In recent years, the search industry has not changed a lot in terms of large players. Google has maintained the leader position with its ownership of nearly 70 percent of search market share. The #2 and #3 spots have changed slightly after the Microsoft-Yahoo Search Alliance in 2009. According to the most recent Experian-Hitwise statistics, Bing-powered search has risen to 30 percent.
In 2010, Ask exited the search business to focus its efforts on a Q/A service and mobile endeavors. Also in 2010, Blekko launched with the goal of becoming the “#3 search engine” by tackling the growing problem of spam with its slashtag technology approach.
Other than these events, the search player side of the industry has been relatively quiet. There is, however, current talk of Yahoo re-entering the search market and pulling out of its 10-year search deal with Microsoft. This week, the company introduced Yahoo Axis, which could be its first move in this direction.
Still, there is one more player that we have yet to mention – DuckDuckGo. This search engine launched quietly in 2008 and has stayed somewhat low on the radar until recently. It is getting a lot of attention now though for the bold position it is taking on major issues.
When we talked with the search engine’s founder Gabriel Weinberg last year, he told us that DuckDuckGo was focused on building a search alternative to Google. The search engine separates itself from other search engines through its Zero-Click Info feature that provides instant answers to search queries, its user experience that is free of both spam and clutter, and its privacy protections for users.
Over the past year, DuckDuckGo has ramped up its efforts in each of these areas, and as a result, users are noticing. In a recent conversation with Weinberg, he tells us that DuckDuckGo receives just under 50 million search queries a month, which translates into about 1.5 million each day. In other words, the search engine has more than doubled its traffic.
“We’ve grown gradually since the beginning, but we had a major uptick at the beginning of the year when we launched a visual redesign,” said Weinberg.
He explained that DuckDuckGo made around 100 changes that it rolled out in that redesign. More recently, the search engine announced an effort that encourages developers to add instant answer plugins to DuckDuckGo. The initiative is called DuckDuckHack and is geared toward making the search experience faster and more relevant.
Local, mobile, and social are also just as important to DuckDuckGo as they are to other search engines. Instead of viewing them as individual products, however, it uses an “umbrella approach” for them. In other words, all these areas are incorporated into finding the best search results.
“Instead of tailoring results to you personally,” says Weinberg, “we, instead, return results that are generally known to be good.”
Ultimately, DuckDuckGo is trying to improve in all the areas that Google seems to be lacking in. For instance, Google has had many struggles regarding content farms and spam in the past couple of years. Although it has attempted to address these issues with the ongoing Panda updates, some people, including Weinberg, believe the problems still exist.
“A lot of it seems opaque to me,” said Weinberg. “I’m sure there’s a ton of changes, but I still see a lot of the same kind of, what I consider, content farms on Google.”
For DuckDuckGo, this turn of events creates an opportunity. As users become more dissatisfied with Google, Weinberg is hoping that they’ll look to his search engine as an alternative.
“We’re making the case that there are certainly some users who would prefer to be tracked a lot less,” he said. “I really think there is a percentage who prefer alternative experiences.”
The irony in all this is that DuckDuckGo makes money the same way that Google does – through advertising based on search queries. But, “you don’t have to track users to do that,” Weinberg says.
“The problem is that they want to serve better ads across their sites where you don’t have that search query to serve an ad against,” he further explained.
While it is possible that DuckDuckGo could begin to pull away some of Google’s search market share, Weinberg tell us that DuckDuckGo has no desire to become a big corporation. Web search is the company’s #1 priority at this point, and he intends to keep it that way.
“Our goal really is just to build a nice alternative search engine that… a decent percentage of people would prefer as their search engine of choice,” he said.