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Abstract

Search engines are normally used to find information or Web sites, but Webometric investigations use them for quantitative data such as the number of pages matching a query and the international spread of those pages. For this type of application, the accuracy of the hit count estimates and range of URLs in the full results are important. Here, we compare the applications programming interfaces of Google, Yahoo!, and Live Search for 1,587 single word searches. The hit count estimates were broadly consistent but with Yahoo! and Google, reporting 5–6 times more hits than Live Search. Yahoo! tended to return slightly more matching URLs than Google, with Live Search returning significantly fewer. Yahoo!'s result URLs included a significantly wider range of domains and sites than the other two, and there was little consistency between the three engines in the number of different domains. In contrast, the three engines were reasonably consistent in the number of different top-level domains represented in the result URLs, although Yahoo! tended to return the most. In conclusion, quantitative results from the three search engines are mostly consistent but with unexpected types of inconsistency that users should be aware of. Google is recommended for hit count estimates but Yahoo! is recommended for all other Webometric purposes.