The 20 Percent Edition Nr. 26: How Culture Corruption Shapes the Future of Search Engines – Part 2

Hello friends, and welcome to this edition of The 20 Percent.

Today’s edition discusses website marketing with private search engines that don’t offer advertising options. This puts the spotlight on organic search, so the question is how well a business can utilize Neeva or Brave Search to bring traffic to their web properties?

Private Search Engines Without Advertising: Neeva and Brave Search

Both Brave Search and Neeva offer ad-free web search. Neeva is subscription-based at $4.95 per month. Brave Search is ad-free and free of charge at the moment, but they plan for an (ad-free) subscription option and a free ad-supported version in the future.

Behind both of these engines are some high-profile individuals. Brave’s CEO is Brendan Eich, the creator of Javascript and co-founder of Mozilla. And Neeva was created by former Google executives Ramaswamy and Vivek Raghunathan, an ex-Google SVP of Ads and an ex-YouTube VP leading monetization.

Website Marketing With Neeva VS Google

The overall experience with Neeva bears some familiarity with Google. Jon Henshaw wrote a brilliant overview of its search features, and I will defer to his article for more details.

In my opinion, it appears that Neeva has a good grasp of the dynamics behind commercial internet content creation. For example, when you search for a product, the first results card says Expert Recommended, Products chosen by experts, not advertisers. This is a very publisher-forward mentality.

On Google, it’s not uncommon for Google Ads to receive 40% or 50% of the clicks for search queries with commercial intent. Neeva being ad-free could be a game-changer for e-commerce and affiliate sites.

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Another positive aspect is that you don’t have to worry about your competitors bidding for your brand name with Google Ads. This is a constant pain for many businesses, as they need to compete with much larger organizations to be found first for their branded search queries.

Website Marketing With Brave Search VS Google

I am a tiny bit perplexed by Brave Search. Whereas Neeva’s core promise is about the product (how web search is better if you leave the ads out), Brave’s focus is not just on ads or privacy but also algorithmic bias. At the moment, Brave Search is built on top of its own search index and ranking algorithms. However, this is only a first step, as they have different plans for the future:

Brave Search is transparent: we will not use secret methods or algorithms to bias results. We will explore multiple community-curated open ranking models to ensure diversity, and prevent algorithmic biases and outright censorship.

Overcoming Bias Or Creating It?

The above passage from their support page links out to a research paper from Brave’s Search Team in Munich titled “GOGGLES: Democracy dies in darkness, and so does the Web.”

Citing from the paper:

Instead of a single ranking algorithm, we could have as many as needed, overcoming the biases that a single actor (the search engine) embeds into the results […]

In this paper we introduce Goggles, which is meant to provide people with a way to access information according to their explicit biases. In layman’s terms, to put Goggles on, to see a different version of reality […]

The benefit for the users is that they would be empowered to explore multiple realities in a straight-forward way. The point is to offer people the freedom to choose their own biases while being conscious of them. The benefit for the content creators is that they have multiple options to expose their content, by increasing their potential audience, which will reduce the need to optimize for the single set of biases implicitly encoded in the search engine’s ranking […]

Whereas these ideas sound interesting, I fear that they ignore certain business realities.

As per one of the examples, removing results from most popular domains to surface less prominent ones ignores the reality that popular domains are popular because they invest heavily in their websites and content to provide high-quality information. I remember the internet from 20 years ago, and the content was (mostly) garbage. Google helped improve the web as a whole by providing financial incentives to create better content.

As a Neophiliac, I may use Brave Search. But in my experience, it’s almost always the case that the mass market wants something different from what the early adopters want. Something that works, and something safe.

Stay inspired,