Focused Search Experience

How and why I remove distractions from my search experience

By Sufyan DawoodjeePublished Edited

Focus is precious. It's a necessary ingredient of usefully invested time, but comes in short supply and wastes easily, which means it should be guarded and used strategically.

Distraction is a major cause of waste. I've taken measures to fight distractions in my search experience because my useful work involves lots of searching.


This is my search experience:

And this is how it works:

Google Programmable Search Engine

I'm surprised Google wants anyone to user a search engine that's not, but Programmable Search Engine exists, somehow. It competes with the likes of Algolia by offering customized website search as a service, but it also works as a standalone search tool.

This is how it compares to



My custom search engine configuration filters out websites that make life worse for various reasons.

This is my current blocklist:


I also updated my custom search engine to return 20 results per page instead of the default 10 to reduce the need to click the next page button.

uBlock Origin

The user experience of Google Programmable Search Engine is terrible because ads use up the entire viewport on the results page, forcing users to scroll down to see any results.

A search shows nothing but ads

Examples like this show how the quest for monetization has rendered the web unusable. Ad blockers exist to defend ourselves from this malpractice.

uBlock Origin is the content blocking web extension. It blocks ads on the search results page by default. This is the result.

A search with uBlock Origin shows results, not ads

Much better! But it can be refined further:

This is the result:

Search UX without distractions

And these are the underlying uBlock Origin filters: 580px; margin: auto) 580px !important; padding: 0 12px !important),.gsc-search-button,.gsc-above-wrapper-area,#cse-footer,.gcsc-find-more-on-google-branding

Unfortunately, there's no way to get around the reCAPTCHA.

I hate reCAPTCHA


Almost all of my searches begin in Firefox, which I use because it best supports uBlock Origin today and in the long term.

I start by typing cmd + L to select Firefox's search bar and begin typing my query. Helpful suggestions appear to save me keystrokes and send me where I want to go.

Search dialog with lots of annoying suggestions

I lied. The default suggestions UI is terrible for the usual reason, monetization. I actually don't want any suggestions.

Firefox makes it somewhat tedious, but I was able to disable all suggestions. In the process, I also set the default search engine to my custom search engine and switched to a light browser theme.

Search dialog with lots of annoying suggestions

What's next?

Mission accomplished. I created a distraction-free search experience.

But it's sad to think about the lost potential of people without the ability or determination to take similar measures. While a few people might come across this post and learn a trick or two to better their search experience, I think it would be far more valuable to the world if there were a more accessible way to apply anti-distraction measures. I shared some thoughts on this in my Web Agency post.

If I could wave a magic wand to change one thing in my setup, it would be for Safari to support the web extension APIs needed by uBlock Origin. I like the minimalism of desktop Safari's controversial compact-mode UI, which embeds the search bar in the active tab widget and themes the toolbar to blend in with the current website.