Tutorial Windows: Changing Search Engines for Cortana and Windows

Introduced in Windows 8, the Charms bar included a refined search engine that was not only able to locate files on your computer, but also provide web results. This feature got taken over by Cortana, and it is the primary way of locating stuff both online and offline.

When using Cortana to look up specific words, the list of results also provides suggestions on the web. However, these results are retrieved by Microsoft’s own search engine, namely Bing, and might not appeal to everyone.

Unfortunately, Microsoft didn’t introduce any option through which you can change the search engine Cortana is using, and this takes us to the topic of today’s guide. There are a few browser extensions, as well as other desktop tweaks you can make in order to give Cortana less attention, or make it use the tools you want.

Making Cortana use Google instead of Bing

As much as you look for such an option in the default Windows set of features, you’re not going to find it. However, you still need to use a web browser to view results, so here’s what you need to get and do in order for Cortana’s results to be retrieved by Google.

(Reminder) Changing the default web browser

In order for the following extensions and add-ons to work, you need to set the corresponding browser as the default one. In case you forgot, in Windows 10 this is done by accessing the Settings panel, going to System, and selecting the desired Web Browser from the Default Apps category. Additionally, you can ask Cortana to Change Default Browser and it directly takes you to the Default Apps location.

For Google Chrome

First of all, you need to grab and install Google Chrome for this to be possible. It’s an advantage if you’re already using it. Simply go here to install the Chrometana extension. With it, all search results initiate with Cortana bring up Chrome with Google results. Note that you need to make Google Chrome your default browser for this to work. It can be set to display results from Google, DuckDuckGo, and Yahoo!.

For Mozilla Firefox

If you happen to be using Mozilla Firefox, then you don’t have to go through the hassle of grabbing any extensions or add-ons. To make this work, launch Firefox and type about:preferences#search in the address field. Check the option to Use This Search Engine for Searches From Windows, and select the engine you want to use from the drop-down menu. Don’t forget to make Firefox your default web browser.

Stopping Cortana from showing web results

Chances are you only want to use Cortana for local search. By default, it also shows online suggestions while searching, and you might accidentally end up on the web, thus wasting some time when your intentions are completely different.

Doing this only takes a few seconds. Click Cortana and press the small Gear button on the left pane. There, make sure Search Online and Include Web Results is turned Off.

Alternatives and taskbar tweaks

Deciding that it’s best to use Cortana offline only can make the taskbar search field obsolete, taking up space for no reason. What’s more, a search is initiated through Win + S so you don’t really need the field there. To hide it, right-click the taskbar and in the Search item, choose to Show Search Icon, or make it Hidden.

On the other hand, you can enable a built-in Windows feature with which to search online. We’re talking about the Address toolbar, which can be brought up by right-clicking the taskbar, and choosing Address from the Toolbars menu.

Since the internal web search engine is Bing, results via the Address toolbar also come from Bing. Luckily, this can be changed. Here’s how:

Step 1: Launch Internet Explorer one last time (come on, it won’t bite).

Step 2: Press the small Gear button on the top right corner and choose to Manage Add-ons.

Step 3: Follow the link at the bottom of the window to Find More Search Providers.

Step 4: Choose and install the one you want and go back to the add-ons page.

Step 5: Select the newly-installed search engine and click the button to Set as Default.

Step 6 (optional): Select Bing from the list and press Remove just to be sure it’s not being used anymore.

Using the Address toolbar from now on to perform online search provides results using the engine you just installed. By default, pressing Enter after writing inside the Address field attempts to take you to an offline location. You need to wait for the suggestion box to Search For something, or add “?” in front of the query. I.E: “? Softpedia” performs a search on Google for Softpedia.

There are also several applications specially created to serve as quick methods to find stuff online. If none of the methods above tickles your fancy, there are a lot of desktop search utilities, such as this one.

Novi Search Master

Since most large websites have internal search engines, and popular ones provide rather different results, finding something of interest can sometimes prove to be a difficult task. However, Novi Search Master puts a large variety of search engines at your disposal, bringing up your default browser with results from all of them. To quickly access it, just pin it to the taskbar and launch it via Win + #, where # is the taskbar position (a number).

To end with

With the abundance of services for everything, it’s pretty difficult to make all options available by default. A comfortable navigation usually requires some time, effort, and a bunch of third-party applications that need to be configured to your liking. In this case, searching can be done through your web browser, but since the option exists to initiate the process faster, it’s good to know how you can take advantage of this feature.