

Search engine crawlers methodically browse the World Wide Web’s content. The process begins with a list of web addresses from past crawls and sitemaps provided by website owners. As the crawler visits these URLs, it identifies all the hyperlinks on the page and adds them to the list of pages to visit next. If this new URL is on the list of pages to visit at a later time, the page will not be visited immediately. Sometimes the site hosts will have multi-layered menus and JavaScript-driven links that are hard to follow. In this case, the site owner can provide the crawler with a list of URLs and corresponding data in a text file. This file should be easily accessible to the crawler. This type of URL-embedded data can also be useful in a site rebuild or moving a site to a new domain. Finally, the crawler reports back with all the data it has gathered. This data is then stored and indexed.

Crawling frequency

Page modification frequency Crawlers will tend to visit static pages more often than dynamic pages. The reason is simple. The more often a page is changed, the less likely it is for a crawler to visit the page and find that it has changed since its last visit. This is despite the fact that a dynamic page may be more relevant to a user’s query. An additional problem with dynamic pages is the URL used to access the page. Often dynamic pages are available via any number of URLs with URL parameters for the purpose of session tracking, navigation context, and data analysis. Search engines will avoid crawling the same dynamic page more than once under different URL. Static pages, on the other hand, are universally accessible from the same URL and are the easiest to crawl. Dynamic URLs can be “rewritten” into static-looking URLs using URL rewriting software. Static URLs are favored in search engines and, though it would seem that search engine-friendly code should be standard practice for new dynamic page development, there is still much dynamic content that is inaccessible to crawlers. Static URL rewriting adds an additional step for a crawler and the decision to implement the step is often based on perceived cost vs. probable benefit of having the page indexed. Static rewriting is more often seen in cases where the key pages of a website contain dynamic content.

Working web pages vs. archived pages Search engine crawlers do not visit all web pages with the same frequency. There are two fundamental types of pages on the Web: static and dynamic. Static pages are those that are on the server and in a client’s browser in the same state as when the page was first created by the server. Dynamic pages, on the other hand, are often modified and customized on the fly to present the current context to the user. This may involve showing data from a database or small incremental changes to the content stored on the web server. Static pages are gradually losing dominance to their dynamic counterparts due to current technology trends tending to favor database-driven sites.

Crawler behavior

Search engine crawlers aim to discover and index new and updated content as quickly as possible to provide up-to-date results. Google crawls webpages at different rates on different sites and even within different sections of a website. Crawl rate can also be increased or decreased using the corresponding setting in Webmaster Tools. This is a thread for discussion of issues related to crawl rate: what it is, how to optimize it and what effect it has on SEO. Going a bit deeper into the topic, information on detecting the speed at which a webpage is crawled as well as diagnosing potential problems that might be slowing the crawler down will also be available soon. Yahoo! Site Explorer provides a graphical representation of the crawl rates of your pages over a period of time and allows you to compare it to the average response time of those pages. This is recorded in the crawl rate report which displays the data in table or graph form and also provides a download link to the crawl rate statistics of a webpage or the webpages linked from a specific URL. In the report it is also possible to see the last time a page was crawled and the HTTP response code that was encountered. High response code numbers beginning with a 4 or a 5 indicate a failure to crawl the page so it’s important to find the cause of these errors.

Factors affecting crawler discovery and indexing

Although discoverability is highly correlated with indexing, we should note that a website’s content needs to be discoverable. There’s no prerequisite for it to be indexed. The website just has to be available for search engines and, more specifically, web crawlers to find it. Usually, people assume that content must be indexed for it to show up in search engines. While this is true to an extent, a webpage that is not indexed can still appear in search engines. This can happen if the page is linked from another website that is already in the index. In this case, the web crawler may find the page from the external website and include it in the index, even though the page itself is not indexed. This is known as supplemental indexing.

For a search engine to fully understand the worth of a web site, it must get the main content in the quickest time possible. This is because the number of web sites does not stop growing. Today, there are billions of web sites and millions of companies. Any one of these companies will have the potential to create a web site. With so many new websites coming up, it is imperative for businesses to make sure their website is found by the right audience. The best way to achieve this is to make sure that the content of their website is easily accessible to the audience. This is the term known as search engine discoverability, which is what companies try to achieve.

When search engines send out web crawlers, they try their best to imitate the working of a human. The only difference between a search engine and a human being is that the search engine can only view the web in terms of pure HTML code. This means that the search engine will not be able to see the shiny graphics and animations, nor will it hear or feel the website. For a web site that was built to impress humans, this poses a problem.

Website architecture and structure

Internal linking is important as it distributes page authority throughout the site, reflecting the importance of individual pages as well as establishing a hierarchy of information. Most websites have a main menu and display links to the most important/recent content on the front page, and these typically take the form of the home page linking to categories, categories linking to sub-categories, and sub-categories linking to individual articles. This is a clear representation of URL hierarchy, and each click between links is a form of ‘moving down’ the architecture of the site. Pages can also link to other relevant pages in the content, and it is recommended to use descriptive anchor text as this can contribute to the linked page’s relevancy for given keywords.

Website architecture is a relevant factor for search engines as it helps them to understand your website and its content, determine its relevance to a user’s search, as well as how user-friendly the website is. A crawler will first look at a file at the root of your domain instead called robots.txt which indicates which parts of a site should not be crawled. Crawlers typically avoid visiting certain directories or pages if there is no information on them, or if there are not many links between them, so an alternative way to have this content indexed is to provide a sitemap. There are two types of sitemap: HTML and XML. An HTML sitemap is mainly aimed at people and is structured similarly to the overall website architecture, and XML sitemaps are designed for crawlers and provide a list of URLs for the site as well as data on the URLs, such as the date of the last update.

XML sitemaps and robots.txt

An XML Sitemap is a way for you to provide Google information about the pages on your site. This is the best way to ensure that Google knows about all the new URLs on your site. A sitemap is a file where you can list the web pages of your site to tell Google and other search engines about the organization of your site content. Search engine web crawlers like Googlebot read this file to more intelligently crawl your site. And a sitemap file can help crawlers to find the new pages on your site. Our recommendation is to use a sitemap file, and ensure that it is up to date with the URLs on your site. This will help Google to find your web pages and understand their relative importance.

Guideline 1. A robots.txt file tells search engine crawlers which URLs the crawler can access on your site. This is used mainly to avoid overloading your site with requests; it is not a mechanism for keeping a web page out of Google. To keep a web page out of Google, you should use noindex directives, or password protect the page. Keep in mind that not all robots obey a robots.txt file. Any URL that is disallowed by your robots.txt file can still be found if another page links to it. If you do not want Google to find a specific URL on your site, you must block that page using one of the other methods.

Internal and external linking

There are many factors that influence how your site is crawled and indexed, and these can determine the success of your search engine optimization work. One of the most important is the way that your site links to other sites and the way other sites link to you. This includes factors such as anchor text, the location of the link on the page, whether the link is followed, and PageRank sculpting. It is highly likely that a page that is only linked to internally will not be indexed, so it is a good idea to ensure that there are at least two, preferably more, crawlable paths to each page. This can be achieved through making sure that there are relevant links to the page from elsewhere on the site, or if the page is new and not linked to from elsewhere on the site, simply creating an HTML sitemap with a list of links to all important pages on the site. Although not as effective as an actual HTML link, submitting your URL to a search engine can also ensure that your page is indexed to at least some extent. While it is important to ensure that your own pages are reachable, having other sites link to your page adds an additional level of credibility and can positively influence rankings. This is because the more reputable the site that links to your page, the more it can indicate that your page is also of high quality. However, things get complicated when looking into the ways that linking can negatively affect search engine rankings, and this is discussed in the next section on Linking Issues.

Mobile optimization

Responsive web design is a design that adapts to the device it’s being used on. There’s no need for a separate mobile site that uses different URLs because one URL works for all devices. This is a much simpler way of optimizing your site for search engines. Because the Googlebot user agent will only have to crawl your pages once, and there will be only one set of pages with no redirects, this makes it the most simple way for Google to index and organize content. This is the recommended configuration by Google. If your site uses a separate mobile URL, such as mobile.example.com, this configuration requires Googlebot smartphone to crawl the mobile version of the page and the Googlebot to crawl the desktop version of the page, which means that there are double the amount of pages and double the amount of work for the crawlers. If your site offers different content to users depending on whether it’s detected that they are using a smartphone user agent, this is called serving a dynamic serving setup. If your site uses this, make sure that your mobile content is both accessible and that Google can crawl it and index it. This is our guide to understanding search engine crawlers and how they discover and index your content. With this information, you will be able to optimize a website in a way that it is easy to access and understand for the crawlers, which can lead to much improvement on a site’s visibility and content delivery to users.

Optimizing your content for search engine crawlers

The description tag is also important because it allows you to briefly summarize what your page is about. The description tag is also important in that it will be the information that viewers see on a search engine results page, so it should be descriptive and contain strong keyword phrases. A well-written description tag will increase the chance a user will click on your page from the search engine results page. The keyword metadata is important mainly for internal search engines. This is because with external search engines, the viewer chooses to search the whole web. With an internal search engine, the user is already at your site and more likely to find what they are looking for.

The title is the most important piece of metadata on your page because it is the first thing a search engine will look at to find out what your content is about. Each page should have a unique title which is descriptive of the particular topic. The closer the title is to the keyword phrase, the higher the page will rank for that particular phrase. Although it can be hard to write descriptive titles for longer keyword phrases, it’s important to remember that the more accurately your title matches the content on your page, the higher the page will rank for the given phrase.

Metadata refers to information and tags about your page and content that you put into your HTML for search engines to find. Search engines read metadata with the intention of understanding what your web content is about and if it will be relevant to a user’s search. The basic metadata to focus on optimizing are your title, description, and keywords.

Keyword research and optimization

When you research keywords, you are effectively predicting the language that your potential visitors will use to find your site. Once you have determined the most popular search terms your target audience uses to find your site, you can identify the most relevant and most effective keywords and phrases to get your site higher in search engine rankings. This is an important step in the search engine optimization process. Step into the mind of your visitor. If you were to search for a website like yours, what would you type into Google? During this step, it is also important to broaden your horizons and identify related terms and phrases to your original list. There are many tools to assist you with this process, the most common tool to use would be the Google AdWords Keyword Tool and the Google AdWords Traffic Estimator. The keyword tool provides you with estimated traffic and bid estimates for the keywords you enter, and phrases similar to it. This is useful because it will help you pinpoint which keywords have higher or lower traffic volumes. Remember, you want to find keywords with higher search volumes and lower competition. Alternatively, the traffic estimator tells you the likelihood your ad (or site in this case) will appear on a search results page and get clicked on based on a specific bid, and also provides you with the average CPC (cost per click) for the keyword. This tool can be useful even if you are not using Google AdWords as a source of website traffic. Advertising costs work as an indicator of what terms are the most costly and popular.

High-quality and relevant content

First and foremost, the discovery of high-value content is the end result of search engine optimization. Content is what search engine users are looking to retrieve. There are many types of content, including image, video, and results pages, but the most common type of content is still the written word. It is true that search engines are attempting to give their users a more diverse search results page by incorporating various types of media, but the fact remains that the majority of users are looking for written content. This is where content developers should begin when creating a search-optimized page.

With the release of the Panda algorithm update, Google officially made it known that the quality of your website’s content had a direct impact on its search engine ranking. This is great news for sites that already have a strong emphasis on publishing good content, but it’s an even better reason to get started formulating a content strategy for your website. From the perspective of search engine optimization, creating good content will create a series of positive signals in the eyes of search engine crawlers.

Metadata optimization

Meta data is important micro data that describes the content on the site page or post. Meta data consists of meta title (title of the site/page), meta description (content summary), and meta keyword (keyword list). This meta data generally will be displayed in the search result page when a user looks for information using a search engine. This meta data will determine whether the user clicks the link and goes to the site or passes it. Search engine crawlers will give more importance to a site that has complete and relevant meta data for user searches. Next, search engine crawlers will reach out to the links inside the site to crawl and index pages. So, the meta data in the indexed page must be relevant to the content on the page. This will affect the searching process in the search engine. For example, if a user is searching for “how to create DIY mini garden,” then the search result will display content with meta data that is relevant to the user’s search. To optimize meta data, you should use an SEO plugin that provides input fields for meta title, meta description, and meta keyword, so you can insert the meta data on the site page/post. But sometimes, the theme that you use already has a meta data form the theme that will override the meta data from the SEO plugin. To fix this, just find the meta data code in the theme. It is usually in the header.php file and delete or remark the meta data code. So the meta data from the SEO plugin will appear in the search result page.

Page speed and performance optimization

Page speed refers to the length of time it takes for a web page to load. In 2010, Google announced that the speed at which a page loads would begin to have an effect on a site’s page ranking. This can be critical for websites with many pages, where an improvement in page speed can lead to search engine crawlers accessing a greater number of those pages. Page speed optimization can involve many different tasks, from increasing the efficiency of a website’s code to optimizing images. A slower page speed can have many negative effects on a website. It can cause search engine crawlers to crawl fewer pages in their allocated crawl budget, and it can also lead to a user becoming frustrated and exiting a site. The latter of these two points can actually lead to a decrease in the number of visits from search engine results pages. This means that slower page speeds can result in a decrease in search engine discovery. This can be improved by utilizing a CDN to serve static resources from a server location which is physically closer to the user. Optimizing a website for mobile can also have a positive effect on search engine discovery. In 2018, Google announced that it would start migrating sites that follow best practices for mobile-first indexing. The mobile version of a website is now used for representing the site in Google’s index. Websites that are already optimized for mobile will likely see no significant change, whereas websites that are not optimized for mobile will see a decrease in search engine visibility. This means that it is very important for websites to optimize their content for mobile, as it is likely that the majority of users are now accessing the web from a mobile device.

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