A search engine is a type of computer software used to search data in the form of text or a database for specified information.
Search engines normally consist of spiders (also known as bots) which roam the web searching for links and keywords. They send collected data back to the indexing software which categorizes and adds the links to databases with their related keywords. When you specify a search term the engine does not scan the whole web but extracts related links from the database.
Please take note that this is not a simple process. Search engines literally scan through millions of pages in its database. Once this has taken place all the results are put together in order of relevancy. Remember also not to get a search engine and directory mixed up. Yes they are used interchangeably, but they do in fact perform two different tasks!
Before 1993 the term search engine never existed. From then until now that has changed drastically, and almost everyone knows what it is. Since the Internet is used by millions of Americans daily, a search engine sees a lot of visitors especially ones such as Google and Yahoo. Almost all of us use one of the two if we have the Internet. By simply typing words into the engine, we get several results which gives us a list of sites. (Seigel)
Usually a search engine sends out a spider which fetches as many documents as possible. An index is then created by what is called an indexer that reads the documents and creates it. Only meaningful results are created for each query though, a process called proprietary algorithm. (Webopedia)
(2004, October 5). Search Engine. Retrieved September 19, 2008, from Webopedia Web site: http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/s/search_engine.html
Seigel, Carolyn (2006). Internet Marketing. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Boswell, Wendy. "How do search engines work?" What is a search engine? 19 September 2008. http://websearch.about.com/od/enginesanddirectories/a/searchengine.htm
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Google's spider is known as Googlebot. You can make Googlebot not add a page to its database. For more information, click here.