In the technology sector (as in life) change is the only constant.
If you follow technology media, you will not get bored of reading about new projects, programming languages, frameworks, plugins, purchases and sales, solutions for different problems, software and tools.
With one exception: Search engines.
The dominance of Google and its penetration is so extensive that people far removed from this world often associate the Internet with Google.
With its algorithm patented in 1997 and the company founded in 1998, they managed to outperform the existing search engines at that time in record time.
They based their power on a few principles that they were able to fulfill well: Improve their tracking and sorting technology to:
- Be more accurate than your competitors
- Show best results
- To be faster
- Improving information storage technology
By 1999, they had already surpassed the most used search engine up to that time: Altavista.
As I always say in class, I admire and criticize Google in equal parts. One of lime and one of sand.
I love the way they have been able to use information to give us a lot of value with tools that today seem innate to our habits.
Google Maps, Drive, Photos, its office suite, the calendar, Chrome, the translator, Travel, etc. They are tools that I love and use very often.
How can we not love them if they have made our lives so easy?
Remember the last time you traveled using a paper map? Do you remember what it was like to arrive at a place without knowing it beforehand? Create a presentation that was not compatible with the format of the computer where you were going to give the talk?
Depending on your age, some things will ring a bell.
For the younger ones, they won’t even know how to navigate in a city without Google Maps, for example, because they were born with these benefits of the network.
It’s funny how quickly we adapt to certain conveniences and how changing small habits, such as breakfast, costs us a world!
The hegemony is such that people outside the industry may believe that somehow there would be no Internet without Google. And the latter is dangerous.
An open and decentralized Internet has been a mainstay since the founding of the World Wide Web.
Since Tim Berners-Lee and the establishment of the W3C Consortium, there has been a longing for a semantic web. Computers capable of understanding data types and their relationships.
Search engines somehow feed on this principle in order to organize the enormous amount of information we are capable of producing and provide us with “the data we need, when we need it”.
For those of us who had a pre-internet education, where we had to go to a library to research data to do a simple genetics or photosynthesis paper, the immediacy offered by search engines is magic.
This magic nourishes us and makes life easier at unsuspected levels.
Part of the search engine’s success has been its ability to anticipate the searcher’s intent, and they have done it well!
A big part of my job as an SEO is to understand the search intentions of my clients’ customers, to improve their website and their content, to know how to respond to those intentions.
But a fundamental principle of the Internet, which we must not forget, is its decentralized, open character.
Net neutrality makes it clear that all web traffic should be treated equally.
A free and open internet for everyone has been a great dream and goal, which I believe we are getting closer and closer to achieving.
The problem with the hegemony of a company in something as essential as information is that it generates a danger: biases and the bubble effect.
“State of intellectual isolation in which the use of algorithms by websites to personalize search results can lead to.”Eli Pariser, bubble filter. Wikipedia
It is true that part of the search engine’s success has been to offer the best organic result. Google user satisfaction rates are very high (77% in the United States, for example).
But at what cost? Are we always willing to hand over all our information for it?
What if it’s not just the bubble effect generated by algorithms, but biases in the results due to business decisions that have nothing to do with “the best outcome”?
Where is the border between the search engine and the content creator?
To what extent can we trust the business decisions of this company?
We know that they have always transmitted an image of modernity, open, creative, innovative. Its reputation in terms of staff recruitment. The movie of the interns comes to mind, doesn’t it?
But the cases of antitrust lawsuits and other complaints at the international level show that there are many nuances between image and reality.
I think it is an admirable company, which has created fascinating things, and has changed the world in many ways.
But we must be aware of the whole scenario, think for ourselves and be constructive critics.
Use its tools yes, but with awareness of what it entails and what is behind it. Like the privacy policies we all read 😉
Therefore, I decided to create an article where I will tell you about the main alternative search engines to Google.
I will try to delve into its characteristics, uses, lights and shadows, forms of monetization, history; so that we can see that we have options and we should not always navigate with the current.
Duck Duck Go
History and description of the search engine
DuckDuckGo is a search engine that bases its creation and way of working on respect for user privacy.
According to them, as we can read on their website, privacy is non-negotiable.
Not using user data, showing the best results on the Internet and avoiding the bubble effect that can be generated, as explained above.
It was launched in 2008 and was founded by MIT physicist Gabriel Weinberg, who is still its CEO today.
Gabriel has been very critical of Google’s handling of privacy. You can read more about it in this article in Spanish from Confidencial: Entrevista creador DuckDuckGo.
In English, I really liked the interview he did in the excellent podcast: The Knowledge Project.
Technology, monetization and features of DuckDuckGo
DuckDuckGo was created at Pearl, and according to Wikipedia most of its code is proprietary, having an open part with Apache license.
It has its own spider like any search engine: DuckDuckBot, but it could be considered a hybrid since it extracts data from Yahoo, Yandex, which are technology partners and especially from Bing.
In principle, they exclude Google results.
The search engine offers you specific search verticals: images, videos, news, maps, etc.
It allows you to limit the results by region and has many keyboard shortcuts that allow more functionalities, such as expanding the shortened links, without the need to enter them (by putting expand before the shortened URL). I love the latter and find it very useful.
We already know that at the international level Google’s usage shares are overwhelming, although there may be variations by country. Globally according to statcounter:
Google’s share of usage is 91%, while a search engine like DDG has only 0.66%. In the United States, the search engine is performing better with 2.08%.
In the following Xataka article they explain well the differences with Google. And one might ask, if they don’t use your data, how do they monetize?
As they point out in the article, they serve ads through Microsoft or Yahoo ad networks, since as we pointed out, they are technology partners.
They have an affiliate marketing system and partner with companies such as Amazon or eBay to display untracked search advertising.
In any case, in its options it allows you to disable advertising, if you wish.
By not storing the IP, nor the personal data that Google uses, the results will not always be completely satisfactory with your search. This is one of the main disadvantages compared to the technological giant.
I mean, the results I do, or you do, for the same keywords will not vary. Note that it does store the keywords used, but it cannot associate them to any specific user.
This limitation is also logical. To be part of that small sacrifice we make by not giving our personal information to a technology company.
Regarding keyboard shortcuts, they are known as Bangs! and the list is incredible: more than 13,565 at present. You can check them out at the link.
They allow you to search within a website, for example by putting !w you can search Wikipedia.
It has search commands similar to Google, where you can limit within the results by putting the minus, for example (-), to omit results for that specific keyword.
In the excellent podcast of FreelanDev with Esther Solá and Nahuai Badiola, talking about DuckDuckGo, I remember commenting to Nahuai (I don’t remember in which chapter) that he used the search engine, and that when the search results did not satisfy him at all, he used the keyboard shortcuts to launch Google searches if necessary.
And it is a good trick if after a while using DDG you see limitations in some searches, you can always use the Google Bang: !google + the search you want.
So you have no excuse to try this fantastic initiative.
Finally I wanted to comment that the company has an application that allows you to surf the Internet safely, with the following features:
- Rating of websites in terms of privacy protection with a traffic-light icon
- Encrypted connectivity
- Blocking of advertising trackers
- Private history
It is available for browsers such as Chrome and for mobile devices as an app.
I tested the browser on my Android phone and it works great, it’s light and so far, I’m not complaining about the quality of the results.
If you care about your privacy and want to continue using the internet in a seamless way, getting good results, I think DuckDuckGo is one of the most solid options today.
Of all the search engines on this list, Ecosia takes the cake in terms of storytelling and media impact.
When it was unveiled, its proposal was clear: “The search engine that plants trees”. But what is it really about?
According to the Wikipedia entry, it is a Berlin-based search engine that donates 80% of its revenue to non-profit forestry projects.
What is curious (and admirable) is that they lead by example, as they are a carbon-negative company, meaning that they produce twice as much renewable energy as they need to operate.
The company was created by developer and social entrepreneur Christian Kroll.
Ecosia had several predecessors, Kroll’s collaborations with other companies. He even had a collaboration with Google in 2009 on a search engine called: Forestle. Projects that have been redirected towards Ecosia.
Its transparent and open nature is striking. On their website you can see economic reports of the company’s impact, their monthly income and how they allocate their resources to these reforestation and environmental care projects.
Born in 2009 and 10 years later, it has already planted 60 million trees. In 2014 they were recognized with the B Corporation seal(Certified B Corporation), for their positive impact as a company in social and ecological terms.
Ecosia technology, monetization and features
Ecosia, in addition to the browser, offers a browser for apple based on WebKit (same as Safari) and for Android, based on Blink.
Despite their transparency in economic terms, I did not get that same clarity on the licensing information behind their technology, as the repositories they have on GitHub are not directly linked to the search engine.
It is also true that I believe they contribute little from a search engine technology point of view.
They are powered by Bing, which displays the results and from there, their ad revenue. As a kind of intermediary.
They do not store user information, nor the IP, but if you want to personalize your results you can give that permission in the settings, and Bing stores them for 18 months.
In this article they have a comparison between Google and Ecosia. For obvious reasons we cannot speak of total objectivity, but they highlight the advantages for:
- Positive environmental factors of Ecosia versus Google
- Greater fiscal responsibility, in the face of the acrobatics of large technological companies to reduce tax payments.
- More neutral results that reduce the bubble effect that we have discussed so far, since Ecosia does not use user data such as history, location or behavior to show you the data.
- More privacy, as it does not negotiate with your data.
Most search engines use Google’s standard format to display results: ads, organic results, even a lateral knowledge graph:
In the settings section, it does not have as many options as DuckDuckGo, but it allows us to visualize the number of trees, in a counter and I liked that the option to customize the results by giving the data to Bing, as explained above, is unchecked by default:
Simple, straightforward and with clear values that drive the company.
I think that if you agree with its principles, it is a very interesting alternative to Google, although remembering that it is like using Bing, but opting for more privacy and with a social and environmental purpose, which stands out from the rest.
One of the oldest alternative search engines to Google is undoubtedly StartPage.
Founded in 2006 in the Netherlands, its foundation is the right to privacy of individuals. But its history dates back to 1998 when it was just a metasearch engine “twinned” with another company – Ixquick, which ended up merging in 2016, according to the Wikipedia entry.
As the company itself points out on its website:
“Startpage helps people who care about their privacy and refuse to be manipulated by algorithms or controlled by advertising. Because online privacy isn’t just about peace of mind, it’s about having the power of mind.”StartPage, About us
Meta-search engines are “search engines of search engines”, to be redundant.
It does not have its own database, but uses data from search engines to serve the information in the best possible way.
StartPage uses Google data, paying for it, but keeping user data anonymous.
The form of monetization is through advertising for the keywords we use in searches, but without accessing user histories or browsing data.
Ixquick was created in 1998 by David Bodnick in New York, and years later, Surfboard Holding BV, a Dutch company, led by Robert E. G. Beens, co-founder and current CEO, acquired Ixquick, merging and relaunching the metasearch engine in 2005.
The important thing about this metasearch engine is that it is based in Europe, and that they patented a technology based on user privacy.
We know that at the technological level and in terms of laws, there are many differences in the use of data between the European and American models.
StartPage received the European Privacy Seal in 2011.
This means that it was endorsed by the European Union indicating good compliance with security and privacy laws. That seal was received again in 2013 and 2015, since it has an expiration date.
How does StartPage protect your privacy?
In their blog, they have an interesting article where they explain why some search engines fall short in security and privacy aspects.
Its slogan and value proposition is as simple as:
“Show you the best results thanks to Google, but completely anonymous.”StartPage
And in the simplicity of its proposal lies its success.
They explore why they are better than the rest in privacy and explain it to you in some powerful arguments:
- They do not mask part of your IP. For them this would be leaving a navigation trail. They completely hide the IP of their systems, it is labeled as 0.0.0.0.0.
- For them the incognito mode of browsers gives you a false sense of privacy. In reality, search engines and websites can still crawl you.
- Browse with the anonymous view. Its functionality allows you to browse by redirecting your IP through a firewall, hiding the locality, and leaving no breadcrumb trails.
- By being anonymous, you can access news avoiding the bubble effect based on your profile or browsing history.
If you are a Chrome fan, it has its own browser extension.
They also have it for browsers such as Firefox and Waterfox. In the rest such as Edge, Safari, Tor, Brave or Vivaldi, you can install it as the default browser.
Undoubtedly, one of my favorite options in this list.
All the power of Google without the component of your data? Interesting. 😇
Mojeek is a British search engine that, unlike the rest of the examples we have seen so far, does not feed its results from other search engines such as Bing or Google.
No tracking, Just Search… (no tracking, just search)Mojeek
By 2021 they reached the milestone of having indexed 4 billion web pages. Quite a technological feat for a small company, born out of a personal project of Marc Smith in 2004, from the Sussex Innovation Center.
It was developed in C and at the beginning of the project, the servers used for the search engine were hosted at Marc’s own home.
And although it is true that it is a search engine that is based on this principle of privacy, if you enter other websites you do not have the “blocking” of personal data that you have with other options such as StartPage.
You can add Mojeek to your preferred search engine in a very simple way in most browsers.
The search engine is currently only available in English, German and French. It has in its settings very cool options such as:
- Show you the last crawled date of the web (last crawled date)
- You can define the search engine for the images. Pixabay is checked by default, but you can select Bing
- You can change your location. You can mark that you are not in a specific location, or even select a specific country.
It seems to me a very exciting project, but at present, at least in Spanish, I have been testing it and the order of the results is not very satisfactory.
It’s complex with the almighty Google as a benchmark.
With the last crawled date option you realize that it is obvious that mojeekbot does not have the ability to crawl as frequently as googlebot does.
And obviously, it’s not just about frequency, then the organization of the results thanks to algorithms.
Nevertheless, I think the project is incredible and I would be happy to see it continue to grow, so that in the future it will represent one more option to enrich the search engine ecosystem.
Although it has very little time on the market since it is currently in beta, the Brave browser, famous for its privacy policies for Internet users, already offers a search engine, apparently with its own index: Brave Search.
In the launch article they point out that it is independent, it does not track users, their searches or clicks.
They comment that in the future, it will have ad-free and ad-supported search options.
In the release they go so far as to state that:
“There will be no secret algorithms that could bias the results, and there will be full transparency in the open, community-developed ranking models to ensure diversity and avoid bias.”Brave Search
I don’t know if they came up with the pitch, but it is frankly a game-changing proposal. Sure, it sounds good in theory, we would have to see its actual application.
Let’s hope so, as it would represent a complete alternative model to Google.
Specifically, it relies only on Bing for image searches.
They have a comparison in Spanish between them, Google and DuckDuckGo.
For obvious reasons, Brave has its own browser and can offer more private browsing and searching than DDG.
Add to that an independent index (remember that DDG extracts data from Bing), and transparency in the ranking of results? My head explodes 🤯.
It is still in beta, so we will have to wait a little time to evaluate it, analyze it and see where the project is headed.
Other search engines
In this article I wanted to address the most powerful and viable alternative search engines to Google.
If I miss any, I’d love to read about them in the comments. I will be happy to make future updates to this post.
However, there are more options that I mention in this section, but I do not go into them in depth due to their impracticality, such as search engines in our language.
Metager is a German metasearch engine, one of the oldest, created in 1996. It is a project of a non-profit company: Suma-Ev and the University of Hannover.
It is a benchmark in “green electricity”, so it has sustainability and care for the environment at its core.
Obviously, a search engine that does not track you, and in the case of the IP, masks it, does not block it completely.
If you can use MetaGer through the Tor network to guarantee your anonymity.
Searx is a free software meta search engine with GNU license, which bases its principles on privacy.
It does not share IP, search histories, block tracking cookies.
You can use data from Bing, Google, Reddit, Wikipedia, Yahoo and Yandex.
Search engines and browsers
Search engines are the access point par excellence to the Internet and as we have seen in this article, Google has achieved such a predominant position that we have stopped looking sideways.
There are options, it’s just a matter of getting out of our comfort zone and giving them a try.
I recognize that this article will sit well among industry professionals who reflect on and are concerned about the whole issue of privacy and data management by technology companies.
For many other people, using Google is more convenient. I understand, I myself as an SEO consultant would be very limited professionally, if I stopped using and analyzing Google as a search engine.
Their results are incredible and have made our lives easier than ever. As I pointed out at the beginning, it is not just the search engine, but the set of tools that are there for “free”.
At the very least, we should be aware of the price we pay for it ¯ (ツ)_/¯
Search engines are just the beginning. We must understand that the browser also plays an essential role in privacy while surfing the Internet, but that would be a discussion for another long article.
Of all the options discussed and analyzed, I believe that the most solid proposals would be two (and a third, which we must give a margin of time):
- DuckDuckGo, being aware that the results are provided by Bing, and I don’t particularly like Bing’s results. Although in its favor, the development and functionalities that DDG has been incorporating, I think it is worth trying.
- StartPage, which takes advantage of Google results. Using the private browsing profile. The best of both worlds without a doubt.
- I’ve been hearing about the advantages of Brave as a browser for a while now, I haven’t been able to try it yet. And the few tests I did with the beta browser are great. I think it is too early to evaluate it, but I have the impression that it will become one of the most viable alternatives, if its own index proves to be as useful as Google; which is complex due to the years of development and evolution of Google against the competition.
I hope this long article will help you understand the different options we have in this “conservative” world of search engines.
In diversity there is always richness, and I am sure that going out of the comfort zone and experimenting new things can help us to expand our knowledge and why not, make a more conscious use of the tools and the internet.
I hope you enjoy the process. Live long and prosper!