Do Search Engines Search The Entire Web?

The Web is incredibly huge; can a search engine see everything?

A handsome young businessman wearing a headset while concentrating on his computer screen
PeopleImages/Getty Images

The Web is an incredibly huge, complicated, and ever-expanding entity. This is why it's not possible for one tool - a search engine - to index, curate, and retrieve all content from the Web at all times.

Although there are billions of web pages indexed by search engines, none of those databases come close to containing a log of the entire Web, let alone the whole internet.

What Search Engines Do Not See

Here are several examples of what a search engine does not index:

  • The invisible web is a vast repository of information that most search engines don't index.
  • Private networks, called intranets, are not actually connected to the internet, and so are not found by search engines. This is also true for local files you open with your web browser; a public search engine can't see those local files unless they exist on a web server.
  • Forms like ColdFusion or CGI are not indexed by search engines.
  • Password protected websites like a university's library or content that requires paid subscriptions, are not available through a search engine.
  • Websites can intentionally set a page to not be indexed by search engines so that they won't be found when someone searches for that content.

Will There Ever be a Search Engine That Finds Everything?

Judging from the exponential growth of the Web day after day, week after week, and year after year, the odds are against it.

This is one reason why expert searchers tend to not rely on just one search engine for their Web search needs; one search engine can't deliver the fullest Web search experience that many people don't even realize that they are missing out on.

It's smart to diversify your Web search streams; here are a few resources that can help you address that:

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 will give 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 particular file types.

See these Advanced Google Search Shortcuts for more information on using search operators to refine your Google Web searches.

Was this page helpful?