Ecosia is Google’s not-for-profit rival: Have you heard of it?

It’s been around for more than a decade, and with its mission to improve the world’s ecology, it’s planted more than 106 million trees. Is it time to switch search engine?

I’m not sure who should feel more red-faced: me, or the marketing team at Ecosia, but despite having been formed in 2009, I’ve only just come across the not-for-profit search engine.

It’s never come up in all of my years of researching, and I’ve never seen it creep above the parapet when analysing website traffic results data. In fact, it’s only come to my attention because my husband told me that he’s been using it for the last month or so, and guess what – he loves it. “I’ve not noticed any difference compared to Google,” he told me, “except there’s fewer adverts.” That’s something most of us could get on board with.

Wanting to check my ignorance before writing a blog about Ecosia I asked a group of learned friends if they’d heard of it: Their responses ranged from “No, never,” to ”It sounds like a made-up country”. Phew! Not just me then.

We’ve not heard of Ecosia – but millions have

But maybe we’ve been entangled in Google’s algorithm tentacles for too long, because plenty of others have been using the search engine, set up by German Christian Kroll.

Kroll launched Ecosia after embedding himself in Argentina for a few months, where he learnt about reforestation projects and the link between planting trees and neutralising CO2. Promising to plant one tree for every 45 searches, so far Ecosia has planted more than 106 million trees – that equates to around 4.8 billion searches conducted on its platform to date.

Now, as a socially-responsible business, Big Bee can definitely get on board with a not-for-profit search engine, and anything to help our planet. But I wanted to check my husband’s claim that it was essentially the same as Google before I convert – because Google is where I do so much of my business.

What I discovered about the Ecosia search engine

I tested its interface, asking myself if it was as intuitive to use as Google. The answer is yes, but it doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles.

What’s the same?

On the face of it Ecosia looks a lot like Google. It uses the same familiar predictive auto-fill as you type into its search box, it has the same search engine result format with H-Tag for title and Meta Description for description. The results presented seem strong and authoritative. Wikipedia results are shown as separate results to the right, just like with Google. And results are filtered in tabs at the top by ‘Images’ ‘News’ ‘Videos’ and ‘Maps’ (although the maps are still powered by Google). In fact it’s more or less as Google looked around 5 years ago.

What’s different?

There’s no ‘Shopping’ filter, so those looking for an easy online purchase may find it a bit trickier. There’s also no ‘Books’ ‘Finance’ or ‘Flights’ tabs, though there is an Ecosia Travel that is currently in Beta – I tested this too and it looks powerful (other than a missing ‘pet-friendly’ filter for us dog owners).

Another missing feature is Google’s ‘People also ask (PAA)’ functionality which is a late-ish addition to the world’s most popular search engine, so perhaps no surprises there. I often dive down the rabbit hole of PAA, so it’s a loss I’d feel, but I’d probably gain hours of my life back in exchange, so nothing to cry about.

I tested Ecosia with a search of ‘How many trees in the world?’ and you can see from the results below that while the Google result pulls up an at-first-glance result, you have to look a little closer with Ecosia.

What’s the upside of Ecosia?

There are some losses, but when we’re talking about what’s different compared to a megalith like Google, we shouldn’t just compare like for like in functionality – we should also consider purpose.

So what’s different between Ecosia and Google? Its social mission. Ecosia has at its very heart the good of the planet and the people in it.

The obvious benefit is planting a lot of trees and thus, helping to save the world. Ecosia plants a new tree every 0.8 seconds, so today’s total of 106 million will only continue to grow. It also ensures that it plants trees where they’re needed most and where it will benefit the local economies.

Gotta love this cute search counter so you can keep track of how many trees you’ve planted

Ecosia and your data

But not only does it protect the world, it protects your valuable data. As the copywriter on its privacy page states: “Forests need protecting and so does your privacy. We make sure to do both.”  

How so? Ecosia claims it doesn’t store your personal data for any longer than one week and it actually anonymises data. They don’t create personal profiles based on your search history and they don’t sell your data to advertisers.

There are some downsides – you won’t be able to track down your history to find content you’ve been searching for before unless you’re careful to bookmark it, for one. But on the flip side, you’re not being fed the same ads over and over again, your data isn’t being used without your consent, and you’re not getting stuck in an echo chamber, where all the information you’re ever fed is that which validates the opinion you already hold. The results Ecosia feeds you are neutral – untainted by your past searches. In the world of politics in particular, that matters.

Would you switch to Ecosia?

I already have. My research has convinced me it’s up to the job for most things and I’m interested to see how my searches change . If in doubt, I can always use Google. But for now I’m on the side of the trees and Ecosia is my new default browser. Will you be giving it a try? Let us know on Facebook or LinkedIn.

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