What Does DuckDuckGo’s Traffic Surge Tell Us?

Last week the privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo announced a major milestone. The 12-year-old service hit 100 million user queries on January 11. According to ZDnet, DDG has been on a sustained growth streak. And its growth has been accelerating. Since August, the search engine has seen about 2 billion queries per month.

This achievement is still well behind Google’s 5 billion per day, but it suggests there is meaningful demand for an alternative to Google Search. And the list of companies taking on Google keeps growing.

This entry on Quora by DDG CEO Gabriel Weinberg is helpful if you want to learn more about the rival search engine.

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Cavalcade of Competitors

Of course, there is Bing, which, while often treated as a punchline, is widely seen as at least a serviceable search alternative. And there is Neeva, a subscription-based tool still in test mode (full disclosure, I am one of its testers), from former Google Ads chief Sridhar Ramaswamy, with backing from the likes of Sequoia Capital, Greylock Partners, and LinkedIn founded and “Masters of Scale” host Reid Hoffman.

Neeva’s subscription (and therefore ad-free) approach sets it apart. Built on Bing, I can attest that the user experience is seamless and uncluttered. But it lags Google in a few key areas, notably Maps. Its integration of internet search with your personal email and documents sets Neeva apart as well. As nice as Neeva is (and it will no doubt further improve by launch), its bet that consumers will pay for an ad-free, privacy forward search experience is uncertain. It may be destined for niche status. Perhaps as a tool with cache among the tech elites. Kind of like Clubhouse.

Does the World Need a ‘Different Way to Search’?

More recently, we wrote about You.com, a new search engine from Richard Socher, the former chief scientist at Salesforce. None other than Marc Benioff is backing this venture, You.com, like Neeva, is still under wraps. But clues from its website suggest the solution will set itself apart by using AI to create a search (and eCommerce) experience free of extraneous results, scams, fake reviews, and other garbage that diminishes the search experience.

Socher said this about his mission with You.com. “We want to work on having more click trust and less clickbait on the internet.”

Does Google Have a Serious Challenger in You.com?

Will Apple Weigh In?

And of course, the wild card remains Apple. It seems like a missing piece in Apple’s full vertical integration is search. Last year, Apple raised the tech industry’s collective eyebrow when it posted ads looking for talent to work on a search product. Other signals included chatter that Apple was crawling websites. And some SEOs noted that guidance on the About Applebot page was similar to instructions offered on Google’s Webmasters forum.

Still, so far no official word on Apple’s plans to build a search engine.

Will Apple Really Launch a Search Engine?

Gunning for Google

So what’s going on? Why are so many tech A-listers going after Google? And why, as DDG’s traffic boost suggests, are at least some consumers starting to look elsewhere?

Most of the new competitors focus on a few issues. Privacy, trust, and Google’s ad-driven model are the wedges these new models are using to chip away at Google’s dominance. The assumption, validated to a degree by DDG, is that there is a market for search that is free of ads and that doesn’t require surrendering your data to the beast.

It’s easy to be skeptical that any of these Davids have the right rock to slay the giant that is Google. After all, Google has gotten where it is by building an incredible product.

However, regulators are knocking at Goliath’s gate (did Goliath have a gate?). And this may ]signal an eventual break up of Google, which would presumably unlock opportunities for competitors.

This story out of Australia suggests the pressure on Google to play fair, and in this case, to compensate its news sources isn’t trivial. From the Guardian.

“Google has threatened to remove its search engine from Australia and Facebook has threatened to remove news from its feed for all Australian users if a code forcing the companies to negotiate payments to news media companies goes ahead.”

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