How Google Search Serves Pages – Advice from a Google Engineer

How Google Search Serves Pages – Advice from a Google Engineer


A lot has been said about how Google rankings work, but not all of it is true. Just about everyone seems to have a theory about it, but many of them are not even in the ballpark. So who better to set the record straight than Google’s search engine experts themselves? Well, Google Engineer Gary Illyes has come out to clarify matters and help us understand how the process works right from when you key in a search query to you receiving a curated list of SERPs.
If you’re looking to understand Google’s inner workings for the benefit of your website or are just innately curious about how it all works, this is the article for you.

How Google Works

The basics of Google Search – Hearing it from Google Itself

Garry Illyes is an engineer on the search team at Google. He explains that whenever we look up any information on the famous search bar, Google immediately goes to work to scan billions of websites. Using intelligent algorithms, it then filters out results it believes would be most appropriate for your search phrase depending on your location, demographic, and many other factors.

Of course, the process is fully automated and happens quickly, which is why you’re able to get back a response almost instantly the moment you hit that “Enter” button. Overall, the entire process happens in three stages, as Garry explains in his video titled “How Google Search Serves” pages.

Those stages are as follows: 

  • Crawling – Via special programs known as crawlers, Google gathers videos, images, and text, among other data, online from web pages.
  • Indexing – Then, it analyzes all the aforementioned resources, and processes them into a big database, otherwise known as Google index
  • Serving – This forms the basis of discussion for our topic today and it essentially refers to the stage at which Google presents you with the SERP that contains results for your search query.

How Google crawls and indexes content 

The worldwide web is a vast collection of websites, and Google doesn’t have a central registry of sorts that keeps track of them. Instead, it frequently scans the interwebs for these sites through a process known as “URL discovery.”

During URL discovery, Google will also revisit links it has processed in the past to discover new links which can stem from the addition of blog posts and other website content. You can lend Google a hand by submitting your pages for crawling. That being said, Google is keen on reducing its crawling processes to help ensure better user experiences, and here’s what analyst Gary Illyes had to say about it:

This year, we desire to elevate crawl quality but crawl less by adopting internal cache and caching sharing strategies. We are also going to achieve this by turning our attention to higher quality URLs that merit crawling rather than just blanket crawling everything.

Google and how it deciphers search queries

The bridge between the user and the desired search result is the search query, which simply refers to a phrase or group of words that you insert into the search bar whenever you’re looking up anything online.

Google then proceeds to process the query using the following steps, as described by Illyes: 

  • Cleaning – this involves removing unnecessary prepositions and words
  • Expansion – they will then expand the parameters to cover related words. For instance, the term “bicycle” might also return results for similar words like “bike”
  • Sending – after the query has been parsed and the search parameters expanded, it then proceeds to the index or database.
  • Returning  – the results for that query will then be fetched and these results will then need to be ranked to determine how they will appear on the SERP that you finally view.

So that brings us to the next important chapter in our article which is how ranking works and how Google decides which results it will display first, second, and so on. 

Ranking & Relevance – The influence on servings

At this point, results are now served up to the user, however, certain criteria are used to inform the lineup of search results. Gary said that two of the most important of those factors are relevance and usefulness.

However, relevance encompasses quite a breadth of considerations, and here’s what Engineer Illlyes had to say about it:

When you key in a query into Google, we look through our index (database) for matching pages. We then return the results that we believe are most relevant to your query and are additionally higher quality and trustworthy than most others.

He then proceeds to add:

“We use hundreds of factors to determine the relevance of a search result, but the actual page content is the most crucial consideration. Additionally, other information such as the user’s device type, language, and location also has a big influence on relevance”

Based on this statement, we can therefore conclude that different people can get different search results for the exact same search query because of these unique factors that Gary points out.

Beyond relevance, the Google Analyst also finds that quality is a key search determinant, and this is largely determined by

  • How unique the content is
  • The relative importance of the page on the internet
  • The trustworthiness of the information and so on

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Other important search features

Search features simply refer to the elements that appear on your search result when you get a search result back for your query. A few examples include:

  • Maps
  • Business listings
  • Reviews and ratings
  • Images
  • Videos and so on

Now, the search features that will be presented to you will also vary depending on your search phrase. For instance, Gary says that if you were to search for a term like “bicycle repair shops”, you’re likely to get local results (with maps, ratings/reviews, and other directional guides) and get no image results.
Conversely, if you were to look up a phrase like “modern bicycles” then the opposite may happen and you’re likely to get more image-based results. The short of it is that Google will combine and present to you search features and elements depending on different variations of queries.


Garry Illyes has been a breath of fresh air for SEO enthusiasts, and his videos have certainly helped to shed more light on an area of search that has always been more speculative than factual. His elaborative insights on how the search engine processes queries, determines relevance, and then presents results make up some very important food for thought that every SEO hopeful, should have jotted down in their personal diary. This information can help you ensure that your content and website at large are geared toward meeting Google’s ranking factors and, more importantly, closely matching actual user needs, goals, and desires.

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