It doesn't matter if search engines lie

Sat, Feb 11, 2006 2-minute read

Robert Scoble recently asked the question, “Why Do Search Engines Lie?”  He calls out that the engines are usually off by a few results - with 692 results instead of a claimed 699, 100 results instead of a claimed 101, etc.  The numbers are worse when you count only “unique hits.”  That gives numbers like 62 of 713, or 44 of 368.  I’m sure that developers of the respective search engines could give great technical answers to his question, but it’s probably best answered rhetorically: “Who cares?”

In search engines, numbers are pointless:

  • Index size?  Pointless.  If I don’t get appropriate results for my query, another search engine gets my business.
  • Number of results for your query?  Pointless.  For all intents and purposes, it might as well be capped at 30.  If you don’t find your results in the first few pages, the solution is to fix your search term - not to keep on clicking.  If that doesn’t work, another search engine gets my business.

In fact, I wrote a search engine at work that indexes source code.  The user interface gives no indication of either index size, or the number of results for a query.  The only buttons are “Search”, and “Next.”  

The URL maintains your current page number, of course, but all of those missing numbers?  Who needs them!