In recent months, several companies at once have presented their own alternatives to the Google search engine. These projects are not only alternatives long awaited by the market. In addition, their developers promise consumers a greater level of their data privacy, fewer ads, and increased confidentiality. Time will tell, whether consumers are ready for such projects, including whether they will pay for the confidentiality provided.
Neeva: Google alternative from former "googlers"
Earlier this summer, a team of former Google employees unveiled the Neeva search engine. The title of this service site says—Ad-free, private search. The first three months it will be possible to work with the service for free, then users are offered to pay $4.95 per month for the right to "google" not using Google. In addition to working with the service through a browser, Neeva developers offer applications for iOS devices, as well as extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge, and Brave browsers.
Commenting on the launch of their project for the outlet Fastcompany, Sridhar Ramaswamy and Vivek Raghunatan, Neeva executives, explain:
"Neeva is as much a social experiment as it is a technological experiment... Its goal is to answer the question: ‘If there was a high-quality product that clearly benefits you in multiple ways, would you pay for it as opposed to having it be free, supported by ads?'"
The Neeva interface is similar to the design of a usual search engine—a query string and search results. But you can start working with Neeva only after registration—the service creators offer to indicate your email address for this. However, Ukrainians cannot work with Neeva yet—after providing an email address, you will see a notification that the search engine does not work in our country and the service developers promise to notify you by email about the possibility of starting to work with Neeva.
An attempt to go to the site using a US IP address was more successful, and we were able to examine the service. Neeva can search by pictures, maps, news, and videos, it is possible to apply filters and limit the search by time or other criteria. It is offered to get a personalized result—based on the user’s interests and requests, but to do this the service offers to connect other applications to Neeva, for example, Gmail or Dropbox.
Neeva conveniently implements working with search results—you can save the results to collections, here they are called Spaces.
The service developers claim that they save data about the user's activity for 90 days. They need it to improve the search results, but at any time you can clear the data about your activity in the settings. But it is impossible to delete an account in Neeva directly—only after sending a message to the service management.
Brave Search: A search engine from the Brave browser creators
A few weeks after the announcement of the Neeva launch, the creators of the Brave browser reported the launch of their search engine Brave Search, available not only for users of this browser, but also for everyone.
The developers of this service claim that their product does not track users either, and emphasize that they plan to make Brave Search algorithms open and available to third-party developers who can integrate it into their products.
The main difference between Brave Search and Neeva and the long-standing Google alternative, the DuckDuckGo service, is that it uses its own search index exclusively. Other Google alternatives often aggregate search results or at least partially take data from Google SERPs.
So far the service is available for free, however, in the future, the project developers plan to impose paid access without advertising. Explaining the idea of Brave Search on the company's blog, one of the project founders comments:
"Brave Search is a new way to get relevant results using an index created and driven by the user community. In addition, Brave Search guarantees the confidentiality of its users, which is particularly relevant amidst the loss of confidence in the economy of surveillance and life in the era of surveillance capitalism."
The idea behind a community-driven search index is that Brave Search plans to move away from the proprietary search engine algorithms that today's search engines are renowned for. The search engine ranking algorithms are, by and large, a trade secret for companies that make money from search advertising.
Indeed, if such algorithms are open, it will be possible to promote the site to the first positions in the search results without buying advertising. And this will undermine the business model of such projects’ existence. Brave Search plans to use feedback from the user community to improve the SERP and thus improve search results.
So far, Brave Search is in beta testing, but now everyone can assess the effectiveness of this service. Obviously, the project works way better with English-language queries, although for some queries in Russian and Ukrainian languages the results are quite worthy.
However, testing has shown that so far it relates to well-known concepts. On the SERP right side, there is a unit with actual information about the query, for example, it was displayed for the queries "putin", "savchenko", "sentsov", but some links to additional sources are puzzling. For example, for the query "sentsov" you can see a page from Wikipedia, IMBD, a link to the Library of Congress, as well as links to Polish and Czech sites, but there is no link to the director's Facebook.
At the same time, a search for more popular queries, for example, about Covid, about quarantine, or about buying everyday goods ("buy robot vacuum cleaner", "water delivery lviv") offers quality results.
Search form Ahrefs: Google Alternative with Ukrainian roots
In August this year, it became known that Ahrefs' link analysis service is already close to releasing its own Google alternative. For the first time, Dmitry Gerasimenko, the founder of Ahrefs, spoke about this development on Twitter back in 2019. Disclosing the details of his project in an interview with the AIN, Gerasimenko said that he planned to make the search market fair—a market more than 90% of which belongs to Google.
Ahrefs already has a technical component of the future search engine—web crawlers that index web pages and create an index that is later used to form SERP. These robots are used for the main service of the project—the link analysis tool. According to the company, the Ahrefs robot analyzes more than 30 million new pages per day. Moreover, it is the second most active crawler in the world. In other words, Ahrefs already has the tools it needs to build a search platform.
But Ahrefs decided to create not just an alternative to Google, but a project that works on a different business model. First, Ahrefs will earn money from ads and subscriptions for its absence, charged from users. Second, the creators of Ahrefs search promise to pay 90% of the profits to the creators of the popular web pages the users are most actively clicking to. Ahrefs is confident that this will help both webmasters and website developers earn money, and also encourage them to create high-quality content. Ahrefs also emphasizes that their search engine will not collect and use users' personal data.
DuckDuckGo: Main Google Alternative
The authors of the ideas for creating a Google alternative will have to deal not only directly with the Google search engine, which controls more than 90% of the market, but also with the long-standing and successful DuckDuckGo project. The latter announced not only about surpassing the 50 million mark of its applications downloads, but also the fact that DuckDuckGo became the second most popular search engine on mobile devices in a number of countries, including the USA, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands.
The DuckDuckGo success is due not only to its steady growth in popularity, but also to the fact that this search engine is a profitable project. The service makes money on search advertising that is not related to the interests of users, but solely to their requests. The second source of income is affiliate payments that DuckDuckGo gets if the buyer goes to the website of the online store and makes a purchase. DuckDuckGo is not publicly disclosing its financial results, but, according to experts, in 2015 the project's income was $1 million, and in 2018 it exceeded $20 million.
Search engine alternative: The market needs it, but what about users?
The Internet market has long been interested in the appearance of a Google alternative. On the one hand, the existence of a single search platform simplifies the task of promoting an Internet project, and on the other hand, a site "being sanctioned" by Google or changing the ranking algorithm can literally kill an Internet business. After all, if a resource is not on 1-2 pages of the SERP, it becomes invisible to its consumers.
This is not to say that Google has no alternatives—there are, industry media and blogs regularly talk about them, but the popularity of these projects is insignificant, which is due, among other things, to how they work. Google works better, more precisely, and is efficient in most languages.
An alternative to Google is not needed because it is a bad search engine—Google is doing great and is constantly improving its search. Similar projects are a win for the end consumer, it is competition that makes the market better. Google's balancing between wanting to make money by selling ads in SERPs and trying to remain a quality search engine doesn't always work in the consumer's favor.
For some queries, the share of ads in search results reaches 40%, and a recent change in the labels accompanying ads on the Google page made them almost invisible. This step can be easily called SERP manipulation.
Therefore, the market has long been ready to create a search alternative. However, it is still difficult to answer whether users who are offered to pay either for the absence of advertising in the search results or for the right not to be tracked when using search will be ready for this.
Perhaps antitrust claims against Google, as well as other BigTech representatives, such as claims against Facebook, will lead market regulators to follow the path tested many years ago in the browser market when Microsoft was forced to offer users installing other browser alternatives in its Windows operating system.
It cannot be ruled out that these search alternatives will not be able to compete with the heavyweight Google. However, they can form the basis for future, more successful search platforms.