The best search engines for finding results and securing your privacy

Your choice of search engine makes a big difference in the relevance (and privacy) of your search results. The first search engine, known as Archie, was developed by a student at McGill University and released in 1990. Today, there are more than 20 search engines that range from powerhouses like Google to lesser-known, more specialized options. 

Some search engines, such as Google, highlight their AI assistants, but the truth is that artificial intelligence has been behind search engines for years. But if you want an assistant to winnow search results, AI can help you get more relevant results. 

Even if you use a browser with a built-in search engine, you’re not beholden to it. You can, for example, add search engines to Google Chrome, giving you extra options when you want to perform photo searches or need extra privacy. Before you set your default search engine, though, consider how you use searches and how you feel about data privacy. These factors can direct you toward the top search engine for your inquiring mind.

1. Google

The undisputed leader of search. Screenshot: Google

Google is the No. 1 search engine used today, handling more than 83 percent of searches, according to Statista. That number may rise or fall depending on the month, but needless to say, Google’s got the majority of the market when it comes to searches. 

Google is a robust search engine that powers sites like YouTube and integrates full-service features like Google Workspace. It’s much more than a search engine that allows you to gather everything from your latest curiosity to professional collaboration in one place. 

In February 2023, Google introduced Bard, an AI-powered search assistant. Search engines have used AI algorithms for years to identify patterns and customize search results and ads to individual users, but we’re entering a new age of heavy focus on AI. If you’re hoping Bard will hold up to OpenAI’s ChatGPT, though, it’s got a ways to go. That said, with the speed that AI adapts, it may not be long before Google has a leading assistant for generative as well as search purposes. 

This engine also gets high marks for the layout and variety of features like snippets, knowledge panels, and “people also ask” sections that can help you further refine results. On the downside, Google is a data hog and hangs onto your information to customize your experience. On one hand, you’ll see ads and results that are more relevant to your likes and preferences. On the other hand, privacy issues and data usage are real concerns. Some people find Google more than a little invasive.

2. Bing

The Bing search engine in a Google Chrome browser window.
Earn rewards for all that search time. Screenshot: Bing

If you’re looking for search engines other than Google, Bing is a top contender. Bing doesn’t have nearly Google’s market share, but it’s second in popularity worldwide. Microsoft created Bing in 2009 and has developed it into an impressive search engine, especially when it comes to the integration of AI. 

The Bing search results pages on Bing look eerily similar to Google’s. Many users may have a hard time telling the difference between the two. However, Bing’s image, video, and map searching abilities are some of the best, with the video and image features topping the market.

Bing also offers a rewards program, which earns you points every time you shop or search with Bing. After you’ve accumulated enough points, you can redeem them for gift cards or use them to donate to your favorite charity. You earn about five points per search, so doing a lot of online research could earn you a few bucks each month. 

Like Google, Bing collects data to customize the ads and searches that appear, which you may or may not appreciate. Consequently, Bing, like Google, might not be the best choice if privacy is your top concern.

3. DuckDuckGo

The DuckDuckGo search engine in a Google Chrome browser window.
Increased tracker blocking and encryption on DuckDuckGo help protect user privacy. Screenshot: DuckDuckGo

If all that data collection has your skin crawling, DuckDuckGo is worth a try. If you compare Google vs. DuckDuckGo vs. Bing, DuckDuckGo might not be as comprehensive, but it puts privacy over pure search power. It doesn’t store your data, track you, or collect cookies. You’ll still see ads, but they won’t be customized based on your searches. 

This search engine uses its own crawler and incorporates a few other search engines, but not Google. The company skips the monster search engine in an effort to provide a different user experience. It’s organized similarly to other search engines, with search categories at the top for images and videos that match your search.

[Related: 7 ways DuckDuckGo can help you find exactly what you need]

However, there’s only one results page per search, which is kind of nice if you’re easily overwhelmed by Google’s millions of results when all you’re doing is looking for the best WiFi routers. While DuckDuckGo isn’t set to dethrone Google, it’s gained a steady following with the privacy it offers.

4. Startpage

The Startpage search engine in a Google Chrome browser window.
Skip the targeted ads when you search with Startpage. Screenshot: Startpage

Startpage approaches search with a philosophy that’s similar to DuckDuckGo by focusing on security and privacy. It keeps prying eyes (and advertisers) from following your every virtual move by refusing to log your search history or save your personal data. That does mean some searches take a little longer. But some users find it worth it for the privacy that remains after they hit exit. 

Startpage uses Google to populate results, which means you’ll get robust results without the targeted ads. The uncluttered search page is a breath of fresh air from some of the larger engines, which can feel like ads are slapping you in the face while you scroll.

This engine also offers an Anonymous View that lets you visit pages without sharing any information about yourself. The process works by removing your IP address before sending the query. Startpage also offers the option of StartMail, a secure email platform.

5. Yahoo

The Yahoo homepage and search engine in a Google Chrome browser window.
Yahoo is powered by Bing, so they may display similar results. Screenshot: Yahoo

Yahoo has been around since 1994 and uses Bing’s search engine to create results, so expect similar groupings, but it uses its own tech for certain searches, including trending ones. Though not as elegant as Bing or Google, Yahoo’s search page offers categories like weather, news, sports, and trends as well as access to Yahoo’s email service. Yahoo Finance is another big draw and provides quick access to the latest in what’s happening on the stock market. 

If you’re primarily after news and finance info, Yahoo’s got it in spades. You don’t even have to do a Yahoo web search to see the latest headlines with eye-catching photos to boot. Yahoo Maps is another place that sets this engine apart, thanks to an open-source Open Maps service. 

Yahoo also offers subscription-based services like Yahoo Finance Plus for even more insight into the market, investments, and companies on the rise. And, of course, it includes free features like Yahoo Mail.