How do private search engines make money?

There is a growing number of private search engines providing alternatives to Google and Bing. While the new search engines keep your searches private they still have a business to run, if they aren’t non-profit initiatives. 

The private search engines and metasearch engines listed below are free to use. They do earn money when you use their services, but the good thing is that they will still respect your privacy when you search.  A search engine like Givero* takes it further and gives away half the money they earn to good causes.

Private search engines are using contextual ads and affiliate links to monetize

These private search engines are companies with owners or investors with the goal of running a profitable business, except for Searx which is a non-profit initiative receiving donations to keep its service running.

Here is a list of the various search engine monetization models:

  • Advertisements as the top results – a well-known model, for example, Google and Bing, where a number of the top results are advertisements. Advertisements are marked with more or less visible tags that they are actually advertisements and not necessarily related to your search results. On private search engines, the ads are contextual, which are directly related to your search query alone.
  • Online shopping search – When you see a list of products above or at the side of the search results they are often from an affiliate partner’s product feed. The search engine will receive a few cents when you click a product and visit the online shop. The EU has fined Google for breaching antitrust rules when promoting shopping results from their own service  – learn more about the antitrust case here [VIDEO]
  • Affiliate links in results – When the search engine shows results, some of the results may be shown with additional characters attached to the URL which will register when you click the result. This is typically done for eBay and Amazon links and is a shopping partnership called an affiliate link.  Note: It can be hard to tell whether a result is an affiliate link or not when they are mixed up with other results Note: you should notice that organic results are mixed or replaced with affiliate links for eg. eBay.
  • Donations – If a service is non-profit, you can support the service with a direct donation. Wikipedia is a well-known example of this model.


Givero is monetizing the same way as the other search engines but gives away half their earnings to good causes chosen by the users. This means the first 50cent of eac earned Dollar is donated to eg. the Mozilla Foundation, before Givero can pay the bills for running a search engine – read more about how the Givero search engine donates to good causes

Monetization on private search engines

AdvertismentsYes (Microsoft Advertisment)Yes (Microsoft Advertisment)NoYes (Microsoft Advertisment)Yes (Earns money for Google)
Online shopping searchNot currentlyYes (affiliated networks)NoYes (affiliated networks)No shopping search
Affilate links in resultsNoYesNoYesNo
Direct donationsNoNoYesNoNo
FundingPrivately heldVC investmentsPrivate initiatveVC investmentsPrivately held
Note: The data above is based on public information published by the included search engines, with additional information from independent reviews, including as published on the respective Wikipedia pages for the search engines . The data was last checked in June 2019.

Advertisements listed above the search results

Examples from Givero, Duckduckgo, Qwant, and Startpage, showing where the ads are placed.

Look for transparency 

When you decide to use an online service like a private search engine, you don’t necessarily take the time to look through the terms and conditions.

In addition to reading the terms and conditions, take a quick look at the company’s blog and online communication to find out about their standpoint in online privacy and if they value transparency.

From a technical perspective companies that offer access to the source code of their services (open-source) also show a commitment to provide transparency around their solutions and business.

Open-source search engines with privacy focus

Givero offers open-source bangs and instant answers, DuckDuckGo has terminated contribution for  its open-source offerings.  Searx is the Open Source solution for software-savvy users who can run it as their own decentralized service. If you want further details do read the post comparison of  private search engines.

*Full disclosure

The author of this article is me, I’m Brian. I worked for several years on an independent European Search Engine, called Findx. Findx wasn’t sustainable, but the idea about creating #techforgood raised,