Google now handles at least 2 trillion searches per year

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The search giant won’t say exactly how many trillions of queries it processes, other than it’s now two or more. It last claimed 1.2 trillion in 2012.

How many searches per year happen on Google? After nearly four years, the company has finally released an updated figure today of “trillions” per year. How many trillions, exactly, Google wouldn’t say. Consider two trillion the starting point.

At least 2 trillion and less than a quadrillion

Google did confirm to Search Engine Land that because it said it handles “trillions” of searches per year worldwide, the figure could be safely assumed to be two trillion or above. After all, you can’t do trillions of searches — plural — unless it’s two or more.

But is it more than two trillion? Google could be doing five trillion searches per year. Or 10 trillion. Or 100 trillion. Or presumably up to 999 trillion, because if it were 1,000 trillion, you’d expect Google would announce that it does a quadrillion searches per year (Yes, that’s the name for 1,000 trillion — I had to look it up!).

Google’s searches per year, over time

The actual trillions figure is probably close to the single or low double-digits. This assumption comes from what Google has claimed in the past. To understand that, let’s go through the history of what Google itself has said it handles in terms of searches per year.

An important note here: All the numbers below are those that Google itself claimed, not those from third parties. Also important: it’s easy to find sites claiming to show a year-by-year progression based on Google’s own figures on how Google’s searches have increased over time. Those claims aren’t valid, as Google has often skipped self-reporting searches, as you’ll see below.

  • 1999: one billion per year (based on three million searches per day in August 1999, as reported by John Battelle in his great book, The Search. The figures, I’m fairly certain, came directly from Google, which was more open back then when needing to prove its growth story)
  • 2000: 14 billion (based on 18 million searches per day for the first half of 2000 and 60 million for the second half, from figures reported by Battelle. It’s not a perfect estimate, but it’s the best I can figure)
  • 2001–2003: 55 billion+ (based on reports by Google for its Zeitgeist in 2001, 2002 and 2003)
  • 2004–2008: 73 billion (based on Google saying it was doing 200 million searches per day in 2004. After that, it said only “billions” in Google Zeitgeist for 2005 and 2007, with nothing said for 2006 or 2008)
  • 2009: 365 billion+ (A Google blog post in 2009 said Google was doing more than one billion searches per day, then silence for 2010 and 2011)
  • 2012–2015: 1.2 trillion (based on a 100-billion-per-month figure Google released during a special press briefing on search in 2012. Google repeated this figure in 2015, when expressing it as three billion searches per day)
  • 2016: two trillion+ (based on this story that you’re reading now!)

The difficulty in estimating beyond 2 trillion

As you can see, Google’s claiming to do at least roughly double the searches in 2016 that it did in 2012. That seems reasonable to believe. But could it be doing more?

The best way I know to estimate is to repeat what I’ve done before. You look at what comScore, a third-party ratings service, reported Google handling in 2012. You then compare that to 2016, to get comScore’s growth rate for Google. Then, that rate can be applied to Google’s own figures.

This is not perfect for several reasons. First, comScore only measures searches in the United States, not worldwide. Globally, growth might be much different. Second, comScore only measures desktop searches, missing the more than half of searches now happening on mobile with Google. Finally, comScore ultimately is an educated guess at what Google’s really processing. Only Google knows for sure.

With those caveats in mind, comScore’s most recent estimates put Google at handling 10.4 billion searches last month. Comparing that to three years ago, comScore put Google at 11.4 billion searches per month. Uh oh! That’s a nine-percent decline. This rate applied to Google’s latest figures would suggest that Google should have dipped down to about one trillion searches, not risen up to two trillion or more.

Back to those caveats. Again, comScore only measures desktop search activity, which has beendropping consistently since 2013, as people turn to mobile devices. This means comScore’s entirely missing the growth story in search, making any estimates off its figures fairly useless.

Searches per second, minute, day & month

The bottom line: Without Google itself providing more details, assuming two trillion or more searches per year is the safest bet, for those who want to cite an actual figure rather than say “trillions.”

Those who cite figures also often like to cite them per month, day, or even to the second. If you go with two trillion per year with Google, then the breakdown is like this, in rounded figures:

  • Searches per second: 63,000
  • Searches per minute: 3.8 million
  • Searches per hour: 228 million
  • Searches per day: 5.5 billion
  • Searches per month: 167 billion
  • Searches per year: 2 trillion

Again, a caveat. Read all those figures with “at least” in mind. Google’s doing at least two trillion searches, it says, but it could be more. That similarly means it’s doing at least 63,000 searches per second, but maybe more, at least 5.5 billion searches per month, but maybe more, and so on.

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