When a company like Google controls more than 90% of the search engine market, it’s always seemed near-impossible for any competitor to woo away the company’s users. More recently though, that tide’s started to change — Google’s constant flubs in protecting users’ privacy have left folks looking for alternatives that won’t abuse their search engine data just to pummel them with ads. We’ve already seen companies like DuckDuckGo and Brave roll out their own search products to answer that demand, along with smaller upstarts, too. Now we have another contender: Neeva, a search engine that has all the polish of Google’s trademark engine, but none of the ads.
There’s a good reason that Neeva seems to take at least a few design cues from its biggest competitor — it was created by two people that used to work there. Ex-Googlers Sridhar Ramaswamy and Vivek Raghunathan launched the engine last year on a subscription-based model: free for the first three months, but $US4.95 ($7) each month thereafter. Now it’s trying out a totally free tier: Anyone can download the search engine via browser extensions for Google Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge, or they can download the Neeva search app for iOS.
You wouldn’t think an ad-free search would make that much of a difference, but having tried out Neeva for a little while, it’s like night and day. Google’s rightfully been chewed out by critics for designing search ads in a way that makes them nigh indistinguishable from regular results, and trying to parse apart the organic results from paid can sometimes feel like a Sisyphean task. It doesn’t help that Google’s continually finding new ways to shove new ads into new corners of our search results.
It’s literally cliche to say this, but opening up Neeva and seeing a full page of search results — no ads, no shopping tabs, no promos — was like a breath of fresh air. Some Neeva searches do include a few widgets, but they feel helpful instead of spammy. Searching for “cheesecake” will give you recipe cards for cheesecake. Searching “chinos” will give you videos of… how to wear chinos. You can also customise your search preferences depending on what kind of widgets (or lack thereof) you want to see at the top of your search results.
Other perks include a built-in tracking blocker that’s comparable to something like Ghostery: it lets you know the name and number of third-party trackers being blocked on the site, and lets you know which domains those trackers were trying to send your data to.
Even with this free-to-use rollout, Neeva isn’t abandoning its subscription tier. Folks that choose to drop that $US4.95 ($7) each month are promised its full swath of “search and personalisation features,” early access to new features, and the chance to sit in on monthly Q&A sessions with Neeva’s senior staffers. The company also promises access to an “Exclusive Neeva Premium NFT,” because of the current version of hell we’re living through.
NFT’s aside, Neeva’s definitely a search engine worth trying — either for the privacy protections it promises, or for its clean, distraction-free design. The bad news is that the engine is only available for searchers in the U.S. right now, though it has plans to expand into India and Western Europe “soon,” according to a recent interview with its co-founders.