What is a Search Algorithm?

A search algorithm is a unique formula that a search engine uses to retrieve specific information stored within a data structure and determine the significance of a web page and its content. Search algorithms are unique to their search engine and determine search engine result rankings of web pages.

Common Types of Search Algorithms

Search engines use specific algorithms based on their data size and structure to produce a return value.

Linear Search Algorithm

Linear search algorithms are considered to be the most basic of all search algorithms as they require a minimal amount of code to implement. Also known as a sequential search, linear search algorithms are the simplest formula for search algorithms to use . Linear search algorithms are best for short lists that are unordered and unsorted. To find what is being searched for, the algorithm looks at the items as a list. Once it gets to the item being searched, the search is finished. Linear search is not a common way to search as it is a fairly inefficient algorithm compared to other available search algorithms.

Simple Example of Linear Search Algorithm:


Let’s say that you are meeting your friend, Stephanie, tonight at the movies for new movie premier. She offers to get your ticket and wait in line for the theatre to grab good seats. Once you arrive at the theater, you notice the line is long and you have no idea where your friend is in the line. However, you know what Stephanie looks like so on your way in you start at the end of the line and scan each person's face looking for your friend. Once you find her, you get in line next to her. You just followed a linear search algorithm. The line is long and the people are unordered, so the best way to find who you’re looking for is to scan the line from one end to the other.

Binary Search Algorithm

A binary search algorithm, unlike linear search algorithms, exploits the ordering of a list. This algorithm is the best choice when alist has terms occurring in order of increasing size. The algorithm starts in the middle of the list. If the target is lower than the middle point, then it eliminates the upper half of the list; if the target is higher than the middle point, then it cuts out the lower half of the list. For larger databases, binary search algorithms will produce much faster results than linear search algorithms.

Binary Search uses a loop or recursion to divide the search space in half after making a comparison.

Binary search algorithms are made up of three main sections to determine which half of the lists to eliminate and how to scan through the remainder of the list. Pre-Processing will sort the collection if it is not already in order. Binary Search uses a loop or recursion to divide the search space in half after making a comparison. Post-Processing determines which variable candidates remain in the search space.

Simple Example of Binary Search Algorithm:


You are searching for your favorite blue sweater in your walk-in closet. You’ve color coordinated your clothing from right to left based on the standard ROYGBIV color theory. You open the door and go straight to the middle of your closet, where your green clothing is located and automatically you’ve eliminated the first half of options, since they are not close to the color options that you are looking for. Once you’ve eliminated half of your options, you realize, your selection of blue clothing is large and makes up the majority of the second half of clothing options, so you go to the middle of the blue/indigo section. You can eliminate the indigo and violet colors. From there, all you have left is green and blue and you’re able to select your favorite blue sweater from the remainder of clothing. By eliminating your clothing options in halves, you are able to cut your search time in half to narrow in on your favorite blue sweater.

How Search Algorithms Impact Search Engine Optimization

Search algorithms help determine the ranking of a web page at the end of the search when the results are listed.

Each search engine uses a specific set of rules to help determine if a web page is real or spam and if the content and data within the page is going to be of interest to the user. The results of this process ultimately determine a site’s ranking on the search engine results page.

While each set of rules and algorithm formulas vary, search engines use relevancy, individual factors and off-page factors to determine page ranking in search results.


Search engines search through web page content and text looking for keywords and their location on the website. If keywords are found in the title of the page, headline and first couple of sentences on the page of a site, then that page will rank better for that keyword than other sites. Search engines can scan to see how keywords are used in the text of a page and will determine if the page is relevant to what you’re searching for. The frequency of the keywords you’re searching for will affect the relevancy of asite. If keywords are stuffed into a site’s text and it doesn’t naturally flow, search engines will flag this as keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing reduces a site’s relevancy and hurts the page’s ranking in search engine results.

Individual Factors

Since search algorithms are specific to search engines, individual factors come from each search engine’s ability to use their own set of rules for search algorithm application. Search engines have different sets of rules for how they search and crawl through sites; for adding a penalty to sites for keyword spamming; and for how many sites they index. As a result, if you search for “home decor” on Google and then again on Bing, you will see two different pages of results. Google indexes more pages than Bing - and more frequently - and, as a result, will show a different set of results for search inquiries.

Off-Page Factors

Off- page factors that help search engines determine a page’s rank include things like hyperlinking and click-through measurement. Click-through measurements can help a search engine determine how many people are visiting a site, if they immediately bounce off the site, how long they spend on a site and what they search for. Poor off-page factors can lower asite’s relevancy and SEO ranking so it’s important to consider these items and work to improve them if necessary.

Once you have a better understanding of how search algorithms work, their role in search engine optimization and site rankings then you can make the necessary adjustments to a site to improve its’ ranking. At Volusion, our team of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialist can help you make adjustments and set up your site so that it is properly optimized for search engines. Contact us today and let us help you get started on your sites SEO!


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