Paid Search Engines

Posted on Feb 1, 2023

A couple new, paid (or optionally paid) search engines have caught my attention recently: Kagi and Neeva. I am trying to figure out if switching to either of them, and paying for a search engine for the first time, makes sense for me.

The main problem with search engines—and Google is the prime example of this right now—is that search results are often worse in quality than they were five or ten years ago. This is because their algorithms have been gamed with SEO, so site creators can make more money, and the search engines themselves have junked up their results listings with ads and promotions for their own properties, so they can make more money.

At this point, I don’t trust Google or Bing to order search results in a way that is beneficial to me, rather than to their partners and their paying customers: advertisers. Paying a subscription for search would, theoretically, align the search engine’s interests with my own.

Kagi and Neeva promise aligned incentives and a more personalized search experience with higher-quality results. Both have iOS apps, which are web browsers that default to their own search engines. Both allow for sign-in with Apple, which allows me to hide my email address/real identity from them, if I choose to. Both have Safari extensions that hijack the address bar search (even on iOS).

I have tested out Neeva the most. I really like its AI-generated summaries of the top few results pages. Kagi is clean and much faster. I find it hard to judge which is better, per se. I think I’m finding what I want on the first page or so. I think I prefer Neeva’s AI summary to Kagi’s lack of one. The summaries are not always that impressive, though; it seems to pull one sentence out of the top three search result pages and smoosh them together into a paragraph.

One thing I have discovered is that I spend a lot less time looking at search engine results pages than I thought I did. Most of my use of the browser search bar ends with me clicking an autocomplete suggestion—one that is handled by DuckDuckGo, rather than Neeva or Kagi. (This is due to limitations in the default search engines in Safari.)

It probably makes sense for me to wait until Google, Bing, and whoever else integrate AI summaries into their offerings and re-evaluate all the search engines again. The Internet rumor mill suggests that change will come fairly soon.