October 31, 2014

Alternatives to Google Search: Yes There Are Some

We get so focused on Google that it’s easy to forget there are alternatives to Google search.  Granted, the alternatives  are not nearly as popular.  At 66% market share and 11.7 billion searches during the month of February 2012 alone, Google clearly is the leader.  But other search engines are worth understanding — both from the perspective of when you are a searcher for information, and from the perspective of a site owner knowing that visitors may come from those other search engines.

And just in case you are tempted to think ‘hey, a search engine is a search engine – how different could they be?’ let’s take a deeper dive.

According to Comscore, the top 5 search engines according to volume of search and market share are:  Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Ask and AOL.  However, when you look underneath the hood, there are really just two big players:  Microsoft’s Bing and Google — and a few smaller players.  Let’s break them down further:

Google

We all know the Google search engine, right?  But did you know that Google actually has many search engines? For instance there’s a Google search engine just for books.  There’s an image search engine that lets you put in the URL of the image or upload one from your computer, and find the same image across the Web (if you’re a photographer concerned about people ripping off your images, the image search engine may become your next best friend).  There’s a full-text U.S. patent search.

Google Images search

For site owners, Google offers a Webmaster Tools dashboard to help you keep tabs on any problems with your site in the Google index.  For instance, it can tell you if malware has been detected.  And don’t forget to check out Google’s  Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide (PDF) so you can make the most of traffic from Google to your site.

Matt Cutts is the head of the Google Web spam team and he regularly gives information to the community about Google’s search practices.  In many ways he is the public face of Google’s search outreach.  His videos are particularly useful and for the most part understandable by small business owners.  You can find them at the Google Webmaster channel on YouTube.

Bing

Bing, a search engine from Microsoft, is the largest and most well established after Google.  Yahoo, the original search giant from the 1990s, is also “powered by Bing” search results as of 2011.  (Therefore, for our purposes, Yahoo will be lumped in with Bing.)  According to Comscore, Bing and Yahoo together accounted for 5.1 Billion searches in February 2012 — or 29% of the market.  Bing has been growing steadily over the past few years. Bing emphasizes that it provides answers, not search results.  Many people may find the distinction difficult to grasp, however.

Bing.com has a stunning visual interface (a great big background image that changes daily greets you on the home page — it’s interactive, too):

Bing - an alternative to Google

Like Google, Bing offers a Webmaster Toolbox that gives valuable information about your website, including crawl errors.  There’s also a Bing Webmaster Center blog written by Duane Forrester, a Bing Senior Product Manager, that’s pretty understandable and useful for small business owners and managers.  There’s also this Getting Started checklist.

Ask

Ask.com includes a search engine and also has a human-powered question and answer feature.  A couple of years ago Ask.com stopped investing in its own search technology, and although it’s a bit of mystery whose search results Ask uses, most observers say Google.  Since then Ask has been declining — albeit very slowly — in market share.  It’s now at about 3% market share, with roughly half a billion searches each month.

AOL

AOL‘s search constitutes a little over 1.5% of the market.  It appears to be using Google’s search technology.  So once again, we’re back to Google.

Thus, as you can see, Google and Bing together make up most of the market share.  So, what are the others?  All are relatively small (but Google once was small, too).  Let’s take a look at a few of them:

Duck Duck Go

Duck Duck Go is a startup search engine is competing by leveraging the public’s recent concern over Google’s privacy policies.   According to Fred Wilson, a principal of Union Square Ventures, a venture capital backer of Duck Duck Go, other vendors should do the same, saying “We should encourage web and mobile services to lead with their privacy practices and let users vote with their feet. This is an opportunity for new web services who can use privacy as a basis for competition as Duck Duck Go does.”  Duck Duck Go says it does not collect or share browsing history, and it articulates understandable privacy policies, including one that is illustrated and starts with this image:

DuckDuckGo competing on privacyDuckDuckGo.com is still tiny compared to the top four, at roughly 45 million searches per month.  But it is growing rapidly in recent months as concern over Google’s privacy policies have grown.  Here is the Duck Duck Go traffic chart:

DuckDuckGo Traffic

Click for milestone explanations of above traffic chart

Blekko

Blekko is a search engine launched in late 2010 that emphasizes quality of search results, over quantity.  Blekko says it excludes sites from its index that are low quality or designed “solely to game search engines.”

Blekko uses human feedback from users, who tag pages so that returned results include only quality content that is spam free.  Most users will jump for joy at the absence of most scraper sites.  However, Blekko’s human-system tends to exclude or give a low rank to results that others consider relevant and useful, particularly on topics its users may not be all that familiar with.  (For instance, on small business topics its results may be overly restrictive — and less useful than Google or Bing.)

But they get high marks for having a comparison engine where you can compare Google, Bing and Blekko results for particular keywords.  Blekko also gives a lot of SEO data about sites (not just your own).

Awesome Blekko site data

In September of 2011 Blekko closed a $30 Million funding round with Yandex, the leading Russian search engine, as an  investor.

Gibiru 

This is a search engine that claims to be anonymous and uncensored.  Actual queries are handled by a modified Google algorithm, but the company says results are not targeted or filtered, and that tracking is limited.  For those especially concerned about privacy, you might want to give Gibiru  a whirl.

Conclusion

If you play the odds as a website owner, you’ll place most of your attention on Google, and then Bing.  Invest some effort to make sure your site does as well as possible in both.  Remember, search engine optimization is a marathon, not a sprint  — so look to be in it for the long haul.

As a searcher, if privacy is a big concern, or the absence of spam results is important, you may wish to check out Duck Duck Go, Blekko or Gibiru.

18 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell - CEO


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of TweakYourBiz.com.

18 Reactions

  1. Another great post, Anita. At mTrax (http://mtrax.com), we’ve been advocating the multi-platform approach for some time. We set up paid mobile search for Small Businesses on Google, Microsoft Bing, and Yahoo. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that it’s often difficult to set these up on multiple platforms at once. We aggregate impression and call tracking data to make this task easier for the client. Finally, let me add that the Microsoft search interface is, to put it bluntly, terrible. First, it only works in IE. Second, it is slow and prone to crash. I don’t like to bash an API partner, but they could do a lot to improve the experience.

  2. What is the revenue model of these search engines such as DuckDuckGo.com? If they don’t track, then advertising is probably not the way, or is it? And if then ad are not relevant to users, so that’s a step back? I am interested to understand their business strategy.

    • Hi Krithika,

      I don’t really know their business model(s). I assume ads at some point, but it’s not really clear to me. You raise a good point, though, because once they start attempting to monetize, it gets harder and harder to stick to principles such as maintaining privacy or keeping results “clean”. But perhaps they will adopt a different model, such as a paid subscription to maintain privacy or something like that.

      – Anita

  3. I think I’m going to have to check out Duck Duck Go!

    • Hi Dave,

      Duck Duck Go is pretty interesting. Of all the alternatives aside from Bing, it seems to have the most traction at the moment. Being backed by Union Square Ventures is no small thing.

      But Blekko is worth watching, too, especially with the Yandex “strategic” backing.

      And by the way, Yandex has an English-language search engine of its own.

      I didn’t want to get into an exhaustive coverage of every search engine here, just the ones I thought notable to small businesses for one reason or another.

      – Anita

  4. I actually prefer the image search functionality of Bing even after Google copied their scrolling interface (Google used to force a new page load every 15 images or so to get more ad impressions). In the long run this may be a 2-horse race, but having some niche options is always healthy.

    • Hi Robert,

      I agree that having niche options is healthy. And who knows where they will head? Two years from now it could be a different landscape. It’s always good to know the alternatives, even if you’re placing your bets on the big guys.

      The reality is, as a small business owner or entrepreneur who owns a website and who is looking to grow your online business, you can’t afford to do anything other than put most of your attention on Google and then Bing, in that order. You’d be foolish to put your focus elsewhere at this point.

      – Anita

  5. Great post Anita!

    I really like it. I usually stick with Google search, but many of the other ones you have listed above seem quite good too (especially Blekko). Thank you for the post. I think I will try out some of these other search engines soon.

    Mitt

  6. Anita, I guess the reason why we’re all so glued to Google is because of one word: Credibility. Perhaps, this is why brands are obsessed in getting found on its top pages. Then, there are those who profit a lot from reputation management, from pushing down negative feedback found on Google’s first pages and the likes. Just a thought.

  7. I think may be new search engine must have long time to competition with giant who dominate market share. if they have enough and more of sponsors then they get more market share or become to first.

  8. If you use Chrome (me), it is like work to use a search engine besides Google. I checked out Go Go Duck and blekko. I liked the layout and styling of blekko. The results were nice too.

    With some of Google’s new enhancements, it is hard sometimes to figure out what is ads, what is posted by your circles on G+ and what are actual results.

  9. Is Blekko really that viable??

  10. You just reminded me that I should try harder with Duckduckgo. It will now be on the first page when I open my browser!
    I totally believe there is space for a new search engine. But people are not that aware about what Google is doing, or they just don’t care or are scared to change their pattern.
    Great article, thanks for sharing!
    Cheers

  11. Interestng article, would have been even more interesting to compare specific search queries on all engines listed.

  12. There have *always* been alternatives to Google search and it has annoyed me to no end that people are unable to see this. Could never for the life of me figure out why the public came to think that Google was the only option. And for the record I’m pretty sure it was Alta Vista who created image search, then Google copied it, but everyone thought Google invented it.

  13. In addition to these vertical search engines such as http://findthatfile.com exist which search (in this case files) specific information. ftf searches documents, audio, video and many other file types from all over the Internet, thanks.

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