Does Google return 651,000,000 hits for Microsoft – or just 414?

Do this:

  1. Go to Google (whichever flavour you can access – annoyingly I can only see google.co.uk)
  2. Search for microsoft (or just click here)
  3. Take a look at the ‘Results’ figure, towards the top right of the page. It should say something like ‘Results 1 – 10 of about 650,000,000’. That’s quite a few results, right? That’s pretty impressive. And all in a fraction of a second. See below.
  4. Now scroll to the bottom of the page, where you can page to the next set of results. Click ‘2’, to get to page 2.
  5. Take a look at the address generated in the address field. It should say something like ‘http://www.google.com/search?q=microsoft&hl=en&start=10&sa=N‘ (my bold added). Like below.The interesting bit here is ‘start=10’. This means it’s showing you the ten results starting at result number 10. You can edit this manually. Edit ‘start=10’ to say ‘start=30’ and it’ll show you the ten results starting at result number 30. You can jump straight to the 100th result by edit it to say ‘start=100’.
  6. Now, Google will only return 1,000 results. So, let’s take a look at the last ten results, in a sort of ‘End of the universe’ kind of way. So, edit this to say ‘start=990’. As below. Or, again, just click here.

What do you see in the results count? Do you still see 651,000,000?

Or do you, like me, see, um, 414? Like below?In other words, in the previous 90-odd pages of results, which, let’s face it, nobody is likely to look at, Google insists there is an astronomical number of results. But on the very last page, this comes down to something much more mundane. I only chose Microsoft because it gives a lot of results. Try it with any other term that would return many hits and you’ll find the same.

Does anyone have a clue as to what is going on here? I didn’t discover this myself, but when someone showed it me last week, my jaw dropped. I felt like the time someone showed me the flight simulator hidden in the middle of Excel.

Please, someone, tell me what’s happening here. I feel there is something deeply wrong with the universe, even more so than usual. See below.

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6 thoughts on “Does Google return 651,000,000 hits for Microsoft – or just 414?

  1. I just tried exactly what you just said to do with these results:

    652,000,000 not 651 million
    441 at the end of the Google Universe… not 414

    is Google just playing with us or what?

    so lemme see if I’m coming to the same conclusion that you are… so the big G shows only 1000 listings tops, right?
    and after that 1000 there is apparently 441 or 414 left…

    … and no matter how much fancy addition you can do there’s no way that is 652,000,000?

    I’m thinking the missing listings are the dreaded “supplemental index”

    Matt Cutts calls it that, to those of us in SEO we call it “purgatory”

    websites that G knows are there but refuses to give page rank to because they’re duplicates or otherwise not current/ not relevant/ done something dodgy but they’re still pages

  2. Interesting find, Brendan.

    There have been various reports of web pages disappearing from Google SERPs (search engine results pages), consistent with Google “clean-up” symptoms, possible resulting from an increased focus on cost savings in the current economic climate. Server capacity and space is expensive, and if there are ways to minimise those requirements whilst still maintaining full customer benefit, their pursuit must surely be a good thing.

    Considering David’s comments and findings – a couple of remarks: I also got to the end at 441 or so results, however, searching without “omitting similar results” brings it back up to the full 1,000. Also, the dreaded supplementary index should still show up amongst the results, and the number of pages seconded into this index can be found by looking for a difference to the primary index count, using the “-inallurl:” operator. For “Microsoft” this still yields the full 692 million results, indicating that none are summoned into the supplementary index. Lucky Microsoft.

    My guess is that Google did indeed come across 692 million pages (on the Microsoft site and elsewhere) with a reference to “Microsoft”. It then probably pre-cached the top 1,000 matches for the search term on its own, ranked by prominence, proximity, density, and (my finding: Recency) – dismissing the remaining 691,999,000 results from that cache.

    This has no negative impact on searching users (as they rarely navigate past page 2, let alone page 100 anyway) – but saves server capacity. It does have interesting implications on SEO efforts, though – the usual evaluation of keyword supply and demand my now be skewed for key phrases. I see an interesting SEO post growing from these seeds soon 🙂

    Cheers, and all the best,
    Marc

  3. OK, so the universe is still the right shape, but just maybe slightly more banana shaped than was previously thought? Very impressed with both these replies – they put my basic knowledge of search engine workings to shame.

  4. yes, interesting replies – my question is where do these huge numbers come from? if you restrict the search to last week you still get massive numbers and I’m sure that these are hugely inflated (we have our own crawler so we can do some comparisons).

    My view is that no-one can really PROVE the validity of these numbers so Google put them in a prominent position on the SERPs as a marketing exercise – kind of ‘wow, look at how big we are – clearly we are THE only place you should go to quench your search needs’ kind of message

    big numbers are clearly better than words !!

    giles

  5. hey brendan, i just noticed something else which is odd with this type of search in google

    if you redo your microsoft search, click to the last page as you did, then go to the penultimate page (click on the number at the bottom of the page), the result count drops. Do it again, it drops again. Evenutally it will stabilise, but ???

  6. I first noticed that about a month ago.

    As I often deal with Google search for linguistic purposes, it used to be an important tool in comparisons.
    There was a debate on articles recently, and I wanted to compare “with bottle and glass” vs “with a bottle and a glass” .
    What I got was (first page/last page)

    48 000/190 for “with bottle and glass.”
    Page 19 still shows 48 000, page 20 – 190

    8 480 000/60 for “with a bottle and a glass”
    Here you can see only 7 pages for all those millions, and page7 reveals the meager 60 hits.
    Neither 190 nor 60 seem plausible.
    Does the real ratio correspond to 48 000 to 8 480 000 or 190 to 60? Impossible to find out.

    What a pity Google is sick. I hope not terminally.

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