Google is by far the biggest search engine and the only one to be colloquially synonymous with searching online, as in: “I’ll Google it!” – No one “Bings” anything. It is, however, not the only way to find websites. There are actually a number of other search engines out there that serve as perfectly good alternatives to the Big G, especially if you have special requests.
If we look at the latest statistics on the user demographics of search engines in 2016, we can see that Google is still in a massive lead over its contenders. In January of this year, it held a 63.8% market share on search. Compare that to Bing’s 21.1% and you might think Google will never be knocked off its perch, but Bing held a mere 12% just a few years ago. Since Yahoo and AOL are also powered by it, Bing technically holds over 33% of the market share. The remaining 2.7% is mostly powered by Google.
Source: comScore U.S. Desktop Search Engine Rankings (January 2016)
So, why should you try another search engine?
The obvious reason would be that you are unsatisfied with Google’s results, but also consider these reasons:
- Privacy: you would like your personal information, your search queries and browsing history to remain a mystery.
- Accuracy: the first search didn’t get you the result you wanted and there may be a specialized search engine to help you find the right answer faster.
- Volume: searching in more places gets more results.
In this post, I’ll go through most of the big names in online search, as well as some highly specialized ones, to hopefully assist you in your further searching on the internet. I have compiled this list based on a few criteria, such as that it has to be free to use and the results have to be external. No archives or encyclopedias that require payment for access OR that only searches within the site itself (think Wikipedia).
The second biggest search engine in the world. It rose out of the ashes of Microsoft’s “Windows Live Search”, which was rebranded and replaced by Bing in mid-2009. A casual user of the web would probably not notice too big of a difference between the results from Google and Bing, but generally Google is considered to be better.
From an SEO perspective, it seems as if Bing is a couple of years behind on the technical side and will show the results (or types of results) that Google would have shown a few, short years ago. Many search terms will yield almost the exact same pages in both engines, but in a different order. In terms of which search provider is better for everyday use, it probably just comes down to preference. Let’s look at some of the benefits and particulars of Bing.
Bing has a vibrant start page, with a high-res, full-color photographic background you can cycle through or replace with your own image. As soon as a query is typed and the enter key is pressed, this gets replaced with a much more familiar looking SERP (Search Engine Results Page). The ads are not color-coded and thus a bit sneaky, but there are usually less of them as well.
What about image, video, maps and news search?
It was the first search engine to introduce endless scrolling in image search results, along with providing many filters to further target your search. Some people think it’s much more accurate than Google, but keep in mind that Google has revised its image search several times and will not stop improving it any time soon. A feature I don’t use myself, but others might appreciate is the ability to add photos to your “favorites” – A virtual photo album for image search results.
Bing’s video search is vastly superior to Google’s from a user perspective. Instead of being faced with a list of 10 videos per page, you get a grid view as if searching for images. You can preview videos by hovering the mouse over them and there are plenty of filters to narrow results. The filters are roughly the same as in Google, but I like that you can choose the actual video resolution in Bing (as opposed to just “high” or “any”).
Bing Translator Is surprisingly good – Sometimes. I always go to Google first, but if and when it fails, Bing can sometimes pick up the slack AND outperform it. For some reason, Bing can especially be much better at technical translations and trade terms.
Using Bing for SEO purposes
There are two main reasons you might want to use Bing for SEO-related research. It tends to list plenty – About twice as many – suggestions based on your queries. This is an obvious upside if you have ever done keyword research, but not a reason to switch, as there are much more powerful tools for it out there.
What Bing uniquely offers us in terms of SEO functionality is the search operator “LinkFromDomain:”, which will list all the sites that are linked to from another. That’s right – Instead of showing inbound links, this nifty operator will show you outbound ones. Example: LinkFromDomain:Example.com
As previously stated, the search engine that powers Yahoo! Is none other than Bing. They are not exactly the same, as Yahoo tends to favor its own Q&A platform “Yahoo! Answers” in search results. I can’t really give you a reason to switch specifically to it, but if you are already an active Yahoo user, knock yourself out with Yahoo! Search!
The best search engines for intact privacy and security
What with targeted ads, government surveillance and over-sharing via social media, online privacy has become a big issue. Some people are naively unaware, some are painfully over-aware and some shake it like they just don’t care. If you would like your searches to be as close to anonymous and untraceable as possible, there are a few alternatives to help avoid getting tagged, tracked and targeted.
Why should I switch to secure search?
When you are served content based on your search history, location, likes, interests, emails and so on, you can easily get stuck in what’s called a “filter bubble” – Where, for example, any information you disagree with may get completely wiped out of your window to the web. If you have a preference for a particular news website, it will tend to rank higher for you than for other people. The danger of this is that you may get stuck in a loop of confirmation bias, where you become surrounded by virtual “yes men.” It is nearly impossible to avoid on Facebook, but at least you can find an alternative search engine that doesn’t track you.
Probably the most famous of the privacy-minded search engines – and for good reason! It doesn’t log your session, record your IP address or give you any tracking cookies. When you enter a search query at DuckDuckGo, it will fetch aggregated results from sources such as Wikipedia, Bing, recipe fetcher Yummly and the Russian search engine Yandex.ru.
These results will be same for each query, for each user, no matter where they are located or what their search history is. By not storing any user information at all, DuckDuckGo will never serve you personalized results or ads – Both to protect your privacy and to combat the “filter bubble.” You can store your custom settings anonymously in the cloud, or simply in a bookmark.
It got its name from the children’s game “duck, duck, goose”, but apparently for no particular reason. This waterfowl-inspired Google alternative has been growing and developing at an amazing rate, thanks to its many third-party developers working for free. Instead of having (nearly) all the research, development and testing in-house, DuckDuckGo lets anyone “hack” the search engine to add whatever functionality they would like to see.
This is mostly used to expand on a feature called “Instant Answers”, which will be familiar to any Google user who has seen the “Knowledge Graph.” It’s the instant results that appear above all of the paid and organic results, in response to a special query. Google’s knowledge graph will show you special information in return for thousands of queries, such as showing a box filled with current and upcoming weather results for the terms “weather new york” or nutritional information for simply inputting “banana.”
Now imagine if that functionality was opened up to every coder in the world. What would you like instant answers for? How about Minecraft recipes, rhyming suggestions or the latest strip of your favorite web comic? They also implement powerful third-party services for things like directions, but more on that later.
Did I mention that results show up along with their corresponding favicon? It even slides away when you hover the mouse over it. Besides being cute, I like it a lot because it instantly shows you the brand associated with a particular site.
This one is simpler and actually uses Google to expand its database. When you search for something through StartPage by IxQuick, it actually sends the query anonymously to Google via a proxy before returning your results. The perfect alternative to DuckDuckGo if you still want the Big G as your search provider, but want to avoid the “filter bubble.”
It is the default search engine of the Tor browser, which should tell you something about its level of privacy. You can save your custom settings via bookmark (deleted after 90 days). This is a great, simple search engine for secret queries, but it’s not really a contender as my only portal to the web.
DuckDuckGo wins over this one in my opinion, since they are essentially equal in privacy, but the Duck is so stuffed with extra features it may as well be called TurDuckDuckDuckEnGo.com! Now that’s a mouthful!
While Google uses a wild, unknown mixture of AI, user statistics, manual reviews and so on to find answers to your queries, Wolfram Alpha is a cold-blooded machine. It can be somewhat tricky to get the answer you want from Wolfram, but if you try a math equation, it will reveal the correct answer in a myriad of ways. Google can’t even solve 4 + x = 10.
My second favorite part (after cheating on my math homework) is that WolframAlpha kindly displays its interpretation of your query, so you can more easily understand how it thinks. It works in a fundamentally different way than other search engines, as it curates data instead of caching pages.
While Google has gotten at least as good at answering fact-based questions, such as “How tall is the Eiffel tower?”, Wolfram Alpha will provide you with way, way more information. Different units of measurements, comparisons to other tall buildings, its rank amongst them and even the distance from it to the horizon! Searching for a university will return its enrollment statistics, tuition fees, degrees awarded by field and much more.
You have hopefully learned a thing or two about a search engine or two. At some point in the near future, I will either update or follow up this post with another one about search engines for: images, social media, forums, music, lyrics, maps and more!
Until then: seek and ye shall find.