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How to Choose the Right Charitable Search Engine

What is a charitable search engine?

Charitable search engines (or charity search engines) are just like Google or Bing or any other search engine, except that they donate a portion of their income to charity. Just like Google or Bing, charitable search engines make their money from advertising - the ads that often appear at the top and bottom of your search results, and sometimes also to the right of your search results. Whenever you click on one of these ads, the advertiser pays Google, Bing or any other search engine a small fee. This is known as a cost-per-click. Advertisers run ads on search engines for specified keywords to get targeted traffic to their website, which they then hope to convert into customers. It is this type of search engine advertising that has made Google into a trillion dollar company.


Why would you use a charitable search engine?

If you're tired of watching companies like Google getting filthy rich from mining your data, tying all your search results together and building a profile of you, then you may be looking for an alternative. Charitable search engines are a way of giving back to society. Instead of hoarding all the money they make for their shareholders, charitable search engines donate a large portion of their profits to charities that help the environment, the poor, children, wildlife, animals, and so on. This is a unique way to allow you to support a charity without you actually having to donate to them (or in addition to you donating to them). Just by using a charitable search engine, you are helping that search engine raise advertising revenue, most of which will then go towards charities. It is a great concept.

Charitable search engines also tend to be more privacy-minded, and will do more to protect your data, as far as they can.


How much do charitable search engines donate to charity?

The amounts donated by various charitable search engines vary considerably. The minimum amount donated is around 50% of advertising revenues (or profits) - this is the most common amount that most charitable search engines donate. There are a couple of search engines that go well beyond the call of duty in how much they donate, specifically SearchScene, which donates 95% of its profits to charity and Ecosia, which donates 80% of its revenues to tree-planting charities.


What types of charities are supported?

Most charitable search engines will let you choose which charities to support, with charities ranging from environmental charities to animal welfare charities, wildlife charities, children's charities, cancer charities, poverty charities and so on. Most charitable search engines will also allow you to support more than one charity. Some charitable search engines have focused on regional or national charities that may be well-known within a particular country, but not-so-well known outside of that country. Some of these charitable search engines have gone to extremes and have hundreds or even thousands of charities listed on their website! However, this can make choosing a charity to support a fairly arduous task. Goodsearch has allowed all sorts of non-profit organizations to be listed, including schools and community centers - a great way to support your own school! However, with over a hundred thousand non-profits listed, finding a non-profit to support might take you all day! Others have focused on a handful of major international charities, like SearchScene, which only lets you choose between Oxfam, UNICEF, UNHCR, WaterAid and WWF (World Wildlife Fund). Some have focused on a particular niche, like Ecosia which donates all of its contributions towards tree-planting projects, mainly in South America and Africa. Other examples of niche charity search engines include Youcare.world, which is focused exclusively on donating meals to animal shelters and Ekoru, which is focused exclusively on ocean cleanup and re-planting seagrass into the ocean bed.


Is there any reason not to use a charitable search engine?

It's all about the search results. Whilst the quality of the search results varies hugely across all the charitable search engines we've reviewed, none of them really come close to Google in terms of rich, engaging content and giving you the answer you're looking for with the fewest number of clicks possible. A couple of charitable search engines stand out from the crowd here and are worthy of specific mention - these are SearchScene and Ecosia, both of which have done a better job than the rest in assembling and displaying their search results, with SearchScene in particular giving you as close a search experience to that of Google or Bing as you are likely to get. Whilst these search engines are still not Google, for 99% of searches you are unlikely to know the difference (and, of course, you will have that warm, fuzzy, feel-good feeling of knowing that you're supporting some very worthwhile charities and projects instead of just contributing to Google's balance sheet!)


Why do all charitable search engines have to be powered by another search engine, like Bing?

You may not know this, but there are only 4 independent search engines with their own index (the database of web pages underlying a search engine). These are Google, Bing (which is owned by Microsoft), Yandex (a Russian search engine and the most popular search engine in Russia) and Baidu (a Chinese search engine and the most popular search engine in China). Certain other independent search engines may also have their own index or partial index, but these indexes are not nearly large enough to make them competitive on the global market and so they borrow heavily from other search engines (e.g. DuckDuckGo has its own web crawler and its own index but its results are mainly powered by Bing). So what about all the other search engines like Yahoo, Ask.com, AOL and so on? Well, Yahoo is powered by Bing, it is thought that Ask.com is powered by Google and AOL is also powered by Bing. All search engines are (at least for the most part) powered by one of the big 4 - Google, Bing, Yandex or Baidu.


Are any charitable search engines powered by Google?

The short answer to this is no. Google's policy is to disallow any partner search engine that uses their search results to advertise themselves as a charitable search engine. They claim that this is to avoid a situation where users click repeatedly on ads just to accrue revenue towards a charity, with no intention of buying any of the advertisers' wares or subscribing to their services (repeatedly clicking on ads like this is known as click-fraud). Such a move may cost advertisers a lot of unnecessary clicks and therefore (based on the cost-per-click advertising model that Google and Bing use) this would amount to a lot of advertising dollars flushed down the toilet on the part of the advertiser. Google disallow any incentivised ad clicks, and so they disallow charitable search engines completely. You can see Google's point here! However, in reality, all search engines (and especially Google) have systems in place to detect click-fraud and if repeated ad-clicks are detected, the advertiser is not charged for them. With this in mind, Google's reasons for not allowing any of its partner search engines to brand themselves as charitable falls flat on its face.

The second reason why charitable search engines don't partner with Google is because the search results that Google provides to its partner search engines are not the same as Google's own search results: they are devoid of any engaging rich content, such as images; devoid of any sort of knowledge panel; and the ads are often of a much poorer quality. So whilst you may think that a charitable search engine might want Google's search results, being a Google search partner will not make your search results look like Google's - it will make them look more like Google's search results from the 1990's!

Bing are not so uptight about potential click-fraud and will allow its search partners to brand themselves as charitable, which is why most charitable search engines are powered by Bing. Bing also provide their search partners with excellent search results, which makes Bing the logical choice. You will also find a handful of charitable search engines powered by Yandex, the Russian search engine, although the search results provided by Yandex-powered charitable search engines pale in comparison with those provided by Bing, in our opinion. We have not come across any charitable search engines that are powered by the big Chinese search engine, Baidu.


So what is the best charitable search engine?

This all depends on two things: the quality of the search results and the charities you want to support...

As far as search results goes, you will probably want something as close to Google or Bing as possible. In this regard, nothing beats SearchScene in our opinion. It has been designed to make the search results look as much as possible to those on Google and Bing. The search results contain a mix of engaging, rich content like image thumbnails, news thumbnails, videos, a knowledge panel and more. Much like Google and Bing, it provides a dedicated image search, video search and news search (and actually does a much better job of displaying its video search results than Google, displaying a gallery of 50 videos with large thumbnails, many of which can be played on the page, in contrast with Google's list of just 10 videos per page, with small thumbnails.) Ecosia also provides great search results, with dedicated image, video and news searches, although it does have some shortcomings, as you will read in our review.

In terms of charities supported, you may be tempted to think that more is better, in which case you'll be tempted by Goodsearch's 110,000 listed charities and non-profits, until you realize that you will not have heard of most of these. In this respect, we feel that less is more - supporting a small group of large, international charities makes it much easier to choose who you want to support, and this is exactly what SearchScene does. Ecosia is famous as the search engine that plants trees! So if the environment is your thing and you want to help stop climate change then check out Ecosia. That said, if the environment is your thing then you could equally use SearchScene and tick the box to support WWF and untick all the others, ensuring that all your searches go to support WWF and the excellent work they do in fighting climate change, planting trees, preventing deforestation, safeguarding the oceans and protecting wildlife. Ecosia donate 80% of their revenues to tree-planting, whilst SearchScene donate 95% of their profits to major charities like WWF. Then there are the niche charitable search engines, such as Youcare.world, which also provides excellent search results but exclusively supports meals for animals in shelters. The choice is yours!

There is no doubt that Ecosia is the most famous of all the charitable search engines, with its tagline of being "the search engine that plants trees!", but then it has been running the longest, having been established in 2009. SearchScene is the newest charitable search engine, having been launched in 2020, but is the best in terms of its search results, in our opinion. It also strikes the right balance in terms of its supported charities, by supporting just a small handful of diverse international charities that almost everyone will have heard of. And by donating 95% of its profits to charity, it arguably gives your searches the greatest impact.