Could DuckDuckGo Be The Biggest Long-Term Threat To Google?

Robin Wauters at The Next Web recently wrote about an interesting trend taking place at upstart search engine DuckDuckGo.

DDG (DuckDuckGo) is self-described as:

We are a search engine with: 

  • Way more instant answers. 
  • Way less spam and clutter. 
  • Lots and lots of goodies. 
  • Real privacy.

Wauters reports that DuckDuckGo’s daily search traffic has grown by 227% in three months:

DuckDuckGo traffic explosion

Given their huge growth rate over the last three months we took a closer look at DuckDuckGo to discern why users might recently be turning to it in larger numbers.

The first reason many have pointed to is privacy considerations– DuckDuckGo promises not to track you, and with Google’s frequent and well-publicized privacy challenges many searchers may be looking for alternatives.

So the privacy ‘migrate away from Google’ angle has been well covered and surely is a legitimate argument for why users may be taking a look at Google alternatives. Instead of focusing on that aspect of the DDG phenomenon, I want to focus on other reasons why some of the ways DuckDuckGo is innovating in search might be a long-term threat to Google search dominance.

Before we jump into how DuckDuckGo and Google differ in their treatment of a sampling of queries in the SERPs, it is worth first contextualizing why some of the differences we will call out are meaningful, and also lay the groundwork for what it takes to succeed in consumer search.

Retrieval + Presentation: Like Chocolate & Peanut Butter

We’ve argued before that despite the bells and whistles introduced to the SERPs lately, the core goal of the searcher remains unchanged since internet search first became a reality: to ‘get in and get out’ with the information she is looking for.

Using this standard as a litmus test, we can infer that any reduction in the mental cycles a searcher must invest to extract the information they want from the SERP (what we are calling the ‘search work quotient’) is a positive step forward.

If our measure of success in consumer search, therefore, is that the searcher ‘got in and got out’ with the information she was looking for, there are two distinct competencies a search engine must do well to be considered successful:

1. Retrieval: The search engine must sort through massive quantities of data, weight the relevancy of that data, and determine what is most relevant to addressing the searcher’s query.

2. Presentation: The search engine must organize and present the results in such a way that the user can ‘get in and get out’ with the information she was looking for, with minimal effort.

The two necessarily go together—the most relevant of results presented in an incomprehensible way do nothing for the user, and irrelevant results with good presentation do the same.

Google (and many others in the industry) continue to put great amounts of R&D dollars into making headway on improving relevancy. Surely any engine that is able to make substantial steps forward in this regard would grab their fair piece of the market share pie, but advances since internet search became a discipline in the late 90’s have been more evolutionary than revolutionary (remember Ask Jeeves?).

That leaves ‘presentation’ as an area that even small search upstarts can innovate on, and is one area I’d argue, DDG has begun to beat Google at its own game.

Let’s take a look at some queries to see how DDG has begun to innovate on presentation.

Sampling Of Queries Shows DuckDuckGo Reduces ‘Searcher Work Quotient’

First, a query for the New York Mets schedule: ‘Mets schedule’. Both DuckDuckGo and Google have access to the same information (ESPN) but DDG gives the user the information they are looking for in an immediately digestible format at the top of the SERP.

Meanwhile, Google gives a partial answer in the form of a Stubhub Ad that may or may not persist depending on Stub Hub’s advertisement budget.

Mets Schedule GoogleMets Schedule DDG

 

Next, a local query: ‘ramen near Prospect Heights’. Like the previous query, Google has access to the same information as DDG (Yelp) but DDG does a better job of prominently presenting the data at the top of the SERP.

The searchers obtaining the same address and rating information for the top restaurant in the search results from Google requires a higher ‘searcher work quotient’ where the searcher must review the SERPs and extract the information from a less-clearly formatted search result.

Ramen near prospect heights Google

 

Another way DDG reduces the ‘searcher work quotient’ via presentation is by including icons next to each search result giving the searcher an idea of the kind of site the search result points to.

 

For example, the second search result includes a Patch icon, the local news network, telling the user the result is a news page and the second one points to Yelp, the popular review site.

Ramen near prospect heights DDG

 

DDG also bests Google in searches for a Twitter account. In another example of DDG reducing the ‘searcher work quotient’, information about the account in question is neatly located at the top of the SERP and the search results are clearly labeled, so the searcher can easily distinguish between a link to Wikipedia and one to Twitter’s home page.

@conductor google

 

@conductor DDG

 

In our final example, our SERP comparison shows that DDG is capitalizing on areas where Google remains weak.

Looking at search results for the high volume query ‘insurance’ we see Google’s SERP is a hodgepodge of advertisements, maps and local results (as though I might be searching for directions to walk from the Conductor offices in the Flatiron neighborhood in New York city to the nearest headquarters of an insurance conglomerate to purchase an insurance policy in person).

insurance google

By comparison, DDG’s SERP is a clean presentation of search results with limited advertising and no local results, again, with the insurance company’s icon displayed next to the search results.insurance DDG

 

Google’s Distraction Is DuckDuckGo’s Benefit

The conclusion from our Google – DuckDuckGo SERP comparison for several query types is that DDG is clearly innovating in search ‘presentation’ — an area that has arguably decayed over the years as the large search engines rush to cram ever more (images, video, local, advertising, social…) into the search results.

Specifically, DDG has successfully reduced the ‘searcher work quotient’, improving on the ‘get in and get out’ standard. With negative publicity around Google’s recent changes that have not always been described as a positive step forward for the SERPs, one could easily argue that there is pent-up consumer demand for just such a change.

To be sure, even with DDG’s meteoric growth in the last three months to 1.4 million queries per day, the volume of queries they handle is still a rounding error of a rounding error for the volume of queries that Google handles. And, one could argue that many of the innovations DDG is making could easily be replicated with Google’s engineering might.

But in using DDG, perusing their search results, and in reading their statements on how they handle privacy one can’t help but be left with the impression that they are building their product with a laser-like focus on what is best for the searcher, while other big search players might, well, be distracted by other motivations.

So imagine, several years from now, the product that has evolved out of “we have to diversify outside of search!” thinking vs. a product that continues to evolve from a laser-like focus on “what is the search experience that is uncompromisingly best for the searcher?” and we can begin to imagine a scenario where DDG poses a threat to Google’s search dominance.

I think commenter Mike Vincenti said it best in summarizing the potential threat DDG poses to Google in his comment on the Next Web article:

Mike Vicenti DDG comment

 

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO | DuckDuckGo

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About The Author: is Director of Research at Conductor, Inc, an SEO technology company in New York, authoring insightful research on trends in the natural search industry.

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  • http://twitter.com/NatalieKelsick Natalie Kelsick

    Very interesting! I personally never heard of DDG until I read this and I started out quite sceptical that anything could beat out Google. You may be onto something, but I wont be switching any time soon; I think Google has something else up its sleeve and that is loyalty. I think it will be quite a while before it gives up the fight. 

  • hawkingsonstheorists

    Loyalty is a horrible reason to stick with a service ;-) No, I think the word you’re looking for is “habit”.

  • Uh_No_999

    As usual, when someone is slamming Google’s results they have to fudge the data. That is an inaccurate description of what comes up for “Mets schedule.” typing that keyword shows upto their next 10 games prominently at the top.

    But then again if you used the correct data, it would ruin the point of your article

  • http://webdealswatch.com/ Ron Coachman

    Not sure about the name, but looks like DDG has potential.

  • http://twitter.com/Nathan_Safran Nathan_Safran

    Nothing was fudged.  At the time this article was written, ~ 2 weeks ago, the SERP was as displayed in the article.  Looking at the SERP today it seems Google added the full schedule in the SERP.

  • http://www.fullcolorpanda.com/ mizu shobai

    I like that they have an .onion version. To my knowledge the only search engine that does. Well, not too many sites to index there, though.

  • http://twitter.com/steviephil Steve Morgan

    A couple of weeks ago, I was struggling to find something in Google, so I tried the same search query in DDG and Bing as well. I found DDG’s results to be more reflective of what I was looking for (pretty much spot on), followed by Google (hit and miss), then Bing (pretty poor).

    That said, I’ve tried something else since and Google was better, so I’m not fully converted yet. But, if Google slips and DDG’s offering improves, who knows…

  • http://twitter.com/ShaneGowland Shane Gowland

    DDG’s results are almost entirely sourced from the other engines. They can never “win” since they don’t actually index much data on their own. If Bing & Google stopped allowing them to use their index, it would take DDG several decades to build equivalent indexing infrastructure.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=747540456 Mike L

    Great article.  It looks like Duck Duck Go is really making a push to be the alternative to Google.

    I noticed that the searches weren’t geo-modified.  With so much attention being focused on local, how do you anticipate DDG will strategize to bring local results into their SERP? 

  • http://www.graphicdesignfield.com/ Steveo

    Wow. I just did a search in DDG now and saw all my sites at #1 positions where they use to be originally in Google a while back. *sigh, the good old days making great $$ with natural search

  • http://twitter.com/DmitryDi Dmitry

    спасибо,работать  будем

  • Uh_No_999

    Ok well if we are going to argue based on anecdotal evidence then I am going to anecdotally assert that Google has had team schedule data for years. Which is true. You should probably correct the article to reflect what is actually happening in the SERPs.

    DuckDuckGos success is pretty much totally related to the strange outroar over Google’s privacy policy. The only reason I call it strange, is because anyone who had been using Google services and actually read the TOS should have been aware of how their data was available to Google. There was nothing about the privacy change itself persay that should have caused the uproar.

    But obviously there is a bit of a built-in fear in people (probably justified) as people realize there is a price to pay for all these free services we are using and just how much data Google, FB etc. have on us. Of course there is a ton of FUD out there.

    Good marketing enabled DuckDuckGo to capitalize on people who were looking for an alternative. I respect them for promising privacy, although I still wonder if that data isn’t stored somewhere. But to argue they are actually building a better search engine than Google is taking it too far. As the author has proven, even finding three or four examples out of potentially billions of queries is incredibly difficult.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lionel-Rizky/100003781846299 Lionel Rizky

     a very good search engine. please visit my website http://easyhighincomejobs.com and buy the products that we offer if you are interested. thank you

  • Takeshi Young

    Too bad they have such a stupid name.  I’m personally a fan of Blekko, myself.

  • http://twitter.com/SeanDillonSmith Sean Smith

    I would be willing to argue that DDG has more “loyalty” to its users than Google as well. DDG is constantly thinking about user’s privacy etc. Google is currently thinking about what they can do to conquer new areas of the web. Social was a huge mistake in my opinion for Google, that is a frontier that in all honesty already has a firm grasp from Facebook and Twitter, you could say that not competing against the two would be ill advised, but I would say that it is much more ill advised to put out an unfinished product like Google+, make the posts from it take position over Twitter posts, and then de-index most Twitter posts altogether and shatter all relations that were previously intact with Twitter. Twitter has over 500 million users, while Google+ has a little over 100 million. This may seem like Google is already doing well with Google+, but take into account that most of these people already had gmail accounts etc. to use the rest of Google’s apps thus when Google+ was released it got a massive swing of users, that honestly don’t really use. I personally don’t believe the direction Google took was correct, they lost (or are losing) focus on what has made them so great. That loss of focus is what Nathan is speaking of in this post, the focus that Google is clouding up with Google+, Google Drive etc. is being picked up by DDG. Google should have kept relations with Twitter instead of spreading itself thin with its own social network and instead created a better way of presenting and processing tweets in SERPs, something that DDG is picking up on and realized well. Google is trying to be the jack of all trades and if they are not careful will become the master of none. I believe Google+ was a mistake in the way that it is currently handled as basically a standalone social network, if they handled it better in correlation the rest of their services it could instead be a great benefit to them. This is all coming from a SEO that honestly loves Google and uses / optimizes for it everyday, because at the end of the day they are the Goliath, I am just wondering if David is going to eventually knock them down.

  • http://ukwebfocus.wordpress.com/ Brian Kelly

    A couple of weeks ago it was Blekko trafiic going through the roof and now it’s DuckDuckGo. As I described in a post on “Is Blekko’s Traffic Really Going Through The Roof? Will It Challenge Google?” at http://ukwebfocus.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/is-blekkos-traffic-really-going-through-the-roof-will-it-challenge-google/  it’s easy to show a sharp increase if you are starting from a low baseline. 
    A more accurate picture – but less interesting – story can be seen if you include the market leader.

  • http://twitter.com/omfg_followme John Scott Cothill ☭

    While these guys position themselves as privacy-friendly, I’ll be
    sticking to Google for now as they position themselves with RELEVANCE.
    Good job on jumping on the privacy bandwagon though!

    Oh by the way, I base my comment on using it and comparing my own results. For me, it doesn’t seem to be all that.

    Here today, gone tomorrow. Sorry, but this is complete dog s**t and quite laughable to say the least!

    NEXT bandwagon, where are youuuuuuuuu?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003526005746 Pramisha Patra

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  • http://www.ridleylawoffices.com/ Eric Ridley

    The problem DDG and others are going to face is simple inertia – no one wants to change, even if the change may be better for them. Google owns the space, and changing behavior is daunting.

  • http://alphaefficiency.com Bojan Djordjevic

    Started using it, and I like it!

  • http://twitter.com/axcdnt Gustavo Freitas

    I was looking for an alternative, since I’m ready to live free from search engines and train my memory by looking for terms directly inside pages. Nowadays I was using Google only for mid terms those I had no idea where to find.
    An example is: Why should I look for technical inquiries/problems if StackOverflow is a specialized technical community? This exercise has make my mind better and keep improving it! Try it to!

  • Mikhail Tuknov

    I don’t think this news SE is a big threat to google. Google has so much cash, it can simply destroy any upcoming start up. Buy it’s technology and use it for its own purpose. It’s not excite or altavista times now. The new search engines are simply wishing for google to pay attention to them. There are about 3000 search engines worldwide and where are they are? Not even Microsoft can truly compete with google.

  • ike karj

    ddg.gg is accessible from torland, but it only indexes the open web, it doesn’t index torland….. there are a few search engines within torland, most of them I believe are based on YaCi, a p2p based search engine/index/spider.

 

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