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The most popular alternatives to Google

If you want to search for something on the internet, you Google it. Google is the most popular choice for everyday searches amongst users worldwide. Over 83% of all searches by users in the UK are carried out on Google. But this Mountain View multinational is by no means the only search engine provider on the web. Here we’ll present to you a list of search engines that are notable alternatives to Google and can keep up with the industry giant.

Google, Yahoo, and Bing dominate the market share

While Google continues to deal with data protection scandals, several competitors have seized the opportunity to offer alternative business ideas that don’t involve evaluating user data. Some competitors such as Bing and Yahoo may be largely copying the business model of the market leader, there are many others that aren’t: the search engine market is a colorful place.

Among these are anonymous search engines, the biggest benefactors since the PRISM affair in the United States. The PRISM program at the center of this, developed and implemented by the National Security Agency (NSA), collects and analyses electronic data. Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, and many other corporations have made it clear that they are prepared to hand over sensitive data to the NSA, if necessary. In reaction to this, many users have turned away from these established search engines - so website owners should consider other search engines alongside Google when optimising their project for online searches.

But especially in the US and Europe, Google is still the leader in terms of search engines. With 86% of the market share in the States and 93% in European countries, Google leaves its competitors Yahoo and Bing far behind. In China, on the other hand, the search engine Baidu, which is little-known in the West, holds the tops spot. It should be kept in mind, though, that Google is not accessible to the general public in China.

Search engine market shares measured by traffic, July 2016 - Download the pdf as a graphic here

Bing: The Microsoft product made in Google’s image

The most well-known alternative to Google comes from Microsoft. Their search engine, Bing, comes in second place behind Google in terms of user numbers – albeit by a fairly large distance. In the UK, only around 11% of internet users use the Microsoft search engine. Bing models itself on Google visually, mimicking the successful model with additional search functions optimised for images, videos, and news, as well as a maps service.

Microsoft Bing also has a function to rival Google’s Knowledge Graph, known as the Satori Knowledge base, which displays information published on Wikipedia in the SERPs (search engine result pages).

The beta version of Microsoft’s successor to Live Search was launched in 2009, and distinguished itself through close cooperation with social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. By integrating other services into its web search, along with an intricately designed image search, Bing can make a case for providing search engine innovation that goes beyond that of the market leader in certain areas. But if you’re searching for an anonymous search engine, you won’t find it from Microsoft. Bing collects user data just like Google does, in order to personalise its targeted advertising.

Pros Cons
✔ Works closely with social networks ✘ Offers little data protection and no anonymity
✔ Own mapping service ✘ Server only in the US
✔ Also offers news search  

Yahoo: The search engine “powered by Bing”

Like Google, Yahoo! is another well-known address in Silicon Valley. The web portal was one of the primary pioneers of the internet and has around 700 million users, chiefly through its webmail. But the search engine of this internet dinosaur, on the other hand, merits little consideration. Yahoo only represents around 3.8% of the market share in the UK.

Since 2009, the search engine has been supported by an alliance with Microsoft. Anyone who enjoys the Bing experience won’t find any unpleasant surprises with Yahoo, whose common algorithm provides almost identical search results. Since a combined UK market share of around 15% allows the search engine alliance of Microsoft and Yahoo to compete with Google, website operators should definitely keep this alternative search engine on their radar.

Pros Cons
✔ Cooperation with Bing networks ✘ Offers little data protection and no anonymity
✔ Large news portal ✘ Server only in the US
✔ Own Freemail service  

DuckDuckGo: Anonymous metasearch machine

Representing an entirely different alternative to Google is DuckDuckGo. Operating under the slogan “The search engine that doesn’t track you”, the American firm DuckDuckGo Inc. offers a combination of both a metasearch engine and a private web crawler. In order to do this, the search provider relies on over 100 services such as Bing, Yandex, or Wikipedia, as well as the company’s own program DuckDuckBot.

Unlike Google, Bing, or Yahoo!, DuckDuckGo presents itself as a search engine with high data protection standards: According to the provider, neither IP addresses nor user searches are stored. Instead of targeted advertising, DuckDuckGo is based on the principle of “one ad per search result page”.

Alongside its basic web search, DuckDuckGo offers users the choice of searching for images, videos, news, and products. Users also have the option of filtering out commercial search results. To store settings once they’ve been made, information can be loaded anonymously into a cloud. This presents DuckDuckGo as a viable alternative for users wishing to protect their privacy by using an anonymous search engine.

Pros Cons
✔ Anonymous search ✘ Server only in the US
✔ 400 sources for search results  
✔ Available as Tor hidden service  
✔ Ads can be turned off  

ixquick: Invisible surfing with a proxy service

Similar to DuckDuckGo, the Dutch search engine ixquick prides itself on anonymity and even goes one step further: With an integrated proxy service, ixquick users have the opportunity to anonymously access websites that are displayed in the search results. In this case, instead of the IP address of the user, the website operator only sees the address of ixquick.

To create search lists, the metasearch engine relies on Yahoo, Gigablast, and Yandex. The user knows which search results are found where via a star system: Each star stands for a source. A result marked with two stars means that it was supplied by two sources. ixquick supports image and video searches, and makes it possible to limit search results with advanced search functions.

Also just like DuckDuckGo, ixquick doesn’t collect any personal user data. The IP address linked with a search is also not saved. Although ixquick is a European company, it also operates some servers in the US. As a user, you can further secure your privacy by choosing which servers to use in the settings. The company was the first awarded with the European privacy seal of excellence, EuroPriSe.

Pros Cons
✔ Anonymous search ✘ No longer in development
✔ Own (paid) webmail service ✘ Only offers web, image, and video searches
✔ EU and US servers  
✔ Uses Yahoo, Gigablast, and Yandex  
✔ Proxy service  

startpage: ixquick’s daughter engine

In the meantime, ixquick mainly operates its daughter search engine Startpage. Access to ixquick domains are forwarded to startpage: Only ixquick.eu allows users to access the original search service. Startpage - originally founded to be a catchier name - constructs its search results differently.

The slogan “enhanced by Google” is revealing: startpage only accesses data from the market leader. Searches are always anonymous, though, and no cookies are applied. Despite the collaboration, startpage doesn’t deliver any user data to Google. In addition, the alternative search engine only accesses Google’s database - the order of the search results is determined by the service’s own algorithms. In terms of data protection, the search engine has the same standards as its parent program. startpage finances itself just like ixquick using non-targeted ads.

Pros Cons
✔ Anonymous search ✘ Only uses data from Google
✔ Own (paid) webmail service ✘ Only offers web, image, and video searches
✔ Own ranking algorithm ✘ EU server only
✔ Proxy service  

Oscobo: Anonymous web searches for the British market

The rank of anonymous search engines is reinforced by Oscobo from Great Britain. Like other search services that promote high data protection standards, this provider also promises not to store or sell user data. The project was initiated by Fred Cornell, a long-time Yahoo employee, who wanted to offer users an alternative model to the classic search engine industry with Oscobo. The result is a search engine, specific to the United Kingdom, also renounces all user tracking. Instead of targeted adverts, displays are catered exclusively to the terms entered in the search bar.

Unlike Qwant or Hulbee, Oscobo can’t provide its own search technology, instead accessing the search indexes of Bing and Yahoo. Oscobo also integrates results from Twitter into its search responses.

Pros Cons
✔ Anonymous search ✘ Only accesses the Bing-Yahoo network
✔ Twitter results are also displayed  
✔ Also offers a news search  

Hulbee: Anonymous web search with child filter

Hulbee is presented by a Swiss company as another search service with high data security standards. The anonymous search engine was developed under the name “Swisscows” and is based on the search principle of semantic information recognition. This means that the Swiss search engine takes a different path than most providers - in addition to the search results, Hulbee presents its users with a word cloud of thematically relevant terms and so makes research easier.

On top of web, image, and video searches, Hulbee also offers a translator and a music search with an integrated player. Unlike the market-leading search engines, the creators of Hulbee also rely on an integrated filter technology that blocks pornographic and violent content from the search results. The Google alternative is, therefore, well-suited to schools, offices, and public facilities.

To protect users’ privacy, Hulbee renounces any collection of user data. Personal information, IP addresses, or cookies that can be used to identify the user are not saved. Exactly like with other alternatives to Google, data security is taken very seriously and the site is only financed through non-targeted adverts. Users are also encouraged to make donations.

Pros Cons
✔ Anonymous search ✘ Child filter can’t be turned off
✔ Semantic search  
✔ Translation function  
✔ Music search with integrated player  
✔ Pornographic and violent content filtered out  
Note

In the last few years, more and more search engines for children have emerged. They provide child filters, child-friendly web content, and matching design.

Qwant: Search engine with innovative design

The French search engine Qwant also emphasises data protection and connects the user’s desire for more privacy with a new a design that stands out from other providers. The search results are based on their own technology, and arranged in table form according to topic. Users receive web searches, messages, shopping results, and social media posts for the chosen search term, all presented in individual columns. Everything is assembled in a single view - which can be a little confusing when compared to the tidy layout of Google.

Like DuckDuckGo and ixquick, Qwant boasts high data security standards. According to their information, neither user tracking nor a filter bubble are used. The search engine only uses temporary cookies, which don’t collect any information. Cookies for commercial means are blocked.

Just like Hulbee, this alternative to Google experiments with a music search. Among others, YouTube is accessed so that videos can be viewed directly in the search engine. The notebooks (or boards) are another neat feature: Like with Pinterest or comparable social networks, Qwant users can save interesting content and share it with other users. Registration is necessary for this.

Pros Cons
✔ Anonymous search ✘ Confusing design
✔ Music search, news search, notebooks ✘ EU server only

Wegtam: Hybrid search with freely selectable sources

The German search engine Wegtam is a Google alternative with an emphasis on content. There are four basic principles: Free access to knowledge, search for relevant information, reduction of commercial influences on web search, and anonymity. Wegtam uses a hybrid search to combine its own search index with various individually selectable external sources - including Google, Bing, and Yahoo, which are selected by default. If you want to manually adjust the source settings, you can access the pre-made profiles of “General”, “Science”, “Developer”, and “Food” with just one click. The sources of the search results are displayed under the snippet.

According to Wegtam, they save no personal information. To observe the server workload, application speeds, and traffic, the analysis programs New Relic and Piwik are used. Even though Wegtam speaks out against the commercialization of internet searches, the metasearch machine is financed through adverts.

Pros Cons
✔ Anonymous search ✘ Outdated design
✔ Configurable hybrid search ✘ Uses analysis program for traffic observationServer only in the US
✔ News portal  

MetaGer: Metasearch engine with high data security standards

MetaGer is another metasearch engine from Germany, developed by the University of Hannover and operated in cooperation with the registered association SUMA-EV since 2012. Web searches on MetaGer are supported by its own index and 20 to 30 other search engines, which can be individually utilised by users to supplement additional sources.

MetaGer doesn’t only offer a large range of sources, it also boasts data security standards: The search engine doesn’t save cookies or browser fingerprints. IP addresses are already anonymized during the search and so aren’t passed on to the queried search engines. User tracking isn’t required. Users also have the opportunity to visit search results via an anonymous proxy. Since all MetaGer servers are located in Germany, all web searches are subject to German national data protection guidelines.

The German search machine is financed using advertising revenues (adverts appear above the organic search results), donations, and club member dues. Members can use MetaGer ad-free. In addition to the web search, MetaGer also offers other useful features like the associator (which helps to find related search terms), a source search, a URL shortener, and a map service (though only available in Germany). As a user of MetaGer, though, you have to accept that it’s rather lacking in its design.

Pros Cons
✔ Anonymous search ✘ Design is not user-friendly
✔ Nonprofit organization ✘ Some services only in German
✔ Accessible as Tor hidden service ✘ EU server only
✔ Relies on multiple search engines  
✔ Source code search  
✔ Proxy service  

YaCy: Search engine with decentralised approach

With YaCy, the user is also the operator. With its peer-to-peer approach, the project goes about its service in a completely different way than conventional search engines. Instead of running on a web server, the free search engine software runs directly on the user’s computer. This can connect with other YaCy users, resulting in a decentralised search network. Which sites the search engine has in its index is determined by the user: Each user can start their own web crawler and specify which sites it should access. The ranking is generated by increasing or decreasing user results. This means that the jointly operated search network is not censorable and can never be completely terminated.

It’s also not possible to record user data at a central location. Search queries are not transferred to a server, since the search engine is located on its own PC, meaning that all data remains there. The project is supported by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and - like MetaGer - by the SUMA-EV association for free access to information. The open source software is available for Windows, Linux, and MacOS.

Pros Cons
✔ Peer-to-peer decentralized network ✘ Small search index
✔ Open source ✘ Software must be downloaded
✔ Anonymous search ✘ Limited range of functions
✔ Data stays on individual PC  

Unbubble: A way out of the filter bubble

Yet another German search engine, Unbubble, looks to solve one of digital society’s problems by letting the filter bubble burst. To do this, the company has resolved to deliver the most neutral search results possible. The metasearch engine relies on 30 different sources to do this. The search engine’s algorithm also favors sources that provide the “most balanced overall impression”, according to Unbubble. Autocomplete and search suggestions are not generated from users’ search requests, which leads to the formation of filter bubbles, since users tend to search for the same information. Instead, the suggestions use the content of the websites.

It has also established itself as an anonymous search engine: The service doesn’t save IP addresses and doesn’t transmit them to the used sources. Unbubble also offers a child filter with three possible settings (Strong/Moderate/Off). The website is financed via sponsoring and affiliate links as well as donations.

Pros Cons
✔ Anonymous search ✘ EU server onlynonymity
✔ Many sources  
✔ Child filter with various levels  
Fact

Filter bubble means an effect on the internet where users only obtain information within a strongly filtered spectrum. For example, algorithms only show search results that appear suitable for the user. Since different groups within society are stuck in their own information bubbles, true, global discourse becomes much more difficult.

WolframAlpha: Answers instead of references

The search engine WolframAlpha follows an entirely different approach than other Google algorithms. Instead of offering users the best web content, the search engine tries to simply deliver direct facts. This also means that users can only enter factual queries. The semantic search engine can’t present any opinions. The alternative search engine just supplies a lot of data. If a user is interested in sources, they can find them with an additional click.

In the premium version, users can also upload photos and other files and analyse them with the search engine. The service is only available in English and is primarily aimed at scientists and students, though Bing and Apple’s language assistant Siri also use results from WolframAlpha. The US company Wolfram Research, which primarily manufactures software for mathematics and natural sciences, is behind the project.

Pros Cons
✔ Delivers direct facts ✘ Only offers data and no opinions
✔ Understands search queries very well ✘ Offers little data protection and no anonymity

Summary: An overview of the list of search engines

Comparing the various alternatives to Google, it quickly becomes apparent that data security plays an important role for many of them. This is quite understandable, however: the privacy of users is the only area where a non-specialised search engine can really score points against Google, after all.  Apart from a few exceptions, the alternative search engines are based on the design and functionality of the market leader from Mountain View.

  Published Search type Search index Adverts Anonymity Server location Special features
Bing 2009 Web crawler USA Second-largest search engine
Yahoo 1995 Web crawler USA Freemail
DuckDuckGo 2008 Metasearch / Web crawler ? Can be disabled USA Tor hidden service
Ixquick 1998 Metasearch USA/EU Proxy service
Startpage 2006 Metasearch USA/EU Proxy service
Oscobo 2015 Metasearch ? Twitter results
Hulbee 2009 Semantic ? CH Child filter
Qwant 2013 Web crawler ? EU Music search
Wegtam 2013 Metasearch / Web crawler EU Source choice
MetaGer 1996 Metasearch / Web crawler Can be disabled by club members EU Nonprofit organisation
YaCy 2003 Peer-to-peer Own PC Decentralised
Unbubble 2014 Metasearch EU Neutral search results
Wolfram Alpha 2009 Semantic USA Delivers direct answers
Note

If you prefer to stick with Google as your standard search engine, you should know how you can best use the search service. With the Google operators, you can specify your entries in such a way that guarantees that you receive the best results.

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