Sep 28, 2015 • Jessica Jones
A couple years ago I wrote a post about search engines and whether there can be only one, coming, of course, to the conclusion that Google is, by far, the biggest dog in the race, and that that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Almost two years later that situation hasn’t changed. Okay, comScore‘s September 2013 search engine ranking report listed Google as having 66.9% market share and their August 2015 report gives it only 63.8% but a fluctuation that small over the course of two years isn’t likely to impact users.
<figcaption id="caption-attachment-3632" class="wp-caption-text">DuckDuckGo won’t track you - and, more importantly, it doesn’t suck.</figcaption></figure>
Google is still the behemoth - but that doesn’t mean that no one else is trying. DuckDuckGo, a search engine that was founded in 2008, is a particularly interesting one to watch. DDG bills (see what I did there?) itself as “The search engine that doesn’t track you,” which is, of course, a drastic difference from Google, which tracks, you know, everything. You may have noticed that you and a friend can search for the same keywords and not get identical results. That’s because, even if you don’t have a Google account, Google has built up a great deal of information about you based on your online habits - and they use that information to tailor your search results as well as the ads that you see.
Want to know how old Google thinks you are? If you’ve got a Google account with your birthdate then they don’t have to guess, but if you don’t, it can be amusing to see how Google has interpreted your behavior. You can opt out of viewing tailored ads if you prefer - and there are other methods of stopping Google from collecting information about you but if you’re a person who prefers not to let Google collect your information, maybe you’d be more comfortable using a search engine that doesn’t want to to begin with.
Although there are plenty of people who haven’t yet heard of DuckDuckGo, anyone who follows online trends has probably come across it, and many people are actively using it. Their numbers aren’t anywhere in the realm of Google’s, of course, but DDG doesn’t seem to be trying to overtake Google, just to provide an alternative to it, and it seems to be working. If you take a look at Search Engine Land’s library of articles on DuckDuckGo you’ll see a definite upward trajectory. You’ll see titles like DuckDuckGo Has Its First Million Search Day in February 2012 and other similar milestones up through DuckDuckGo Surpasses 10 Million Daily Queries in June of this year. You’ll also see that DDG has gradually been racking up other recognitions, such as being added to Safari as a search option.
Clearly DDG is doing well, moving up in the world and making a name for itself, rapidly and steadily growing its user base. It’s hard to know how many of its users have chosen it out of privacy concerns or as a part of “going Google free” (it’s a thing) and how many have simply used it, liked it, and switched to it with little or no privacy-based or anti-Google motive. It’s not at all an unlikely scenario - DDG does offer a solid and low-clutter search experience.
Based on my usage their results are relevant and useful and, though DDG does have ads, it never shows more than two on the screen at one time, clearly marked and at the top of the page, never spilling over onto the sidebar. DDG also neatly bundles different results from the same website - if you hover your mouse over a result you may see a “more results” link appear, which will lead you to additional links from the same origin site. This keeps one site from taking up multiple spots and lets you see a better variety of results on the first page. DDG also features continuous scrolling, loading the next “page” of results automatically as you approach the bottom rather than making you click to move on to the next page.
A signature feature of DDG is the !bang - you can search any number of other websites directly this way. For example, searching for “!amazon garden hose” will lead you directly to amazon.com and their results for the search “garden hose.” Just type the exclamation point and a window will pop up offering you a list of popular bangs and a link to view all of them - begin typing and the options in the box will change to predict what you might be looking for. The number of sites you can search directly this way is impressive and growing - as of today DDG offers “6,395 bangs and counting.”
Are there downsides to using DDG? It depends on what you want out of your search engine. Google may get criticized for the amount of tracking it does, but, let’s face it, sometimes the tracking really does mean that you get results that are skewed more towards what you’re after. For example, DDG uses your IP to determine your general location, but Google is much better at knowing exactly where you are - so if you’re searching for a Thai restaurant nearby, Google is going to do a better job of showing you results closest to where you actually are.
Other than that, though, DDG is doing a pretty darned great job of giving users what they need in a search engine without all the data collection and clutter.
If you search “optimizing SEO for DuckDuckGo,” you’ll come across quite a few resources, many of them fairly brief overviews of the search engine and its upward trend. Most of them seem to offer the same basic SEO information which basically amounts to “build a great website” and “keep doing what you’re doing.” Good news - having a whole new set of rules to optimize for would be discouraging. While every search engine has its own proprietary methods, though, it does seem to hold true that most of the same optimization methods will benefit you across the board.
The one difference with DuckDuckGo that’s frequently pointed out has to do with local searches. Because DuckDuckGo doesn’t know the exact location of its users, if you want to optimize your site for local searches on DDG you may need to throw in some more specific keywords. A seasoned DDG user will know that searching for “Thai restaurant Knoxville” might not narrow things down well enough if they’re looking for something nearby, so they’re likely to include a neighborhood or landmark in their search. “Thai restaurant West Knoxville,” for example, or “Thai restaurant Northshore Knoxville.” If local search is important to you, it might benefit you to make sure that your specific location is called out on your site as well as your city name.
Personally I’m joined at the hip with my Google account and going “Google free” isn’t something I have any interest in doing; I understand the inclination but as long as Google stays this side of Skynet I’m not motivated to rearrange my online life. Even as a self-proclaimed Google fan, though, now that I’ve spent some time using DDG it’s likely I’ll find myself using it again - it doesn’t need to stand solely on the “no tracking” policy - it’s just good.
If someone with no beef with Google can be won over by DDG’s usability, and their search numbers have been moving in the right direction steadily for several years now, I’d say the Duck is a real player. It may never dethrone Google, but that’s not what it’s trying to do. What it probably will do is continue to grow and gain a loyal user base. Keep an eye on the Duck - I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.