It has been almost two years since I switched my primary search engine from Google Search to Neeva, a private ad-free search engine. Neeva is a startup founded by two former VPs at Google with ambitions to challenge the traditional ad-supported search engines. They aim to offer a compelling product that innovates in areas where other search engines cannot.
Having explored many search engines in the past and having used Neeva since its beta period in early 2021, I am convinced that Neeva is onto something. Let’s take a closer look at what sets Neeva apart.
Neeva is an ads-free search engine; this sets Neeva apart from any other search engine. Let’s compare a search for “best pair of shoes” on Google Search, the whole page above the fold is ads from retailers. On Neeva, the organic results display first, and below an article’s top picks are outlined directly in the search results; more on that later.
Researching products on Neeva is a much better experience, as no direct advertiser content is trying to convince you to buy their product. This begs the question: How does Neeva make money without ads? It’s pretty simple, actually; you pay for Neeva. This year, I shelled out $50 to Neeva, for what I consider the best search engine, but being ads-free isn’t the only reason I decided to subscribe.
Neeva’s Onebox feature shows conversations from websites like Reddit and StackOverflow inline with other search results. This feature is great for finding out how to do something and finding answers directly on the search page. If the snippet inline isn’t enough, I can expand the conversation without leaving the results.
The problem with this feature is that it drives less web traffic to these websites. However, Neeva has thought of this and, to help with that issue, has committed to sharing at least 20% of their topline revenue with these partners. Onebox is a great way to find answers without having to load another website that’ll compete for your attention.
Neeva connects with your productivity apps to help you find content across multiple applications at once. For example, let’s say I search for “Neeva.” I can see emails, calendar events, documents from my Google account, and pages in Notion, all from one search results page. Connected apps support other accounts, such as Office 365, Figma, and Github.
In my opinion, the one thing missing from connected apps is a way to connect to any email account. As someone who has migrated away from Gmail, it would be nice for my personal content to include emails not out of my archive. Connected apps are a great way to see content in all your accounts from a single location.
Neeva provides inline search results for results like cooking recipes and researching products. Their inline recipes remind me of Just The Recipe. There are no ads, browser popups, or scrolling far down the page to get to the actual recipe; it’s just the recipe.
Neeva also provides a great experience when researching what to buy. Instead of showing products from retailers, Neeva lists the best products from multiple reputable sources. It displays these lists directly in the search results, as in the “best pair of shoes” search earlier. This is a great way to research products as it’s not the retailers showing up in results as much but trusted review websites. It makes me feel like I have researched and am making informed decisions about where to put my money.
NeevaAI is the latest addition to the search engine, which provides a synthesized single answer to your query. NeevaAI is not a chatbot like ChatGPT or Bing Chat; it’s more akin to Google Search’s featured snippets. The single that NeevaAI generates combines information from multiple sources to cite every sentence the AI generates. Neeva differentiates its AI tool from ChatGPT as it has access to up-to-date information sourced from Neeva’s search index. Neeva also doesn’t feel the need to answer every query it receives. The company says that if the AI doesn’t have enough context to generate an answer, it won’t try to provide one.
NeevaAI is not perfect; it has problems that many AI tools have in 2023. For instance, NeevaAI can confidently provide inaccurate information. I’ve seen both obvious and pedantic inaccuracies returned from the tool. For example, NeevaAI told me that Withings smartwatches could track blood pressure. This isn’t true, and based on my research, watches aren’t reliable enough to track blood pressure. NeevaAI seemed to be confusing Withings smartwatches with the Withings BPM Connect, a smart blood pressure cuff.
The AI also told me that Kara Swisher founded Vox Media. In fact, she founded Recode, which Vox Media acquired. This is a distinction that the AI didn’t understand. To make these inaccuracies worse, Neeva cited its sources. These citation gives you false confidence that the answer you received is correct when, in reality, the AI tool can create inaccurate summaries from accurate information. Even with their faults, citations are a step in the right direction, as other AI tools don’t provide any insights into where they are getting information from or how you can validate what the AI is telling you.
Neeva has another AI tool called Gist. This app is separate from its main search interface, currently as a Testflight app. It’s trying to be an alternative to the 10 blue links you’ll see in Neeva or Google search results. Gist provides a card-based visual summary of search results. Click the right side of the screen to progress through a story and on the left side to go back; It gives me Snapchat story vibes in its interface.
I don’t use Gist very often to find information, but more as a fun game to see what the AI will surface to tell a story about my query. While I have noticed Gist getting better over the past few months, it sometimes repeats facts, which doesn’t make the story feel cohesive. It seems like each part of the story it tells does not know what was stated previously. Some work is needed in this area, but Neeva thinks Gist will be its AI differentiator from other chatbot-like tools. I’m excited to see where it goes from here.
Where Neeva Falls Short
Neeva falls short in a few ways:
- Local search is something only Google gets right at the moment. Whenever I try to find a local business or park, I won’t bother using Neeva. I’ll use Google Search or Maps to find it; they have the best quality information for that task. In my experience, Neeva does local searches better than other search engines, but it has a long way to catch up to Google.
- Neeva’s information on movies and actors doesn’t match Google. Whenever I am looking for a cast or where to stream a particular film, Google always gets my query. Neeva doesn’t provide information in an interesting way or to the level of fidelity Google Search does. NeevaAI has recently improved this if you have a specific question about a movie. But, for exploratory search, Google remains best.
- Access to Neeva search is a significant problem on IOS. It’s not Neeva’s fault, but I think it’s a significant hurdle for people wanting to try Neeva. On IOS, you cannot set the search engine in Safari to Neeva. The best way I have found to use Neeva on mobile is through the Neeva app, which has replaced my use of Safari on IOS. I don’t particularly care for the Neeva app, it’s a standard browser app that lets me use Neeva, and that’s the only noteworthy thing about it. I’m holding out for The Browser Company to bring Arc to IOS. Arc + Neeva is the best web experience I have found and is exactly what my browser setup is on MacOS; I can’t wait to bring that setup to my phone.
Overall, I highly recommend you look at Neeva. Because Neeva isn’t beholden to advertisers, it can innovate in ways other search engines can’t or won’t do to protect its advertisers. Neeva is the most innovative company in search right now with what they are able to do with this advantage. I believe that, given more time to iron out some of the rough edges, Neeva will be a no-brainer for people who value a better search experience.