Searching the internet is ground zero for open-source investigations. But knowing the differences in search engines, their pros and cons, as well as market share can help you use the right tool — or tools — for the job.
With the information of the world at your fingertips, the conundrum for researchers isn’t just what to look for, but where and how to look for it. Google is the search engine of choice for the vast majority of the market, but for researchers conducting OSINT investigations, they may need to think outside the Google box.
Algorithms, cookies and customized feeds continuously change the way search results are delivered and tailoring them to who’s doing the searching. This can be a problem when conducting searches that you want free of the influence of your personal browsing history, behavior and fingerprint. As such, it’s important to look at results across multiple search engines to find the best information, corroborate and verify findings, and get unique regional perspectives.
Here are seven search engines to improve collection and better your OSINT.
To say that Google is “the most popular search engine” is an understatement. It holds around 85% of the market share with the runner up, Bing, below 9%. While Google is the dominant leader, it has its pros and cons, as all the tools in this post do. Google, in particular, tends to focus more on what they assume your query means than what it actually says, making more advanced search techniques necessary for less common results. (And even in private browsing modes, there are still supercookies active, among other trackers.)
Learn more: Advanced Google search tools and techniques
Considering the size of the search engine market, 9% is still a huge number of users and its market share in certain countries can be higher. In 2022, China accounted for the largest share of Bing’s traffic. Like Google, Bing also breaks out distinct content to search such as images. It also has a neat feature to let you specify how a person is photographed (e.g., face only or head and shoulders).
For internet users seeking an alternative to the tracking-frenzy of Google, DuckDuckGo has carved out a humble privacy-focused corner of the market (less than one percent). While your search history isn’t stored and search results won’t be influenced by your browsing history, it’s important to note that information about your browser, device, OS, etc. can still be passed to websites visited from DuckDuckGo results.
Learn more about staying anonymous while you search: What is managed attribution and how does it improve online investigation?
Region-specific search engines
When trying to uncover information with a regional bent, using a search engine popular within the region can improve results. Searching in the native language will also yield different search results within these search engines themselves.
Yandex has the fourth highest market share overall and outpaced Google in 2022, accounting for more than half of the Russian market. Yandex is also popular in other countries, including Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkey.
The image search within Yandex offers robust filtering and a unique feature to find similar images. Where Google Image Search will scout the internet to find other instances of the same image, Yandex Images will provide results of other images with the same subject (e.g., a building).
Baidu is the leading search engine in the Chinese market, holding 65% of the market compared to Google’s two percent. Baidu’s popularity is likely due to the limited availability of Google in the PRC and its willingness to comply with government censorship. In 2010, Google pulled its search engine from China over the issue of censorship, and its services such as Gmail and Google maps are “effectively blocked by the Chinese government.”
So while Baidu can give you insight to what a user within China can find, that scope may be selectively narrowed.
Smaller regional players
There are several other search engines popular in select regions due to language or other cultural factors, such as Naver in South Korea and Seznam in the Czech Republic. If you’re researching a subject in a far-flung corner of the world, a quick check on StatCounter can point you to appropriate search engines to use.
Know before you go
Even when using privacy-focused search engines such as DuckDuckGo, numerous details are passed to the search results you click on and websites you visit. This information can be used by site webmasters to understand your affiliation (the organization you’re researching on behalf of) and your intent (why you’re on their site).
That’s why it’s important — no matter what search engine you use — to search anonymously and in a secure browsing environment. Anonymous, secure investigations need more than a VPN. Using managed attribution solutions to manipulate your digital fingerprint and blend in with average visitors to a site will help you to avoid arousing suspicion as you search, protect your mission, your organization and yourself.
To learn how Silo for Research powers secure, anonymous online investigations across the surface, deep and dark web, watch our product tour here.