Why You Shouldn't Use Swagbucks as Your Search Engine

I’d like to point out that Ron, an employee of Swagbucks was kind enough to visit the site and address some of the concerns I had with the program and I have to admit I was impressed that they took the time to do some damage control. Please read the Swagbucks response to the post. I am now using the system and testing it out.  I have also written a positive review of Swagbucks based on the last few months of rare usuage.

My original intention with this article was to write something positive about a search engine called Swagbucks.  As the name suggests the site gives out random swag bucks as you use their search engine just as you would use any other.  The thing that drew me to to this unique concept was the fact that they use the Google Search engine to bring you your results.  I’ll be honest in that while I may not agree with all of the ways that Google assigns rank for search results they do have the most extensive searches and usually provide fairly accurate results.  Their sponsored results are also kept fairly out of the way and are easily identifiable.  Sponsored results appear at the top of your search and on the sides only, never in between searches.

How Swagbucks works is they provide you with a search page similar to any search engine landing page with a box provided to enter your search term.  Hit enter or click the search button to be on your way.  Randomly throughout your searching you may win swagbucks.  You know you’ve received some because they insert a small notice at the top of your search page advising you of how many swagbucks you’ve won which can range frmo $1 to $5.  You can then trade in yoru swagbucks for merchandise at their own shop.  The merchandise can range from a $5 Starbucks gift card to a $50 Best Buy gift card to a wide variety of other interesting gifts.

One $5 Starbucks Gift Card would cost you 60 Swagbucks.  Examples of some of the gifts you can receive from Swagbucks

I thought this was a golden idea.  I spend 12-15 hours a day on the computer and have Google as my homepage and if I could earn a few extra bucks while searching then I figure why not.  It was the fact that I could get a free cup of coffee once a week or even save up for a new mouse or keyboard using a Best Buy gift card even if it took a few months.  Great so I signed up for an account which is obviously free and started to check it out and get familiar with it and right away I noticed the problems.

While it looks like they have completely styled their search results to look like Google they appear to be providing filtered custom results with injected sponsored listings.  I opened google in one window and swagbucks in another window and ran the same search.  The number of results was drastically different.  Here are my beefs with this new search engine.

1.  Drastically different number of results returned although they claim they are using Google’s search engine for results.  I searched for the term “Fight Club” in both engines and this is what I got back:



Now… This may not necessarily be a problem.  As we all know Google usually has tonnes of duplicate search results so swagbucks may be omitting the duplicates automatically.  That would be cool IF there was a way to even see that many results.  Just like the normal Google Search Engine Swagbucks has pagination at the bottom which lists how many pages of search results there are.  At the bottom of a Google search page you usually see numbers from 1…….10 with a Next button.  Swagbucks, despite telling you there are 4 million results for “Fight Club” will only let you see up to 4 pages of results.  If you click the 4th page on swagbucks thats it.  The end of the road.  No more pages after four no matter how many results were found where on the other hand with Google if you click the 10th page it just adjusts and shows you the next 20 pages.  Swagbucks has limited you to only 4 pages of the millions of possible results.  Big no no!

2.  Swagbucks injects sponsored search results inbetween the normal results.  This is deceiving and I hate visiting websites that trick me into clicking their ads.  Everyone needs to make money especially sites providing services.  There are high costs and such hosting fees and technical support & upgrades where needed however tricking your customers into clicking your sponsored results is sneaky and just plain wrong.  With some of the more reputable search engines such as Google their advertisements are clearly labeled as such and are removed from the actual search results.  The advertisements do not appear highlighted.  I did that on the image to illustrate where they are placed.

3.  Now even if the first two things discussed above were non-issues, this last point here would almost definitely turn me off from Swagbucks.  On the search page they have a banner labeled, “Be the next winner! Winning Tips.”  So you’re thinking great… they’ve got some tips on how I can earn more swagbucks while surfing and searching.  They offer 8 tips on how you can win more swag.  I’m not going to get into the first 7 because in my opinion their 8th tip trumps the previous 7 by a longshot.  It goes like this

TIP #8

Doing a TON of Searches Will Not Help You Win.

Really. While you may think it will help you win, it will actually ensure you won’t. Only your first 20 searches in a given day make you eligible to win a Swag Buck. The best way to win is to use swagbucks.com – search & win whenever you need to search the web. Clicking links, whether they’re sponsored links or search results, will not help you win. swagbucks.com – search & win offers no incentives or rewards for clicking on them.

Now come on.  Their 8th and final tip is that by using their search engine too much it will ensure you won’t win anything.  So the more I use the site the less likely I am to win anything until it gets to the point where they make sure I don’t win anything.  Now where’s the incentive there?

That last paragraph there just about sums it up.  Since when do companies penalize you for using and enjoying their service or product.  Thanks swag for saving me the time of wasting my time!


  1. jared says:

    i use swagbucks.com and i like it. i think the reason they do the 20 searches is because they don't want people doing lots of random searches, idk. but i do know i have won a couple starbucks cards on this :)

  2. Dan says:

    hey jared.. grats on your cards :) That was my first thought when I saw this. I buy starbucks every day and if my searches could get my a free coffee hey why not.. but not if they handle gaming that way.

    If they are worried about people cheating the system they should implement a better ways to prevent it. Working on the web and playing on the web i spend insane amounts of time online and I am constantly using google for valid searches both at work and at home. If I were to use something like swagbucks and have to filter and weed through their camouflaged sponsored ads then Id hate to be penalized just because I use it too much.

    They also shouldn't limit the number of pages you can see… I havent found a way to see more than 4 pages of search results regardless of how many there are.

    • Travis says:

      You could just search something on Swagbucks, and if you win bucks(or not), you could then just go and search on Google.

  3. Ron says:

    If I may chime in, I work for SwagBucks and I think there are some very good points being discussed here that I could shed some light on.

    Swag Bucks is one of the only incentivized search engines to feature google results. The reason we only feature 4 pages of results, is based on the miniscule number of searches that result in page views beyond the first page of results. Most people who don’t find the “right” link on the first page of results, are far more likely to alter their query, than to dig deeper into the results. For that reason, we disagree with your assertion that limiting the number of results reduces the relevance and quality of our results.

    As for the mixed results, SwagBucks.com ensures that all sponsored results are clearly identified as such. Furthermore, our search feed is modeled after the Dogpile search engine, which features a dynamic mix of sponsored and organic results according to the keyword being searched. Their insight is that a user who searches the term “plumber” (to take one example) is far more likely to be looking for an actual plumber, than a Wikipedia article describing the profession and its history. While I am sympathetic to your desire to see the results be separated, it is worth noting that Dogpile has won the JD Powers and Associates award for customer satisfaction for the past two years, and they’ve done so using precisely the type of mixed result we feature. It is a hard notion for many to accept, but sometimes, mixed results ARE the most relevant.

    Finally, the objection you raise to Rule # 8 on our “Winning Tips” page must be taken in context. We encourage users to use our engine naturally, and not to "game" the results. The truth is that we have implemented new anti-fraud techniques that have allowed us to move away from the 20 search-per-day cap that you allude to. We will update the Tips-page accordingly, but what was true before is still true now: the best way to win Swag Bucks (and the only method we support) is to use our engine for genuine discovery. I can assure you and all your readers that individuals using our engines in this fashion WILL NOT be prevented from winning Swag Bucks, regardless of the number of daily queries they run.

    • Thomas says:

      @Ron, well thats all fine and dandy and as a swagganaught i agree with you 90 percent of the way. but that other 10 percent well when it comes to how i search and i search VALID EVERYTIME I SEARCH, i dont try and fraud the system because i know its wrong, i do have morals and i would hate myself for being the person that messed it up for everyone and since its so easy to sin and stay far away from the dark side. but i never win with the amounts of searches i do, sorry let me fix that. With the amount of VALID searches i do and they are valid like i said i barely win anything. i may if im lucky get 1 swag buckk a day from searching. the only reason why i have as many swagbucks as i do is thanks to my 2 referrals i have that do earn me a swag buck a day each and frantically hustling for those swagcodes everyday. if it wasnt for that i would have nothing. so i do think your system is flawed but i dont think its your fault. i think that if you search a certain way even if valid the system will say it invalid because of how your searching or wording the search. who knows what the problem is. all in all i like swagbucks and the though of winning something for searching is very inticing and if you make moneyt from me clicking on results that are sponsored who cares. they offer something and in return get paid for and still they offer in some way form or another back to the customer that helped them get what they wanted in the first place. its a sweet deal. dont knock the hustle because your not apart of it. appreciate it, get your hand in the cookie jar, stand with your hand out but dont be the guy in the corner crying about how you didnt get any if you didnt put in the effort to recieve it. Keep up the good work swag bucks i dont care if there is mixed results nor does anyone else that is a member of your fine website. i just wish the winning by searching was a little better for us.

  4. Dan says:

    Hey Ron,

    First I'd like to thank you for commenting on the article. My intention with it was not to "trash" swagbucks in any serious way. In all honesty I was excited when I came across it and wanted to start using it right away. While you are correct that most people don't care to see past the first page I think there should still be an option for more advanced users to see all results. I for example search deep in Google results often especially because of search engine optimization I do for some of my clients therefore I'm constantly checking out results to see where they stand. I also don't believe that the "best" results are always on the first or second page. That to me is the main reason I wouldn't use swagbucks (putting aside the "first 20 searches in a day" since you said you don't use that anymore)

    The mixed sponsored results are not a huge huge deal IF we were able to see more than four pages of results. Since we are limited to only four pages, the sponsored results take up some of the space that legitimate results would normally be in.

    Now that you've stated that your method for detecting gaming has changed from the 20 searches a day I will definitely give swagbucks a shot. Working in web development and blogging as a hobby I spend insane hours in front of the computer any searching I do would be relevant to what I am doing. Previously if only the first 20 searches were counted towards possible wins then Id see no reason to surf past 20 searches in any given day.

    I guess now that the gaming issue has been addressed (I was only reviewing/writing based on the information available on your site) my only main concern is the limited amount of results. I also won't let this issue go without a follow-up post after I've been using it for a brief amount of time.

  5. Ron says:

    Hi Dan,

    It is my pleasure (not to mention professional responsibility :) to join in this conversation. Your objections and observations are all well-taken. We strive to create a search engine that's relevant and engaging, while also rewarding. Sometimes we miss the mark, but that is often due to factors that are beyond our direct control. That said, I encourage you to contact me in the future with any thoughts, and suggestions: constructive criticism is always appreciated!



  6. Matt says:

    Hey, i recently found swagbucks also. It is a great site and enjoy it very much. I am currently saving up for the silver ps3. I have told many people about the site and have roughly 40 referals. (but only about 7-10 actually use it)anyways i have two questions…. 1) Is the shipping on all items free? because i remember reading that for the Wii sweepstakes you have to pay shipping but what about redeeming normal gifts. 2) how in the world can you afford to maintain this site. How do you actually make money? It makes no sense to me, Is it just advertising? Well whatever it is you guys are doing a great job. Keep it up.

  7. hi says:

    you do know that you have to pay shipping for physical gifts right? They only e-mail you codes for gift cards.

    • Dan says:

      paying for shipping may not be that bad. I havent quite decided what I will use my points for yet whether it'll be a gift card or guitar or ps3.

      but hey.. if i have to pay $75 to ship a ps3 that cost me nothing.. why not?

  8. John says:

    Don't worry Dan – the shipping is completely free. I've received a number of prizes from Swagbucks and never had to pay for shipping. If you get a gift card and order from that particular retailer then yes, you'll have to pay shipping through them, but if you order a prize from the Swag Store then it will be shipped to you for free – regardless of what the item is.

    And just a little search tip for new users – USE THE FRIEND REFERRAL!! It is a great way to pad your swag bucks account because you can get up to 100 free swag bucks for each friend you refer. Happy Searching!

    • Dan says:

      Hi John, thanks for clearing that up.. Even if I had to pay shipping it wouldn't be an issue but knowing the shipping is only for items from 3rd party sites via gift cards is a bonus.

      Don't forget to check out the updated post. I no longer have these negative feelings towards swagbucks and have written a follow-up post at http://serial-box.net/2008/10/03/use-swagbucks-se

  9. austin wells says:

    Its a nice post about online shopping because Online shopping is fast becoming the most preferred mode of shopping whereby shoppers can reap the advantages of Internet shopping from the luxury of their homes.

  10. Hi

    I just won 2 swagbucks on my first search! I like that you can just add it to your toolbar search on Firefox. I basically just added it and changed my searcher to swagbucks, because I search from the browser most often. Easy peasy.
    SEO consultant

  11. Jay says:

    I am a Canadian using SWAGBUCKS and I seem to have in my search results "select" Canadian type results. There are others that do come up ie: British and US, but the majority seem to be geared towards Canadian sites. I do not like this. I want a VAST search. HUGE search. WORLDWIDE search. When I search the Web I want to search the Web.

    • Dan says:

      @Jay, I am in Canada as well and I haven't noticed but then again I haven't been payig attention. I'll take a look when I get home

  12. Mark says:

    The 20 search limit isn't true. What i've found is that every 5 – 6 hours you can have the chance to get a swagbuck, which usually amounts in me getting 3 points a day.

    • dan says:

      @Mark, It was a limit up until recently maybe. They've made some nice changes to the system. I still use it and have cashed out 4 times for gift cards without any issues at all.

      love it

  13. IJ Styles says:

    Very interesting post. But anyway, I also don't like to use Swagbucks because all I get when I search something is ads, which is really annoying.

    IJ Styless last blog post..How to Get a Free Page Rank 10 Backlink

  14. Constance says:

    I'm fairly new to SB but twice now I've had them taken away, 1st time I wrote SB, got the SBuck back this time however I lost $3 Sb's after I was just awarded $2and upon my next search. Not sure why,account said amount I should have, but bar read $3 missing amount.after I wrote SB, account changed to match missing $3 amount next day with no reply back this time from SB! stressed

    • Sophie says:

      Swagbucks has discussed this a couple times on the site- the numbers don't show up on the bar very quickly, it takes a while (sometimes even a day!) BUT if you look at your account page on swagbuck.com the number listed there will be your correct and up-to-date balance.

  15. Stephen says:

    Re: SwagBucks

    Just want to thank you all for all the good Info … Was checking it out for my grandson to see if was a safe site for Him and from what you all have said it is safe so I'm going to allow him to use it under my supervision and I'm going to try it out myself.

    Thanks again,

  16. Elle says:

    I was warned too that they deactivate alot instead of giving the cards and did it anyway. Lo and behold, I'm due for a card tomorrow (being the 10th business day) and I got deactivated. I did about 30-40 searches, and like you use google for work.

    I'm really disappointed with this scam.

  17. J says:

    I always wondered how they determine a genuine search from a fake one. And even though swagbucks says clicking on links do not increase your chances, it feels that I get more swagbucks when I click on at least one link from my search. Who knows? I guess I can't complain due to it being free.

  18. Swag Bucks says:

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    I use it a whole lot, for any question that I have about swagbucks, they tell you when a code is available, how to use a code, where to find a swag code during swag hunts, they even give you expert tips for earning swagbucks that the pros use…

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  19. Concerned says:

    Why won't my parakeet eat my diarrhea? Is it because of my diet?

  20. Wendy says:

    I'm wondering why when I search with swagbucks I very often get a message saying GOOGLE Error The requested URL was not found on this server. I only do about 3 or 4 searches per day and the first one or two might work but the rest don't. I've only been using it for less than a week and it worked fine at first but the last 2 days it doesn't. I also don't know if I should be asking this here but I thought that maybe someone would be able to answer my question. Thanks W

  21. Bob says:

    I'm curious if anyone has successfully cashed in for a large prize? Everyone I know has had their account closed when cashing in larger amounts of Swagbucks (losing everything).
    I've had my account closed twice (Yes I only have one account) when cashing in.
    So I keep it small and stick to buying $5 Amazon GC's . I've also noticed Swagbucks are harder to get lately, I've done over a hundred searches in two days, no Swagbucks.
    It's not worth the trouble, I keep having to use Google to find what I want anyway (Too much spam in the searches).
    How do these people stay in business?

  22. Alyssy says:

    Great article! These were some of the same issues I have with Swagbucks search. Oh, and you forgot to mention, their image search is absolutely horrendous compared to Google's. And Tip 8… I agree with you. The rule itself is self-defeating. If they want people to search on Swagbucks more, then the best way to encourage people is to punish them for their efforts. Genius. Good thinking, Swagbucks!

  23. SEOP.com says:

    Now I'm confused. What really is it? Is Swagbucks legit or not?

  24. mjm says:

    I would say it is legit, you get something for nothing if you were going to search anyway, up to you to judge if you are happy with the search results or not. I have received several ($5) payments to my paypal account for no effort on my part.

    • serialbox says:

      You're right. I ended up writing follow-up articles to that with new findings. I've received about $50 in gift cards since using it. not bad

    • dan says:

      To take it even further… I used about 1000 swag bucks to enter a draw for a Nintendo Wii.. and I won. They shipped me a brand new Nintendo Wii w/ sports pack and a microsoft web cam within 3 days of when they drew my name.

  25. pffft says:

    hmm. this sounded like a great site; a friend confirmed she'd gotten a ton of amazon cards via normal internet searching.. so i signed up and tried it. worked great right off the bat, i was awarded with swagbucks every few searches, things seemed good. the next day, i continued to use SB for my normal average everyday would-be-googling and i didn't receive any swagbucks. thought maybe i reached a limit the previous night, whatever. now on the 3rd day, i began to find clicking through the swagbucks search engine results gave me nothing but errors.

    i searched to see if the site was down. nothing on the official facebook page – except a bunch of people bragging that they won swagbucks for ASKING for them in the search bar. they were all sharing their winning search phrases such as, "can i have 50 swagbucks." …! and yet my NORMAL searching eventually directed me to a terms of service page, i suppose in an attempt to tell me they didn't like what i was doing? what was i doing? i was doing normal searches i would otherwise be googling, i was clicking on relevant results (until i was blocked from doing so). what the heck?

    so people are getting rewarded for abusing the system (check out their facebook page & user submitted photo album of screencaps), and i'm getting punished for doing it the way it was intended. wow, what a load of junk.

  26. Lizzy says:

    I use swagbucks and have earned some $5 giftcards. You earn more swagbucks by signing up for free offers or referring friends than by doing the searches. My advice is to make an email account just for swagbucks because the free offers will spam up your email like you wouldn’t believe. Please use my referral link if you decide to sign up.

  27. Will says:

    still free stuff…

  28. Linn says:

    I LOVE SWAGBUCKS…. I joined in oct,.2010 and have already gotten a very nice black and decker leaf blower with vacuum and mulching options,. didn't even pay shipping for it. I am getting ready shortly to order a hand held carpet steam cleaner. it is a great site and works perfectly if you know what your doing,


  1. [...] admit that earlier this summer when I wrote about Swagbucks I was quick to judge and that resulted in a negative review of a website and concept that deserved [...]

  2. [...] the downside with using SwagBucks Search is that it inserts their ads in your search results (This post shows more details). Also just randomly searching doesn’t mean that you win every time, only [...]

  3. [...] quick reference, my two previous posts are titled Why you shouldn’t use swag bucks as your search engine and then a rebuttal against my own post, Use swag bucks search engine to replace Google and [...]

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