Search engines have transformed the way we consume information.
Today we can google just about anything on the World Wide Web. Major search databases - like Google and Bing - let us recall info with a few well-chosen keywords.
However, search engines go beyond Google. As users reject Google for its 1984-esque privacy, there are many other search engine alternatives.
Let’s go over the key players and alternatives to Google in our list of search engines.
What exactly is a search engine?
Google is often the first search engine that comes to mind. In reality, search engines entail a diverse set of databases.
The basic definition of a search engine is a database where users can search for items based on specified keywords.
You may be surprised to discover that we use a ton of search engines on a regular basis. YouTube, Amazon, Facebook… the list goes on and on.
Key players in the search engine market
- Google: Google dominates the search engine market on desktop, mobile and tablet. Its algorithms are sophisticated and the audience potential is huge. Google also powers other search engines.
- Bing: Microsoft’s Bing is Google’s biggest competitor and it’s constantly improving its services. Its results are considered less relevant, yet it has some nice pluses, such as video indexing.
- Baidu: Baidu is often called the “Chinese Google,” though it’s popular in China, the U.S., Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. Its features are high-quality, though some question whether it’s subject to government censorship.
- Yahoo!: Powered by Bing, Yahoo! is a popular search engine, especially for those who make use of its email service. Its shopping feature has been praised, though it still has some confusing features, such as unclear labeling of ads.
- Yandex: Yandex is a Russian-founded search engine with popularity in countries including Ukraine, Turkey, Belarus, China, Germany and Kazakhstan. It’s known for its machine-learning intelligence and image search option.
- DuckDuckGo: DuckDuckGo is a search engine that prioritizes privacy. It generates results using a variety of sources, all encrypted. It doesn’t track user data, which is great for privacy but also means that results aren’t personalized.
- Ask: Ask is a community-based results search engine. It has a question-answer format that relies on users' responses. It’s often criticized for the answers being out-of-date.
- Naver: Known as “South Korean Google,” Naver is a popular choice in that region. It’s built around the Korean language, which makes the results more relevant to users. Its features are standard, though its indexing isn’t as good as Google’s.
- Ecosia: This German-based search engine is socially inspired. It donates 80% of profits to causes such as fighting deforestation. It also protects your privacy, though it can’t quite compete with Google features such as Google Maps.
- AOL: AOL is another search engine that has been declining in popularity since its boom in the 90s. It’s currently powered by Bing and provides standard search engine services.
Of course, there are a myriad of other search engines beyond these ten. However, these are the major players to keep in mind.
Popular search engines by region
The popularity of different search engines also depends greatly on the region.
While Google is the first choice for most places around the world, there is some fierce competition for the most popular search engines.
- Baidu (China): In China, Baidu is the most popular search engine at 71% market share. Google doesn’t even make the list because it had to withdraw after violating Chinese law.
- Yandex (Russia): In Russia, Yandex has a market share of 61.9%, though Google is quickly gaining popularity.
- Naver (South Korea): In South Korea, Naver has over 70% of market share.
- Seznam (Czech Republic): While Google is most popular in the Czech Republic, the Czech search engine Seznam is still a strong competitor with over 12% market share.
Specifications of different search engines
Search engines vary greatly in their purpose. Depending on their aim, search engines may follow different specifications. A few of these considerations may involve:
Some search engines have a specific content scope. For example, the Library of Congress is for academic materials only, Yummly is a recipe database, WebMD is medically-focused and Zillow is for real estate searching. These search engines are limited by their content reach.
Depending on your location, some search engines may or may not be available. In particular, some search engines are limited to one or two countries.
They may also be specific to a language. For example, Egerin is only available in Kurdistan, Walla! is only for Israel and Sesam is specifically for Norway and Sweden.
Search engines range in the type of data they provide, including maps, multimedia, pricing, code, blog, email or forums.
Search engines such as Kiddle, KidRex and KidzSearch are specific and safe for children.
Some search engines allow for “safe searching” within certain religious beliefs. Examples include Halalgoogling, Jewogle and SeekFind.org, which all use religious filters on results from major search engines.
These search engines aggregate results from other engines. This feature is especially popular for flights, such as Google Flights, Kayak.com and Skyscanner.
There’s a movement to make search engines open-source. Some popular ones these days include Elasticsearch, Solr and Sphinx.
Social search engines
Search engines such as Facebook have a purpose towards making social connections online.
Privacy search engines
Everybody’s concerned about privacy. Search engines like DuckDuckGo, Swisscows and Startpage.com protect your privacy as you search.
Visual search engines
These search via image or visual. Popular engines include Google Images, FindFace and Pixsta.
Criticism of Google and other major search engines
Google is by far the most popular search engine today. While some consider it the best search engine, it also faces harsh criticism.
In particular, experts say it has taken advantage of its power as a market leader. Specific concerns have to do with privacy and bias.
Google doesn’t exactly have the best reputation when it comes to user privacy.
Because of its tracking and cookies policy, users are wary about the information Google collects on their browsing habits.
This is true for both Google and Gmail. Many users also worry about what Google is up to behind the scenes.
The lack of data protection and transparency has been the subject of several high-profile court cases around the world.
Search engine bias
Search engine bias is another studied effect. This occurs primarily because search results rely on a combination of popularity and relevancy.
However, experts believe that biases favor “popular” viewpoints and skew toward U.S.-based sites and opinions.
Another bias-related issue is filter bubbles. Google algorithms apply user browsing history and activity to personalize results, which means it serves information the user wants to see.
These so-called “filter bubbles” mean that users often see certain viewpoints they already agree with. A common example of filter bubbles is Facebook’s news stream.
Search engines like Google cost energy. Google’s energy consumption has spiked in recent years to 10.6 terawatt hours and keeps growing as the world becomes more data-hungry.
Alternative search engines to Google
Nowadays, there are a variety of alternative search engines.
Many offer a similar search experience, without the privacy violations. Others take out Google-specific biases for fairer results.
Google is no longer the default option for users who want to take control of their information and results.
As you choose an alternative to Google, it’s important to consider your priorities. To thoroughly vet a search engine, you should research:
- Search results (accurate, relevant)
- Privacy (data collection, third-party selling, search partners)
- Jurisdiction (data and security laws such as the Patriot Act)
- Features (anonymous mode, filters, plugins, extensions)
To kick off some best search engine alternatives, here are a few that may fit your needs:
DuckDuckGo is the most popular private search engine. It has 400+ resources for results and protects user privacy by not tracking or collecting user data.
It has minimal ads, infinite scrolling and the interface is also clean and attractive. With all privacy search engines, the results aren’t personalized, which can be limiting.
Ecosia is a fascinating search engine oriented to ecological causes. 80% of its profit is donated to planting trees. It’s powered by Bing and has a nice, friendly interface.
Another private search engine, StartPage is known as Google without the tracking. It uses the Google database but in a GDPR-compliant way.
Basically, its URLs are custom-generated, so that your browsing data isn’t collected. It’s got a good proxy service and HTTPS support, too.
Swisscows is a Swiss-based search engine that’s known for fully encrypted searches. It’s also family-friendly and 100% filters out violent content.
Swisscows is also interesting from an experience point-of-view because it uses a semantic map feature to help you narrow your search. Ads are also targeted by query content, instead of location.
This meta-search engine is open-source, collecting results from several engines at once. Available on GitHub, SearX is a customizable meta-search engine that you can easily modify according to your preferences.
It’s also got top privacy protocols and doesn’t collect data logs or URL history. You can even run your own instance, if you want.
Last but not least, Qwant is a Bing-based search engine with an attractive interface. It’s known for its user-friendly features such as a music search engine and instant search hits using key commands.
Since it’s a private search engine, there are some poor results for localized searches. However, its homepage is extremely popular with news and trends.
Honorable mentions in search engine alternatives
In addition to these alternatives to Google, there are plenty more to choose from, including:
- Search Encrypt
- Disconnect Search
As users get fed up with major players like Google, they’re turning to search engine alternatives that prioritize their privacy and security.
With this ultimate search engine guide, we hope you’re more informed and ready to google (or not google) your next query.
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