7 Alternative Search Engines (Tried & Tested)

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Google currently dominates the global search engine market. Not a day goes by when I don’t Google something. The same is probably true for you.

But criticism against Google has mounted over recent years. They’ve been fined for antitrust issues, creating a filter bubble and violating user privacy (amongst other things).

Consequently, many users are turning away from the search behemoth in favor of alternatives. Even our own Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), Tim has switched:

So if you’re looking for a Google alternative, what viable options do you have?

What is the best alternative search engine?

To answer this question, I ran an experiment.

I researched some of the most popular Google alternatives, and set each of them as my default search engine for a day. Then I went through my daily work to see if I noticed anything significant.

I also judged each search engine on its commitment to protecting user data and privacy.

Here are the results, starting with my favorite:

1. StartPage

startpage 1

Of all the search engines I tested, this is my top pick.

Why? StartPage exclusively uses results from Google, so it’s effectively Google without the tracking.

How private is it?

StartPage doesn’t record your IP address, and it doesn’t serve tracking cookies. But since it uses Google’s results, how do we know it doesn’t send information to Google?

Here’s an excerpt from their privacy policy:

When you search, your query is automatically stripped of unnecessary metadata including your IP address and other identifying information. We send the anonymized search query to Google and return the search results to you.

Privacy-oriented users may also take comfort in the fact that StartPage is based in the Netherlands, which is part of the European Union (EU). As a result, it complies with the GDPR—a regulation in the EU that protects users’ data.

However, you should know that the Netherlands is a part of the Nine Eyes intelligence alliance. This shares mass surveillance data with eight countries including those notorious for privacy violations like the US and UK.

Feature spotlight

One cool StartPage feature is dubbed “Anonymous View.”

1 startpage anonymous view 1

This protects you against website fingerprinting, cookies, social media tracking pixels, and other invasions of privacy when visiting websites.

Learn more here.

2. Qwant

qwant 1

Started in 2013, Qwant is a search engine based in Paris.

Its search results are powered by Bing and supplemented by those collected from its own web crawler.

Honestly speaking, I felt Qwant was pretty good. My only gripe was with its localized results. A search for “chicken rice near me”—a popular dish in Singapore—yielded results from the U.S.

2 quant local results 1

In fairness, this issue isn’t unique to Qwant. Privacy-focused search engines don’t track your geolocation, so it’s difficult for them to provide good local results.

How private is it?

Qwant does not collect any data or use tracking cookies. It also dissociates your query and IP address for further anonymity.

Like StartPage, Qwant is based in the EU and therefore offers GDPR protection. France is, however, part of the Nine Eyes intelligence alliance.

Feature spotlight

Qwant offers “search shortcuts” that allow you to search for results from a specific website.

For example, running a search like &books finds results from Amazon’s books category.

See the entire list of search shortcuts here.

3. DuckDuckGo

duckduckgo 1

Possibly the most popular private search engine, DuckDuckGo (DDG) has positioned itself as “anti-Google” since its launch in 2008.

DuckDuckGo sources its results from over 400 different places, including its own crawler (DuckDuckBot), crowdsourced sites (e.g., Wikipedia), and partners (e.g., Bing).

This might be an unpopular opinion, but I thought DuckDuckGo’s search results were good but not exceptional.

For instance, I was recently browsing Facebook and saw a video of a man bailing water away from a flooded street. I recognized the background of the video as Venice (Italy). Wanting to know what happened, I searched for “venice” in DuckDuckGo but didn’t see any relevant results. Yet a similar search in Google showed results about flooding in the city.

How private is it?

According to DuckDuckGo, it does not store personally identifiable information like IP addresses. It also doesn’t use tracking cookies. However, it does save searches, though claims to do it in a non-identifiable way.

That said, DDG is based in the U.S., which means it’s part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance. Privacy-oriented users may also point to the fact that the U.S. repeatedly conducts mass surveillance programs and collects data from various Internet companies (e.g., PRISM and MUSCULAR).

Feature spotlight

DuckDuckGo’s “Bangs” feature takes you directly to search results on other sites. For example, typing “!w” and a keyword (e.g., !w singapore) takes you directly to Wikipedia’s page for Singapore.

duckduckgo bangs 1

4. Ecosia

ecosia 1

It may not be obvious to you as an end-user, but every Google search contributes to the creation of carbon dioxide. According to Quartz, the search engine is responsible for ~40% of the Internet’s carbon footprint.

The company behind Ecosia wants to counteract this. It donates 80% of its profits to tree-planting projects, which roughly equates to one tree planted for every 50 searches. It’s also built a solar plant so it can run servers on clean power.

Ecosia’s search results are powered by Bing and enhanced by its own algorithms. I found results from Ecosia to be good enough most of the time.

How private is it?

Ecosia claims to be a private search engine. However, if you read their privacy policy, you’ll find that they’re not that privacy-oriented.

Firstly, they collect search data. This data, according to them, is used for improving their web services. Only after seven days is all personal information (e.g., IP addresses) deleted.

Additionally, since Bing powers their search results, they share some details with them to answer your search request. Here’s what Ecosia says:

[…] when you do a search on Ecosia we forward the following information to our partner, Bing: IP address, user agent string, search term, and some settings like your country and language setting.

Additionally, by default Ecosia sets a Bing-specific “Client ID” parameter to improve the quality of your search results. If your browser has “Do Not Track” enabled, we disable the “Client ID” automatically. You can also choose to disable this feature by modifying your user settings.”

If you’re concerned about privacy, Ecosia is probably not the best choice.

Feature spotlight

Hit the resolution dropdown on the videos tab to filter for video results of varying quality.

3 ecosia video resolutions 1

5. Swisscows

swisscows 1

As the name suggests, Swisscows is a search engine based in Switzerland. It has its own index for German queries but uses Bing results for other languages.

Swisscows bills itself as “family-friendly.” It automatically filters out all violent and pornographic search results. This feature is enforced. There’s no way to change it in the settings.

While I felt that Swisscows’ search results could be better, it made the list thanks to its strong commitment to privacy.

How private is it?

Swisscows does not collect any data about its users. It doesn’t use any tracking cookies or geo-targeting.

If you’re concerned about the partnership with Bing, you will be relieved to know it routes queries through a firewall to strip out personal identifiers.

You’ll also be happy to know that Switzerland is not part of the Five, Nine or Fourteen Eyes intelligence alliance. It does, however, have a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with the U.S.

Feature spotlight

Swisscows offers “semantic maps” to help you further refine your searches.

4 swisscows semantic maps 1

6. Bing

Owned by tech giant Microsoft, Bing is the second largest web search engine in the U.S, with a market share of ~6%.

If you’re looking for a search engine with similar features to Google, Bing is likely your best bet. Familiar features like translation, currency conversions, time, knowledge panels are all available.

bing currency conversion 1

Currency conversion in Bing’s search results. You’d be forgiven for thinking this is Google.

Honestly speaking, while it is the closest alternative to Google, there isn’t much upside to using Bing. There’s no privacy benefit, the quality of results is roughly on par, the experience is similar, and it belongs to one of the Big Five tech companies.

You should also know that in early 2019, Bing faced some serious issues with their safe search.

How private is it?

Bing is not a privacy-focused search engine. Microsoft collects data from all of your interactions with their products.

Feature spotlight

Bing allows you to preview videos directly in the SERPs:

7. Yahoo

Formerly one of the largest Internet companies in the world, Yahoo is now a shadow of its former self.

Its once popular search engine is today powered by Bing. Surprisingly though, it’s still the third most popular web search engine in the world, owning 1.6% of the global market share.

One thing I dislike about Yahoo is that the delineation between paid and organic results is unclear.

yahoo search 1

Ads are not marked clearly, and the only way you can tell is the barely noticeable divider.

Yahoo’s search results are decent, but the UI leaves a lot to be desired. It’s effectively Bing, but worse. In my opinion, the only reason it would make sense to use Yahoo is if you’re already using their other services like News, Finance, or Sport.

How private is it?

Yahoo is not a privacy-focused search engine. The company collects personal information when you register and use any of its products or services.

As Verizon acquired Yahoo in 2017, there may also be some sharing of data with Verizon’s family of companies for research, product improvements, and so on.

You should also know that the most significant data breaches on the Internet belong to Yahoo. They’ve faced heavy criticism for their laissez-faire attitude towards cybersecurity.

Did you know Ahrefs is building a search engine? Here’s why…

Google makes tens of billions of dollars per year in ad revenue, much of which comes from users of Google search.

In case you’re unfamiliar with how this works:

When you search for something on Google you see two types of results: organic and paid. If you click on a paid result, Google earns money from the advertiser for sending a potential customer their way. If you click an organic result, as most people do, Google earns nothing.

So what’s the problem?

For transactional queries like “buy x,” nothing. Both advertisers and those ranking organically will often profit from the traffic Google sends their way because they have something to sell.

The issue is that most queries aren’t transactional. Around 80% of Google searches are informational. This means that the searcher isn’t in buying mode; they’re in learning mode.

Many of the sites that rank for such queries are non-profit entities like Wikipedia, and those ran by passionate individuals with no motive other than to spread knowledge.

Sadly, these are the people and organizations that Google’s business model neglects—and often even stifles.

For instance, Wikipedia ranks for an estimated 195 million queries on Google in the US

wikipedia keywords us

… but because it has nothing to sell, it has to beg for donations just to stay afloat.

Google ranks sites like Wikipedia because they offer useful information. And when its users are able to find such information using the service, it keeps them coming back for more.

Inevitably, they perform transactional queries, click paid results, and Google gets paid.

Long story short, Google’s commercial success is built heavily on the information provided by others—yet they offer nothing in return.

In recent years, Google has even begun displaying content from these sites in its search results.

wikipedia search results

This often reduces (or eliminates) the need to click results, which further reduces monetization options for the sites that Google pulls information from.

At Ahrefs, we believe this is unfair on content creators. As such, we want to take the first step in challenging the status quo.

We plan to create a search engine with a 90/10 profit share model—one that splits advertising profits with the content creators who make search results possible.

Our CEO announced this in 2019:

We’ve already begun developing one behind the scenes.

Using this model, we hope that sites like Wikipedia will no longer have to ask for donations every year to stay afloat.

If you want to learn more about our plans, I’d recommend reading this article by our founder and CEO, Dmitry.

Final thoughts

Choosing a search engine is a personal decision. Everyone’s criteria and concerns differ.

My advice is to play around with the alternatives on this list and decide what works for you.

Did I miss any good alternative search engines? What do you think of our plans to create one? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

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