Do Search Engines Search The Entire Web?

A "search everything" tool doesn't exist

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The web is incredibly huge, complicated, and ever-expanding. While a search engine does an awesome job at indexing and retrieving a chunk of this content, it's not perfect, and there are limitations to what a search engine can find.

Although there are billions of web pages indexed by search engines—and it might seem at first that you can use one to find any kind of text, video, image, or file you're looking for—none of those databases (even the most popular search engines) come even close to containing a log of the entire web.

What Search Engines Don't See

A search engine uses software to crawl through the web to index web pages, but due to how that works, not all websites can be found by a search engine.

Here are several examples of what a search engine doesn't index, some of which is considered the invisible web:

  • Password protected websites and sites that require a paid subscription are unable to be found with a search engine. This includes your emails, a university's online library, your bank transactions, and video streaming services like Netflix.
  • Local files that exist on your computer or opened from your computer in your web browser, aren't visible with a public search engine (unless you're offering them via a server).
  • Websites can intentionally set one or more pages to be excluded from a search engine, and if so, you won't be able to find them.
  • Private networks, called intranets, aren't connected to the internet, and so aren't found by search engines.
  • Forms like ColdFusion and CGI aren't indexed by search engines.

Remember that there's a huge amount of data accessible through the internet, and while there is a particular path you can take to find it all, you just can't get to most of it with a search engine.

Is a Full Web Search Possible?

Judging from the exponential growth of the web day after day and year after year, and the fact that much of the web is considered the dark web or deep/invisible web, the odds are against it.

This is true no matter what the search engine is called or what it claims to do. Entireweb, for example, might appear as though it can search the entire web for whatever you want, but it just isn't true.

It's no wonder that expert searchers tend to not rely on just one search engine for their web search needs, because a single search tool just can't deliver the fullest web search experience that many people don't even realize they're missing out on.

It's smart to diversify your web search streams. For example, if Google won't find the music you're looking for, you might try an audio search engine that's made specifically for finding sound files. The same goes for other niche search engines that can find images, search for videos, locate people, and browse the invisible web.

How to Limit What 'You' See With a Search Engine

There are some instances where you can define what type of results the search engine should show you, letting you limit what you see from the results.

This type of filtering uses what's called "search operators" to instantly narrow down the potential billions of results retrieved from a search engine. With Google Search, for example, you can search within particular websites only, search for certain phrases, and even find files from a web search.

Google and other search engines also often have advanced search options that let you filter the results by date and other parameters.