Neeva: Real search results, no ads

Most of us have been using Google as our default search engine for years. But over time, Google’s search engine has undergone major changes, some little-by-little, but significantly enough to make for a much worse user experience.

The home page used to have a few sponsored ads separated from the search results with a beige background, or placed off to the side.  But today there are many more ads interspersed in the results and no beige background. The only way to differentiate an ad from a search result is by the word, “Ad”, at the beginning of the line of an ad-promoted result. Otherwise the search results and ads look identical. Often there are so many ads that the search results are pushed off the home page.

Google is continuing to find new ways to use their search engine to earn more revenue. Everything they do to add more ads and make them more effective (by getting us to click on them – even by mistake), takes away its effectiveness as a search engine.

Not only has Google added more ads, but they’ve also tampered with the search results, often promoting results that benefit them over being totally objective. In a ruling this week, a European Union court rejected Google’s appeal of a 2.4 billion euro ($2.8 billion) fine from regulators who found the tech giant abused its massive online reach by giving its own shopping recommendations an illegal advantage in search results.”

The degradation of Goole’s search quality was recently brought to my attention by Jim Fallows, the former national correspondent for The Atlantic, author of books on a variety of subjects from aviation to politics, and now the publisher of his own newsletter called “Breaking the News.” 

Fallows writes, “Originally the Google search page was a minimalist-elegance vehicle for taking you straight to the desired results. Now it is too often a maximalist-clutter way to serve up ads, with the actual information seeming an afterthought or lagniappe. From the user’s point of view, the signal-to-noise ratio has gone way down.”

This subject was also covered last year by Jeffrey Fowler of the Washington Post that includes some examples.

If you think enduring these ads are not a big deal as I first did, it’s because we’ve gotten used to it. To understand how much better search can be without ads and without a search bias, you need to try Neeva, a new ad-free search engine, developed by some former Google employees.

Neeva eliminates all ads completely. They make money by having its users pay a small monthly fee, still to be determined, but probably around $5. Their customers are users like us and not advertisers, avoiding any conflict, and are motivated to provide the very best search engine.

I’ve been using Neeva for the past couple of weeks on a Mac and iPhone, and it’s a revelation to see the results with no ads anywhere. Not off to the side, not as part of the search results. Their search results so far have been impressive, neatly laid out in a column with text and photos, uncluttered and easy to read. 

Neeva also provides additional privacy and protection from being tracked. Google, on the other hand, needs to track us to learn more about us …to more effectively target us with ads…. to be able to charge the advertisers more…. and so forth. Treating us as the product and not the customer.

Neeva also has the capability to tailor their search to our needs and preferences. You can allow it to also search your email, Slack, Outlook, and a few other applications. You can also select other preferences, including your preferred news sources. If you search for a product review or best product to buy, you won’t see all the “Best” sites designed to promote products for referral fees. Instead, you’ll be taken to reputable sites with verified reviews.

Currently, you can try Neeva for six months at no cost with no credit card required. 

I’ve often thought how much better the web could be without all of the ads served to us wherever we go. Neeva is about to find out if this model works. I hope it does, because avoiding the distractions and biased information is certainly worth a few dollars a month.

by Phil Baker