It’s statistical: you probably use Google to search the web. According to StatCounter, Google holds 92.2% of the global search market. In South America, the slice is even bigger, at 97.25%. This scenario discourages competition. Despite this, there is a new generation of companies willing to challenge Google’s reign.
Google‘s dominance, derived from its — let’s face it — great search engine, is not due just to its technical quality. It is not new that the company is accused of abusing its market power — especially in its other business, such as Google Shopping, and in its main income source, the personalized ads — to maintain absolute leadership.
Regulators have been acted to limit Google‘s power and restore competitiveness in the industry. It would be nice. Some entrepreneurs and developers, however, did not want to wait for better conditions to confront such a powerful incumbent. It may seem new to you, but alternatives to Google already exist, and some of them are very interesting.
A few years ago, DuckDuckGo early detected how to assert itself against Google: the user privacy front. DDG makes money in the same way as its big rival, that is, by serving ads, but it doesn’t take into account users’ personal data — the service doesn’t even collect such data. Ads are served based only on search terms.
Alphabet, Google‘s holding company, claims that this massive collect of user data is imperative to return “relevant ads”. The DDG is concrete proof that there are other possible paths. The company has been operating without loss since 2014 and currently generates revenue of $100 million per year. During the pandemic, the search volume grew by 55% and DDG is already the second most popular search engine in several major markets, including the United States.
Besides DuckDuckGo, two other search engines have recently emerged with the same proposal: Brave Search and Neeva.
Brave Search, now available just in beta version, is being developed by the creators of the web browser of the same name. It’s “a new standalone search option [on the web] that offers unrivaled privacy,” meaning they have their own index of the web (alternative search engines often “rent” indexes from Google or Microsoft’s Bing ) and do not track or collect user data.
Although it’s still being tested, Brave’s results are pleasing — more in English queries, but it’s also usable in Portuguese and Spanish. Brave hopes to make money in two ways with its search engine: as a paid subscription, free of ads, or as a free plan, with ads but no personal data. Today, 32 million people already use Brave’s web browser. When it is officially released, Brave Search will default to the brand’s browser.
Google’s latest rival was launched this week, for now only in the United States. Its name is Neeva, and perhaps it might not have made a fuss if it weren’t for the résumés of the two co-founders, Sridhar Ramaswamy and Vivek Raghunathan, both longtime former executives of…Google.
According to Fast Company, in addition to the co-founders, around 30% of Neeva’s 60 employees also came from Google, including industry “stars” such as Udi Manber (former Google search leader) and Darin Fisher (one of the creators of the Chrome browser).
Neeva’s proposal is — you guessed it — to be a privacy-focused search engine, but here there is no advertising whatsoever. Neeva is a subscription finder: it costs $4.95 a month, with three months trial. The company intends to share its revenue with the ecosystem, setting aside 20% to repay partners who provide content for direct search engine responses — just like Google does, only without paying anyone.
In its launch statement, Neeva hits another Google sore spot: the degradation of search results pages. “Up to 40% of search results in the main search engines are advertisements”, says the text.
None of these finders can be seen as a real threat to the incumbent for now, even if they provide a satisfying user experience. (I’ve been using DuckDuckGo as my default search engine for more than five years, for example.) Google is “top of mind” and, let’s remember the data from the beginning, used by 9 out of 10 people connected to the internet.
For many people, its domain is such that it would constitute a kind of monopoly. This limits the growth potential of competitors and perhaps the only way out for a healthier business environment is even a mixture of regulation and antitrust processes. When (and if) that happens, DuckDuckGo, Brave, Neeva and other companies will be ready to show more people that there is life beyond Google.
Translated by Carolina Pompeo