How to get away from Google search

Searching for a better search engine? Here’s my rough-and-ready guide; no affiliate links, no reviews, no spam…

Somewhere in the last six months I fell out of love with Google.

I do a lot of writing, and therefore a lot of research, and I’d gradually been feeling as though any search I did ended up with me scrolling endlessly through increasingly depressing results.

But I’ve been using Google for years and stuck in a habit pattern. But over time, some of the experts that I follow via their email newsletters began, from different angles, to make me want to kick that habit.

What I have learned about Google

Author and journalist Cory Doctorow has been relentlessly critical of Google for a while now. This post, from February 21, 2024 , is particularly savage. Doctorow describes Google’s once-magic results like this: “Google’s search results are terrible. The top of the page is dominated by spam, scams, and ads. A surprising number of those ads are scams.”

It’s a long post, but worth reading. One link that he points to has stayed with me. The post, by review site Housefresh , “describes how Google’s algorithmic failures, which send the worst sites to the top of the heap, have made it impossible for high-quality review sites to compete”.

HouseFresh’s post (read it here) is long but required reading. In summary, it points out that no matter what you Google, the same publishers show up at the top of the results. (That’s what I had been seeing.) The post does an in-depth analysis of how big media publishers manipulate their articles so as to get the top spots in Google search results, and challenges Google to work on its algorithm to fix the problem.

I’m not holding my breath.

The company which once promised not to be evil is now a pale shadow of its former self. We know this because it is the subject of an anti-trust case in the United States, which means internal documents are coming to light.

One Ed Zitron has been doing a deep dive into the documents – his very long article Is here. It’s a look at boardroom struggles in which the company eventually moved to decreasing the quality of search in order to serve more adverts (this is real oversimplification of Zitron’s article, but I think enough to give you an idea of his argument).

Since my livelihood depends on the quality of my research, I wondered if I should look for another search engine – and then did so.

The results of my search engine research

I confess I used Google to find lists of search engines (observing yet again how badly written many of the “review” articles were). Among the good ones, I found articles looking at the extent to which a search engine respects privacy, while some were suggestions for search engines that address some of the environmental concerns around the energy requirements of search (like this one: 3 Eco-Friendly Search Engines Fighting Climate Change In 2021)

I made a short list, fairly arbitrarily chosen, and worked my way down the list, using each one until I found one that worked. This process was undeniably personal and unscientific; I hope you will be able to use it as a jumping off point to investigate the world outside of Googe-dystopia.

This was my short list:

Bing (Microsoft’s offering)

Kagi Search (recommended by Doctorow)

Brave Search (billed as a truly private search engine)

Mojeek (I liked the name)

Startpage (came up often as a good search engine)

Ecosia (environmentally friendly; claims to plant trees)

Initially I looked very briefly at all of them, and then started my in-depth dive.

This is what I found:

Bing is Microsoft’s answer to Google – it is big and no doubt thorough. But any search you do will somehow turn into a set of bland and irritating answers from Copilot, the AI “companion”. I was so irritated by day 3 that I didn’t even do any digging to see if I could turn the $%%^ copilot off.

I then signed up for Kagi, which is a paid search engine. Yes – you pay. But if you pay, you don’t get ads. It is indeed a very good search engine, and I’ll happily pay when my finances allow. The free trial offers you 100 searches a month, while $5 a month will get you 300 searches. I now use Kagi when I have an important search that I need reliable results from.

Brave – this is where I stopped. The Ai offering is subtle, and the search results are useful. I’ve made it the default search in my browser for now (there’s a button to do that if you hit the gear icon in the top right hand corner). I feel that I am getting results that are better than anything I could get in Google.

Things to note about Brave

Brave does have small drawbacks. It collects no data about you, meaning that your searches are anonymous and private. That’s wonderful – but it also means that it doesn’t know where you are in the world, so if you type in “restaurants near me” you will get nothing sensible. There’s a fix: you have to go into settings to set your country and to enable it to deliver anonymous local results.

READ: Instructions how to do that, and information about Brave search in general

The other thing it lacks is the useful panel you get on Google, which happens when a company has filled in a Google business page – the one that shows you opening and closing times for instance. So a search in Google on our local supermarket gets you their information panel, and much more fine-grained information.

Two pictures below, comparing Brave information (top picture) and Google:


Brave search results

Picture: Screen capture


Google search results

Picture: Screen capture

For that reason, I have reluctantly kept Google as the search in my phone – that local information is just too valuable to lose.

So – there is life beyond Google

My plan is to stick with Brave. But if it stops working for me, I will move on to the next search engine on my list. But I have learned that I can consciously take control of a key part of my internet experience. And so can you.

Main picture: Agence Olloweb, Unsplash

How to reach me 

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your communication needs (writing, editing, coaching and training, social media). I also help small businesses and organisations with project and operational management. 

I write a post every week, some about my professional life and work, and some about broader issues. You can get either of those, or both, in your email, by subscribing here