4 Search Engine Optimization Techniques for DuckDuckGo

Just how different are optimization techniques for DuckDuckGo versus Google or Bing? Columnist Neil Patel explores.

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Not many startup search engines are successful. DuckDuckGo, however has defied the odds, and rocketed to star status in the search community.

Why? Because according to The Verge, DuckDuckGo is “designed to be a less creepy and less invasive alternative to Google.” (It doesn’t track user behavior.) What’s more, DuckDuckGo is a part of iOS 8’s browser options, meaning that legions of iPhone users will be using it as their default search method.

DuckDuckGo’s upward trajectory doesn’t seem to be slowing down. With every privacy threat, more conscientious web users are flocking to DuckDuckGo. As of January 2015, DuckDuckGo’s daily queries have reached stratospheric proportions as startup search engines go.


Image source: DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo isn’t Google… yet. Still, it’s worth giving your site a little optimization love to get it in DuckDuckGo’s good graces.

Here are four pieces of advice to help get your site ranking in DuckDuckGo.

1. It’s Still All About Users

Let’s dial back on the whole “SEO” issue for just a moment and think about what really matters — to Google, to DuckDuckGo, and to all the other search engines.

It’s all about users.

In September 2014, Eli Schwartz interviewed DuckDuckGo’s CEO, Gabriel Weinberg, for Search Engine Land. Schwartz asked, “Why should someone use DuckDuckGo over Google/Bing?”

Weinberg’s answer honed in on the single most important factor: users. Here is his full response (emphases mine):

[blockquote]We focus on smarter answers, less clutter, and real privacy. We believe a significant percentage of people would like private alternatives where they can get great service without being tracked — in other words, where they can get the benefits of privacy without any sacrifice in quality. DuckDuckGo offers that alternative in search.[/blockquote]

He used the term “private” three times; he referred to great service, benefits and quality. It sounds like the Duck cares about people.

What’s the point of this? SEO isn’t about techniques and hacks. It’s about creating awesome websites with high functionality, a great user experience, and zero spam. Period.

My first piece of advice? Make a killer website.

2. Earn Links

“Link building” has been vilified and demonized. The angst is due more to the term’s connotation than it is to the actual practice of gaining high quality backlinks. DuckDuckGo, like any search engine, relies on link profile data to rank a website.

DuckDuckGo’s official community platform explains it like this (again, emphasis mine):

[blockquote]Ranking is a bit opaque and difficult to discern/communicate on an individual query basis because of all the various factors involved (and which change frequently). Nevertheless, the best way to get good rankings (in pretty much all search engines) is to get links from high-quality sites like Wikipedia.[/blockquote]

In other words, “We can’t tell you how to rank well, but… get good links.”

Like Google, DuckDuckGo’s algorithm is in a constant state of flux. Nonetheless, whatever the state of its algorithm, you can be sure that a site with more high-quality links will most likely rank above a site with fewer and lesser quality links.

3. Use A Semantic Search Strategy

DuckDuckGo is a smart search engine. Like Google and Bing, DuckDuckGo depends on a highly evolved contextual library for intuiting the searcher’s intent. It’s time to pull out your semantic search techniques.

Let me show you an example. When I search for “Search Engine Land” on DuckDuckGo, here’s what I get:

search engine land at DuckDuckGo

The top two organic results are from Search Engine Land, which is no surprise. Results 3-5 are Search Engine Land properties (also not surprising). The sixth result, however, is from Wikipedia. Obviously, Wikipedia is among the world’s top ten websites, so it’s going to have top status in any search engine results page (SERP).

But notice how DuckDuckGo intuited “Danny Sullivan” from the search and pulled up his Wikipedia page. SEL doesn’t have its own Wikipedia entry, but the term “Search Engine Land” does appear in Sullivan’s entry at least nine times.

This is significant, not only because it indicates DuckDuckGo’s semantic tilt, but it also demonstrates how the newbie search engine is trying to surface results that feed a user’s intent, not just their exact query.

4. Use Hyperlocal Search Terms, But Keep In Mind That Local Results Are Less Precise

Unlike Google’s highly refined Pigeon algorithm, DuckDuckGo uses a generalized method for producing local results.

Obviously, DuckDuckGo isn’t tracking your behavior. They don’t know exactly where you live. (Google does.) DuckDuckGo uses GEO::IP lookup, meaning that they determine roughly where you are located based on your IP address.

What does this mean? When you search for [oil change near me], you’re going to get shops that are closer to the center of your GeoIP result than your actual physical location. There may indeed be a Jiffy Lube right around the corner, but DuckDuckGo doesn’t know what corner you’re close to.

The bottom line is that you won’t be able to nail local results as accurately with DuckDuckGo as with Google.

What should you do instead? You should adapt to whatever users are more likely to search for on DuckDuckGo. Because the search engine doesn’t track their precise location, then it’s up to the user to tell DuckDuckGo where she is.

To gain the best local results from DuckDuckGo users, you should use hyperlocal terms in your site, describing where you are, what’s nearby, major intersections, roads, neighborhoods, and other regions that a user might input when they are searching for a local result.


DuckDuckGo is a new search engine, but there’s nothing truly new about optimizing your site for it. The same best practices that give you ranking lift in Google and Bing will probably work for DuckDuckGo, too.

What SEO techniques have you found to be particularly useful for DuckDuckGo?

Contributing authors are invited to create content for Search Engine Land and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the search community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Neil Patel
Neil Patel is the co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, and KISSmetrics. He helps companies like Amazon, NBC, GM, HP and Viacom grow their revenue.

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