updated 8/8/2005 7:15:19 PM ET 2005-08-08T23:15:19

In a major expansion, Yahoo Inc. said Monday that its online search engine index now spans more than 20 billion Web documents and images, nearly double the material scanned by rival Google Inc.

Yahoo’s expansion doesn’t necessarily mean it produces more useful results than Google, which has long been considered the Internet’s most comprehensive database.

But the breakthrough gives the Sunnyvale-based company the bragging rights to a widely watched measurement for assessing the power of an Internet search engine.

Yahoo said its index, boosted by a recent upgrade, covers 20.5 billion online “objects,” comprised of about 19 billion documents and 1.5 billion images.

By comparison, Google said it tracks 11.3 billion objects. That figure consists of the nearly 8.2 billion Web pages that Google proudly touts on its home page and 2.1 billion images, with the remainder of material coming from its group discussions.

Until Monday, Yahoo hadn’t publicly disclosed the size of its search index, but industry estimates had placed the figure somewhere between 6 billion and 8 billion.

“This is a great reason for more people to check us out,” said Eckart Walther, Yahoo’s vice president of products. “We are more comprehensive than anyone else out there.”

Google spokesman Nate Tyler declined to comment on the size of Yahoo’s expanded search index.

Supplanting Mountain View-based Google as the biggest search engine should give Yahoo a potent marketing weapon in a tense duel for industry leadership, predicted Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li. “The Google brand stands for search and (Yahoo’s) strategy has been to undercut that brand,” she said.

Yahoo has had its sights set on Google since early last year when it introduced its own search technology and index to end a business partnership between the two companies.

For the previous 3½ years, Yahoo had been licensing its search results through Google — an arrangement that helped turn its rival into one of the Internet’s biggest success stories.

Since the split, Google has maintained a comfortable lead over Yahoo, even as its challenger continued to roll out new features that impressed industry analysts. Through June, Google held a 36.9 percent share of the U.S. search engine market with Yahoo at 30.4 percent, according to comScore Networks.

Generating searches is crucial for both companies because the requests spur revenue-producing ads alongside the results. The strategy has proven highly effective for both companies, with Google earning $712 million through the first half of while year and Yahoo earning $959 million during the same time.

While index size is an important factor in the search engine equation, other components, including the relevancy of the results and the freshness of the index, are even more significant, Li said.

“It doesn’t matter even if you give me 1 billion results on a request and none of them are what I’m looking for,” she said.

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