Search Engines Limitations for SEO

A really important part of Search Engine Optimization is making your web page easy to understand for both users and search engine robots. Even though search engines have been becoming exponentially more sophisticated, they can’t see and understand a website the same way we can. SEO hugely helps search engines to figure out what each page is about, and how it can be useful for other users.

I often hear statements like this: “There is not a smart engineer that would ever build a search engine that requires web pages to follow some rules and principles to be ranked or indexed. Everyone would want a system that can explore through any architecture, analyze any amount of imperfect or complex code, and find a way to return results that are the most relevant, not the results that have been optimized by unlicensed search marketing “experts”.


But wait, imagine that someone posted a picture online of their family dog. A normal person may describe it as a white, small dog that looks like a puddle and is playing in the park. However, even the best search engine in the world would struggle to understand a photo at anywhere near that level of complexity. Luckily, SEO allows website owners to provide some clues that search engines can use to understand their content. As a matter of fact, adding correct structure you your content is imperative to SEO.

By understanding the limitations and abilities of search engines you can correctly build and format your content in a way that search engines can understand. A website can become invisible to search engines without SEO.

Limits of Search Engines

Most of the major search engines operate on the same principles. Automated search bots explore the web, follow links, and index content in huge databases. They achieve this with incredible artificial intelligence, but they have a long way to go to achieve what humans can do.

There are a lot of technical limitations that cause problems in inclusion and rankings. Here are the most common:

Problems Exploring and Indexing

  • Sites that use a content management system (CMS) often create duplicate versions of the same web page, which is a big problem for search engines that are looking for completely original content.
  • If a website’s structure of links is not understandable to search engines, they might not reach all of the content of a website or if it is explored, the minimally exposed content might be tagged as unimportant by the search engine’s index.
  • Search engines are bad at completing online forms (like a login), and content contained behind them might remain hidden.
  • Even though search engines are getting better at reading non-HTML text, rich media content is still difficult to analyze for search engines. This includes text inside Flash files, photos, images, audio, video, and plug-in content.
  • Errors in a website’s directives might lead to blocking search engines completely.

Problems Matching Search Queries to Content

  • Language subtleties: For instance, color vs colour. When in doubt about which to use, you should check what users are looking for and use exact matches in your website’s content.
  • Incoherent location targeting: Search engines might target content to polish people when most of the people who would visit your site are from Australia.
  • Wrong contextual signs: For instance, the title of an article of your website is “Italy’s Best Pizzas” but the article itself talks about a vacation resort in the US which happens to prepare great pizzas. These mixed messages sent wrong and confusing signals to search engines.
  • Uncommon terms: Phrases that are not written in the usual terms that people use to search, like writing about food cooling units when users usually search for refrigerators.