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Google’s index hits 8 billion pages. Yes folks, size does matter.

On Wednesday, the day before Microsoft unveiled the beta of Microsoft Search, Google announced that their index was now over eight billion pages strong. Impeccable timing from the Googleplex. Just a couple days later, and Microsoft could have proudly touted its bigger web page index over Google’s. Still, Microsoft’s 5 billion documents is an impressive feat, particularly for a new search engine just out of the blocks. Google continues to show their market dominance, however, with a database of a whopping 8,058,044,651 web pages. Poor Microsoft, trumped by Google at the last minute!

Why the big deal about index size? From the user’s perspective, a search engine that is comprehensive of the Web in its entirety is going to be more useful than one whose indexation is patchy. Which is why I think the Overture Site Match paid inclusion program from Yahoo! is a really bad idea. Sites shouldn’t pay the search engine to be indexed. Rather, the search engine should strive to index as much of the Web as possible because that makes for a better search engine.

Indeed, I see Google’s announcement as a landmark in the evolution of search engines. Search engine spiders have historically had major problems with “spider traps” — dynamic database-driven websites that serve up identical or nearly identical content at varying URLs (e.g. when there is a session ID in the URL). Alas, search engines couldn’t find their way through this quagmire without severe duplication clogging up their indices. The solution for the search engines was to avoid dynamic sites, to a large degree — or at least to approach them with caution. Over time, however, the sophistication of the spidering and indexing algorithms has improved to the point that search engines (most notably, Google) have been able to successfully index a plethora of previously un-indexed content and minimize the amount of duplication. And thus, the “Invisible Web” begins to shrink. Keep it up, Google and Microsoft!