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Why on the first page google says there are thousands of results but on the last page there are less than a hundred?

That's kind of a recursive google search that should be self explanatory. It did took me some time to tweak the sentence and trying to find a number which would correspond precisely, reason why I changed it to "hundreds" instead! :P

If you have used google long enough you certainly have stumbled on situations similar to this, many times. Whenever it shows less than 10 pages it's quite easy to see it. The point is: the number of results on any page except the last one seems like a terrible estimate.

What's even weirder, some random times the estimate suddenly becomes much better and almost exactly the same on all pages than it is on the last page - the only page that's always correct.

So, anyone knows why?

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Right now on page one for that search it says 3200 results, but on the last page it says 75 (for people interested in an update) –  dkuntz2 May 1 '11 at 2:25
    
@DKuntz it's 2990 and 65 to me (while I'm logged in) while if I sign out (which is how I did it the first time) it turns into 3120 and 77. Maybe later I'll change the question slightly and build up a more consistent recursive query - but anyone is welcome to do it as well! :P –  Cawas May 1 '11 at 5:12
    
Google is weird. –  dkuntz2 May 1 '11 at 13:45
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1 Answer

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I don't know the exact answer - perhaps no one outside of Google knows. But I have two data points which may be useful.

The first is XKCD's take on the issue:

So it really looks like there’s a certain threshold of result volume beyond which Google apparently says “screw it” and throws out a gigantic number. I imagine this is probably due to incompetence rather than intentional deception; I’m sure it’s hard to generate pages quickly from many sources, and maybe for searches with a lot of results they don’t have time to get it all synced up. So they fudge the numbers. The fact that this makes it look like they have way more results than they do is presumably just an unintended bonus.

The second data point is from a computer science professor I had who was quite curious about the issue and bothered some friends at Google about it. They told him that sometimes it becomes very expensive to figure out how many results were really returned from a search, so they just make a best guess and return the first page of results, which is all most people care about. Only when you actually start drilling down through the pages does Google bother to fully calculate the remaining pages.

So neither of these is a definitive answer, but hopefully they will be useful at explaining the kinds of issues that may be causing Google's inaccuracies.

EDIT:

Sathya's answer on this page has an answer from Google's Webmaster KB.

When you perform a search, the results are often displayed with the information: Results 1 - 10 of about XXXX.

Google's calculation of the total number of search results is an estimate. We understand that a ballpark figure is valuable, and by providing an estimate rather than an exact account, we can return quality search results faster.

In addition, when you click on the next page of search results, the total number of search results can change. In this case, we realize that some of the query results are duplicates, and collapse those duplicates so that you can find the specific result you're looking for more easily. Collapsing the duplicates decreases the estimated number of results, as well as the overall number of results pages.

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While I love XKCD and deary former teachers, what you're telling me is that I should probably ask this on stackoverflow.com :P –  Cawas May 2 '11 at 4:15
    
I don't think anyone at stackoverflow will have a definitive answer - if you really need to know, you should ask Google. I can only relay the answer from someone who asked Google a few months ago. –  dsolimano May 2 '11 at 12:46
    
not looking for a definitive answer, just one with a reasonable deeper explanation, preferably good sourced. Don't get me wrong yours is reasonable, but saying "because it's hard" even if it is authoritative and makes sense, is too little to me. Hmm... maybe skeptics.se :o –  Cawas May 2 '11 at 15:44
    
Nice edit, now that's good sourcing! Though it's still saying "because it's hard", which means I'm still hoping for more details. :P –  Cawas Jun 21 '11 at 14:03
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