What's The Deal With Google & Its Changing Results Counts?

Ever wonder why Google sometimes gives you more results when you do a query that should bring back less, such as when you "subtract" a term? Here's the answer, courtesy of Twitter exchanges.

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  1. I've defended Google plenty over the years, as well as criticized them, but fair to say -- I wouldn't be counted as an enemy of Google, by your logic.

    So I did a search for ["danny sullivan"] and got 193,000
    results. Then I did ["danny sullivan" -gerbils] and got 1620,000
    results. That  shouldn't be the case. I shouldn't get MORE results when I'm searching a previous set of results and asking for a subset without a particular word.

    That would debunk your conspiracy, I'd say. It doesn't debunk that Google is screwed up with its results counts. Do a search for "25 Things I Hate About Google." this was number one on my  list, in an article from 2006. So not only isn't this a conspiracy -- it's a long-standing bug that they ought to fix
  2. Hi Eric, the answer to the headline's question "Is Google Guilty Of  Deliberate Query Sabotage?" is no. We've talked about the fact that results estimates are just estimates for years, see e.g.  http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4814548594071648913# 

    As to why the query [A B -C] can return more estimated results than [A B], that's easy to explain. The query [A B -C] causes us to go deeper through our posting lists looking for matches, which can lead to more accurate (and larger) results estimates. Other things can cause us to go deeper in finding matches, such as clicking deeper in search results.
    Results estimates can also vary based on which data centers or indices your query hits, as well as what language you're searching in. It certainly has nothing to do with whether you're a "possible enemy of Google," as you put it.

    We try to be very clear that our results estimates are just that--estimates. In theory we could spend cycles on
    that aspect of our system, but in practice we have a lot of other things to work on, and more accurate results estimates is lower on the list than lots of other things.