Here’s what the number of seconds means on a Google search:
The number of seconds is telling you how long it took Google to compile the list of search results that are now on your screen.
Typically, this time is only a fraction of a second, showing how fast Google is.
From this number, you can infer how popular a topic is, especially if you get few results from a long search.
So if you want to learn all about what those numbers indicate on a Google search, then this article is for you.
Let’s get right into it!
What Kind of Google Search Shows the Seconds?
Normally, this is where I take a minute to explain some of the basic underlying concepts pertaining to the daily topic.
But, I don’t think you need me to really explain what Google is.
It’s the thing we all use on our phones and computers to look up stuff on the internet.
Technically, Google is one of many search engines (things that scour the internet to provide you with information), but Google is so dominant that we all have at least some familiarity with the product.
We call the action “googling” things because Google is that overwhelming in the search engine space.
Still, some clarity helps, and that’s why I’m going to explain that not all Google searches give you a number of seconds.
Specifically, if you do a search using Google.com, then you’ll see the seconds included in the search result.
But, a whole lot of apps and such use searches powered by Google, and not all of these will include a number of seconds in the results.
In these cases, Google has a service that you can use to run searches on your website or in your app.
When you use this service, you get to customize how things look, so you might not include the number of seconds in your presentation.
That’s what I want to emphasize.
Searches run on Google.com always show the seconds.
Searches powered by Google on different websites or apps might not.
Where Do You See the Seconds on a Google Search?
For a little more clarity, I can show you exactly what we’re talking about in reference to “seconds” today.
Do a Google search.
When you do, you’ll get a bunch of results, but before you get to the very first result, you’ll see a number of results and a number of seconds in parentheses next to it.
Typically, the number of seconds is actually a fraction of a second.
If you still can’t find it, look at the top of the page with the search results.
Below that, you’ll see tabs that let you filter the results (they say “all,” “images,” “shopping,” etc.).
Directly below those tabs is where you’ll find the number of search results and the seconds.
What Do the Seconds on a Google Search Mean?
We’re going to get into the implications behind the seconds and what you can really derive from that information a little later.
First, let’s talk about the literal meaning behind this information.
Google is telling you exactly how long it took to compile the list of search results.
So, if Google tells you that there are “About 623,000,000 results (0.68) seconds, it means that the Google servers found all of those 623 million results in a little over half a second.
That’s it. That’s the whole meaning behind this number.
Of course, that might lead you to wonder how Google can compile so many results in so little time, and that will lead us down the road of inferences, where we can actually glean a little more information by understanding what is really happening here.
Why Are The Seconds on a Google Search There? (2 Reasons)
In pursuit of understanding, we have to ask why Google is providing this information.
Is the company just bragging, or is the number actually useful in some way?
The real answer might be a little bit of both, but I really can’t speak to the motivations of Google as a company.
What I can tell you is that when you know more about Google searches, the seconds involved in a search are more telling.
With that in mind, let’s explore some of the things we can glean from this number—beyond the simple idea that a search took a certain fraction of a second.
#1 How Much the Topic Is Discussed
First up, this number can tell us how popular a topic is online.
Google is trying to list as many relevant websites as possible in the search results.
That’s why it’s common to see hundreds of millions of hits in the search results.
The thing is, the number of search results is only part of the equation.
The time involved also matters.
We’re going to revisit this idea from a few different perspectives, but the basic idea is that it only takes so long for Google to compile the list.
Clearly, the company can get hundreds of millions of search results in under a second.
So, if you see a large number of results that took a short amount of time to compile, then you know that the topic is very popular.
Google has tons of answers ready to go (more on this in a bit), so it didn’t take long even though the list of answers is so long.
Meanwhile, if Google gives you a smaller number of responses in a longer period of time, it suggests that the servers had to work harder to find viable answers.
In other words, the topic is less popular.
Now, does the popularity of a topic really matter?
To put this in the simplest terms, answers to the most popular topics are the most reliable.
If you’re trying to find obscure information that only a handful of people in the world can answer, then a single typo or mistake might constitute the only answer you find.
Meanwhile, if you’re asking when Kylie Jenner’s birthday is, enough people already know the answer that typos and mistakes will be drowned out online by the sheer volume of people answering correctly.
So, from the perspective of raw statistics, popularity is a good thing for reliability.
Ultimately, search engines are more complicated than just popularity, but this is a simple idea that you can gauge very quickly, just by seeing how many results are listed and how long it took to list them.
We can take a deeper look at the relationship between search results and time by peeling back the layers of indexing.
This is a computer term that describes how a system organizes information.
When you turn on your computer, as an example, it already has a bunch of files stored on it from previous use.
Those files are indexed in order to make it easier for the computer to find any particular information that you might need while it’s on.
Google does this too.
When you put a search into Google (this process is known as creating or entering a search query), Google does not respond to that by checking a bunch of websites to see what answers are available.
It has actually already done this work before you ever type in your search (more on this in a bit).
Google keeps a giant index of websites and content, so when you do create a search, the engine only has to check against that giant list.
The list is organized according to Google’s indexing (I can’t tell you more because Google keeps the specifics secret).
This can help explain why searches with fewer results are sometimes slower than searches with more results.
Generally, when you search for something, it will be covered by Google’s index.
Google is paying attention to every single search ever made through its service, so it’s going to be hard for you to put in something Google hasn’t seen before.
Because of that, it has great search results already primed for delivery.
You put in your search, you get fast answers, and that’s that.
In such a case, it takes longer to populate a longer list.
That’s obvious, right?
Even as fast as computers are, it’s going to take longer to provide a list of 1 billion results than a list of 100 million results (10 times longer, in fact).
So, if you get a search result with lots of answers and it took a fraction of a second, everything is normal.
But, what happens when you actually do stump Google?
Well, when you put in your query, Google goes through its whole index to provide your answer.
If it doesn’t get good results, then it will take another lap, but it will loosen the search parameters.
So, answers that weren’t deemed good enough the first time around might be accepted the second time.
If it still doesn’t get good enough results, then it will take another lap.
It keeps going until it gets enough results that the engine is satisfied.
If enough laps are taken without getting good answers, then it might actually tell you that it couldn’t find anything at all.
The specific number of laps before that happens is another Google secret.
Here’s how that relates back to the number of seconds.
When you see a search time over 1 second, and you don’t have multiple billions of results, then you can assume that Google had to take multiple laps through the index in order to create those results.
In other words, you just provided Google with an uncommon search.
That means that your answers are a little less reliable (which you’ll probably notice just by reading through the list).
It also means that you might have more luck if you can rephrase the search.
It’s entirely possible that Google has a good answer for your query, but it didn’t properly understand what you were asking it.
How Does a Google Search Actually Work? (3 Things)
So, the real value of the search time is found in indexing.
At this point, you have a fair idea of what happens in the process of indexing and why it matters, but we can still peel back more layers.
I said that Google answers your questions before you ask them.
How does that work?
It’s a multi-step process, but from a non-coding perspective, it’s actually not too complicated.
#1 Web Crawlers
The secret to Google’s success is found in the web crawlers (also called search bots or just bots).
The crawlers are bits of automated software that are designed for a simple process.
They scour the internet to read what is written on websites.
This includes every website that is on the internet, from chatrooms and forums to major sites like Amazon.com.
Google’s goal for these bots is to literally read every single line of content on the internet (excluding the dark web, which is a whole different can of worms: You can think of the dark web as World Wide Web content that’s available on darknets. Darknets are networks that use the Internet but require special software, configurations, or authorizations to access them.).
There are also crawlers that try to index pictures and videos, but that’s a lot harder and more complicated.
To keep this simple, we’ll focus on the crawlers that check text.
It’s an easier concept, and it really does cover the basis that we need.
As the web crawlers run across the internet, they report their findings back to the Google servers.
Those servers then catalog everything.
That means that Google really does have a master list of websites and what is written on them.
Now, new websites are created daily, so the web crawlers never run out of work, and the catalog is always growing, but this is the gist of how it all comes together.
In fact, you could create a website right now.
For an example, let’s say that you make a website explaining your favorite chili recipe.
Eventually, the Google crawlers will find it, and it will be cataloged in the servers.
If someone Googles chili recipes, your site will be on that list of results (but not necessarily on the first page).
Ok. That’s how Google knows what is on the internet, but how does it know how to answer your specific questions?
This boils down to the Google algorithm, which is a secret.
I can’t give you a perfect, step-by-step explanation, but there are some generalizations that can explain the process.
Basically, you do a Google search by typing letters into a search bar.
Google tries to match the letters you type to letters that it finds in its catalog of websites.
So, if you type a very specific phrase, and it shows up verbatim on only one website, that website will probably be your first search result (not accounting for ads, which is yet another can of worms).
This is the gist, but Google has invested a ton of research into creating ways for computers to more or less understand what people mean when they type something.
This is why Google can often give you good results even when you misspell things.
How Google accomplishes that is tied up in the secret algorithm.
I can’t really elaborate, but the gist really does boil down to matching letter combinations in your search to letter combinations in websites.
Why Do Some Google Searches Take Longer?
Let’s bring this back to indexing and time once more.
If Google is trying to match your search to information available in websites, then an abnormally long search time suggests that Google couldn’t find clean matches to your search on very many (if any) websites at all.
There are three possibilities.
First, what you typed and what you meant to type are not the same thing.
In other words, there are typos or mistakes in the query that confused Google.
Not to worry, this happens to absolutely all of us.
Second, your question, while right, confused Google.
This could be that you phrased an otherwise normal topic in a way that just isn’t familiar to the search engine.
For the most part, Google only knows what it has already seen, so if you used antiquated English or something in your search, you might trick the engine.
Lastly, it’s possible that the internet can’t provide the information that you want.
There are no websites with good answers, so Google is genuinely stumped.
This can happen with obscure topics.
It can also happen with taboo topics.
Hopefully, you can’t get schematics to build nuclear weapons from a simple Google search.
You get the idea.