Search Engine Sizes

Is bigger better, when it comes to the size of a search engine’s index? Not necessarily. However, a large index can help those who seek unusual or hard-to-find information. Consequently, when you seek the obscure, consider using a search engine with a large index. However, for general searches or for when looking for information about popular topics, a large index does not necessarily equal better results.

Current Size ComparisonSearch Engine Sizes Over Time
Search Engine Size War ISW-II SW-IIISW-IV
Related Search Engine Watch Articles
Other Search Engine Size ArticlesSize Resources

Current Size Comparison

Please see the Search Engine Size Wars V Erupts article for the most recent current size figures based on unaudited, self-reported information from each search engine (for audited figures, see the Search Engine Showdown web site listed below, which makes the best attempt at this).

Figures show how many textual documents have been indexed, which includes HTML files, text documents, PDF files, Microsoft Office documents and other similar files. Image and multimedia files are not included. Nor are Google Groups discussion posts.

Search Engine Sizes Over Time

The chart below shows how self-reported search engine sizes have changed over the years. Only search engine still crawling the web are shown on the chart. Thus, players such as Northern Light, Excite, Infoseek and others that no longer crawl for their results are not displayed. PLEASE NOTE THIS CHART DOES NOT SHOW DATA BEYOND SEPT. 2003.

Billions Of Textual Documents Indexed
December 1995-September 2003
KEY: See above.

Search Engine Size War I:
December 1997-June 1999

When AltaVista appeared in December 1995, it used an index much larger than any of the other search engines at that time. Thus, competition forced others to increase their sizes in early 1996. After these initial moves, sizes stayed about the same through September 1997. But by the end of that year, AltaVista and Inktomi began the first of the serious Search Engine Size Wars, competing to claim the bragging rights of being biggest. Inktomi failed to keep up, but Northern Light jumped in to compete with AltaVista in pursuit of the 150 million page mark.

MILLIONS Of Textual Documents Indexed
December 1995-June 1999
KEY: See above plus NL=Northern Light, EX=Excite, LY=Lycos, GO=GO/Infoseek

Search Engine Size War II:
September 1999-June 2000

Just when AltaVista and Northern Light were celebrating hitting the 150 million document mark, newcomer AllTheWeb appeared with a record-setting index size of 200 million documents. Suddenly, a new round of size escalation began. The title of biggest flip-flopped between AllTheWeb and AltaVista at first. However, Google put a decisive stop to the war in June 2000, when it set a new benchmark of 500 million pages indexed and started growing well past its challengers.

MILLIONS Of Textual Documents Indexed
September 1999-March 2002
KEY: See above plus NL=Northern Light

Search Engine Size War III:
June 2002-December 2002

After a long period of being the size king, AllTheWeb grabbed the title back from Google by declaring it had broken the 2 billion document mark. Soon after, Google grew the number of documents it reported indexing up to the 3 billion page mark. Inktomi also released a new version of its search engine that claimed this index level.

Billions Of Textual Documents Indexed
June 2002-September 2003
KEY: See above

Search Engine Size War IV:
August 2003-December 2003

In August 2003, AllTheWeb claimed an index of 3.3 billion documents, putting it just past Google’s self-reported figure. Google responded within days by increasing its self-reported figure to 3.2 billion. By the end of the year, Google was up to 4 billion documents.

Search Engine Size War IV:
November 2004-???

In November 2004, Google increased its index to 8 billion pages, to counter the increase to 5 billion by MSN. The Search Engine Size Wars V Erupts article covers this more.

Related Search Engine Watch Articles

Bigger is not necessarily better, though it can be for some searches. To better understand the importance of size, be sure to read some past articles from Search Engine Watch that deal with size issues, listed below:

Search Engine Size Wars & Google’s Supplemental Results
SearchDay, Sept. 3, 2003

Who has the biggest index? The search engine size wars have erupted again to dispute this — and the new Google supplemental index is complicating matters.

Google to Overture: Mine’s Bigger
SearchDay, Aug. 27, 2003

Overture and Google have fired new salvos in the search engine size wars, expanding their databases of searchable web pages by millions of pages.

FAST Sprints to 2.1 Billion Docs; Google Upgrades Appliance
SearchDay, June 17, 2002

Covers the increase by FAST/AllTheWeb past the 2.1 billion document mark.

Mapping the ‘Dark Net’
SearchDay, Jan. 24, 2002

Researchers have discovered that up to 5 percent of the Internet is completely unreachable, impossible to access by web browser or search engine alike.

Google Fires New Salvo in Search Engine Size Wars
SearchDay, Dec. 11, 2001

Google’s web index has grown to more than 3 billion documents, including an unprecedented archive of Usenet newsgroup postings dating back to 1981.

Google & FAST Move Up In Size
The Search Engine Report, Nov. 3, 2000

Update on size increases by Google and FAST.

Invisible Web Gets Deeper
The Search Engine Report, Aug. 2, 2000

Covers a survey done to measure how much information exists outside of the search engines’ reach. The company behind the survey is also offering up a solution for those who want tap into this “hidden” material.

Google Announces Largest Index
The Search Engine Report, July 5, 2000

Google breaks the 500 million page mark, but not all partners may tap into the large index.

Search Engine Size Test
Search Engine Watch, July 2000

Evaluated claims in index size, to see if the search engines measure up.

Inktomi Reenters Battle For Biggest
The Search Engine Report, June 2, 2000

Inktomi makes moves to again become one of the biggest search engines on the web.

AltaVista Launches New Search Site
The Search Engine Report, May 3, 2000

AltaVista adopts a crawling system similar to that used by Inktomi, as described in the article below.

Numbers, Numbers — But What Do They Mean?
The Search Engine Report, March 3, 2000

A long look at the recent trend of quoting “dual numbers” in relation to index size and how to compare services that do this.

FAST Gets Bigger, Partners With Lycos
The Search Engine Report, Feb. 3, 2000

Details on FAST breaking the 300 million web page mark.

Who’s The Biggest Of Them All?
The Search Engine Report, Nov. 1, 1999

Discusses the difficulty of verifying index claims.

Search Engine Coverage Study Published
The Search Engine Report, Aug. 2, 1999

Detailed review of the Nature article about search engine coverage.

FAST Announces Largest Search Engine
The Search Engine Report, Aug. 2, 1999

Details about FAST claiming to have broken the 200 million web page barrier, with a link to more background about the company.

Many Changes At AltaVista
The Search Engine Report, July 6, 1999

Mentions that AltaVista plans to continue increasing its size.

Google Goes Forward
The Search Engine Report, July 6, 1999

Explains how Google can exceed the reach of its index.

Northern Light Claims Largest Index
The Search Engine Report, Feb. 2, 1999

Northern Light says that if self-reported sizes were audited, it would be number one. More on the issue, along with an update on size growth in general.

Search Engine Sizes Scrutinized
The Search Engine Report, April 30, 1998

Extensive details and analysis of the April 1998 Science study, which grabbed headlines across the world.

The AltaVista Size Controversy
The Search Engine Report, July 2, 1997

Recounts a public discussion of how AltaVista was only sampling some web pages completely ignoring other sites.

How Big Are The Search Engines
Search Engine Watch, June 13, 1997

Article within Search Engine Watch that explains the issues of index size in more depth. Does size really matter?

Search Engine Size Articles

Google Dominates New Size Showdowns
Search Engine Showdown, Jan. 16, 2003

Google leads the pack in terms of size, based on the latest estimates from Greg Notess

When size does matter
The Guardian, July 18, 2002,7496,757326,00.html

Search Engine Watch associate editor Chris Sherman takes another look at when — and when not — index size matters.

Openfind touts its efficiency, July 1, 2002

Openfind, on taking on Google. The company claims an index of 3.5 billion pages. Google processes in the range of 150 million searches per day, by the way, not the 1.5 billion noted in the article.

On the size of the World Wide Web
Pandia, Oct. 14, 2001

There are now over 8 million web sites according to researchers at the Online Computer Library Center, but the web’s growth has slowed markedly when compared to previous years. The vast majority of web sites are written in English — 73 percent, with German coming in at second place with 7 percent.

Web links that stick
BBC, June 14, 2000

The average page contains 52 links, and the over 10 percent of the links on the web are broken, according to a company that’s developing a link monitoring service.

The web is a bow tie
Nature, May 11, 2000

Covers research by AltaVista and two other groups that found a “bow tie” pattern to how pages link across the web.

Researchers work to eradicate broken hyperlinks, March 7, 2000

Review of “robust” hyperlink system described in technical paper, below.

Robust Hyperlinks Cost Just Five Words Each
UC Berkeley, January 2000˜phelps/Robust/papers/robust-hyperlinks.html

Technical paper on how web pages could be assigned a lexical code to make it easier to locate them.

Accessibility and Distribution of Information on the Web
Nature, July 1999

Study by the authors of the 1998 Science magazine study on search engine coverage (see below).

September 1998 Search Engine Coverage Update
NEC Research Institute, September 1998

An update to the findings reported in Science magazine in April 1998, by its authors. It found that coverage was getting worse since the original study.

April 1998 Search Engine Coverage Summary
NEC Research Institute, April 1998

A summary of a landmark Science magazine study of search engine coverage. There’s also information on requesting reprints of the study and links to numerous news articles that covered the story.

Searching the World Wide Web
Science, April 3, 1998

Summary of the NEC research article on search engine sizes, similar to that above. Full-text available only to Science web site subscribers.

March ’98 Measurement of Search Engines

A study by Digital about the size of the web and search engine sizes, similar to the Science magazine study.

Lost in cyberspace
New Scientist, June 28, 1997
–no longer online–

An excellent look at why some search engines are moving away from an “index everything” attitude and instead adopting an “index the best” or “sample the web” method. Does it make a difference to searchers if some pages aren’t included? Search engine execs explain why they believe a sample is good enough.

Search Engine Size Resources

Search Engine Showdown

This site from search expert Greg Notess provides a survey of search engine sizes, along with dead links estimates and other data.

OCLC Web Characterization Project

Research project by the Online Computer Library Center tries to estimate the number of web sites and other statistics.

How Much Information: Internet

From UC Berkeley, this page summarizes findings from various sources to estimate the size of the web.

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