Google has grown into the dominant search engine that searchers rely on in almost every instance (at least in the United States), and let’s be honest — it’s for good reason.
The quality and depth of the results Google produces is what we’ve come to expect from the search experience.
But competitors are always going to be vying for search market share. Some of these alternative search engines are worth using, especially those that don’t fit the mold that Google made.
DuckDuckGo is one of Google’s more formidable competitors. This is especially true for those users who hold privacy as a critical component to deciding which search engine is best for them.
But DuckDuckGo has plenty more to offer searchers in addition to its increased privacy protections.
In this column, you’ll find an in-depth comparison of the features of two great search engines we love – DuckDuckGo and Google. Which search engine should you use?
DuckDuckGo is a search engine founded in 2008 that claims it does not store the personal information of its users, ever. This means all searches done on the search engine are always anonymous.
Below the main search field on the website’s homepage, DuckDuckGo says:
DuckDuckGo doesn’t follow its users around with personalized ads since it won’t store their search history, won’t track their IP address, and essentially has no personal data to sell. This is true regardless of whether the user is in private browsing mode.
And, with the growing concerns of everyday people surrounding user privacy, it’s obvious that DuckDuckGo is doing something right.
For the first time ever, the search engine surpassed 100 million searches conducted in one day in January of 2021.
DuckDuckGo separated itself from the competition early and often in terms of the privacy it offers its users – that same privacy other search engines have refused to offer until DuckDuckGo.
And recently, it’s taken an even stronger stance for user privacy, actively blocking other search engines from collecting user data.
Just take a look at its Twitter feed if you want to find out how pro-privacy this search engine is.
Major browsers are upping their privacy promises (a good thing), but unfortunately this does not mean they actually stop Google & Facebook tracking.
To do that, you have to totally stop their trackers from loading, like the DuckDuckGo app & extension do.https://t.co/tIeufgGI7f
— DuckDuckGo (@DuckDuckGo) March 30, 2021
But beyond privacy, what else does DuckDuckGo bring to the table?
For starters, it has a similar layout to Google, including:
- Search engine landing pages (SERPs) of 10 organic search results (both search engines usually served 10 organic search results on their respective Page 1s in March 2019; however, Google offers hybrid results for a variety of search types, including eight traditional organic results for a specific movie title on Page 1, with several ingrained search features built into the SERP like cast members, Google’s coveted “People also ask” feature, as well as image and video searches embedded in the top three results, all in addition to the basic movie Knowledge base on the left-hand rail of the SERP).
- A couple of ads at the top and the bottom of each SERP, give or take one or two (or all) and depending on the search query, its search volume, and the competition around its keywords and topics.
- A Knowledge Panel of information along the right rail of Page 1 of the SERPs, depending on the entity.
DuckDuckGo uses its web crawler, DuckDuckBot, and up to 400 other sources to compile its search results, including other search engines like Bing, Yahoo, and Yandex, and crowdsourcing sites like Wikipedia.
This is where DuckDuckGo’s Knowledge panel-like breakout box on the right rail with important details like name, address, phone number, website, etc., are drawn from, including Wikipedia.
DuckDuckGo also pulls information from user-review site Yelp, including reviews, addresses, phone numbers, and business hours for that panel as well.
Business-location directions are now provided exclusively by Apple Maps, a change from prior to 2019 when DDG defaulted to Bing Map.
Then, it also offered users the option to toggle between their preference of Maps provider among Google Maps, HERE Maps, or OpenStreetMap as the source (screenshot below to Directions options no longer available in DDG).
DuckDuckGo offers a number of other simple usability features and/or preference tweaks that help simplify the overall process for the user, many of which Google implemented first – but not all of them.
For instance, once a user has reached the bottom of a SERP, they can select to see more results and activate an endless scroll, which opens up the next SERP directly below the current one without opening a new page.
It’s a simple difference but it does make the user experience a bit cleaner, and the pages faster to load. It can also be turned off in the search engine’s settings if needed.
Category Pages are one of my personal favorite features of the DuckDuckGo platform, offering category lineups with brief descriptions and images that are presented in a clean, enticing way for a multitude of topics and categories.
And, like Google (although not as extensive), DuckDuckGo offers Instant Answers (comparable to Google’s Featured Snippets), which are pulled from more than 100 sources around the web.
There are also search-vertical options, including:
- Web results.
- Image results.
- Video results.
- News results.
- Maps results.
- Shopping results.
Of course, depending on which vertical a user searches with, DuckDuckGo will dynamically generate applicable search verticals that suit the query.
When someone searches for a food or favorite dish, DuckDuckGo will trigger the “Recipes” vertical for them (screenshot below).
DuckDuckGo also boasts search operators similar to Google that includes its trademark Bangs.
These are simple site-search commands the search engine also refers to as “!bang syntax” that make searching one website a lot easier (not that it’s never been done before, either).
For instance, if someone wants to compare their DuckDuckGo search results to that of Google, all the user has to do is add the Google bang to their query.
And, just as Google provides unique search features and effects daily, DuckDuckGo has some fun (and useful) ones, too.
DDG can help you come up with a secure password, change a query from lowercase to uppercase (or vice versa), identify a query’s character count, and even bust a rhyme.
Its anagram solver is probably pointless – but still a consistent, entertaining tool that will have its shining moments.
In addition to its usability features, DuckDuckGo’s biggest messaging points come from:
- The brand’s high standards for privacy.
- Being an efficient and respectable search engine despite its small piece of search market share (which is well below Ask, Yandex, Baidu, and all three “major players” in the United States, Google, Bing, and Yahoo).
On top of DDG hitting 100 million daily searches in January 2021, it also hit its highest share of the search market in the same month at 2.6% of the total search market share in the United States.
Throughout the world, DDG only owns about .63% of the total global search market share, making it the 10th most popular search engine in the world.
At the end of 2020, DuckDuckGo had completed nearly 24 billion searches – a 57% increase from 2019, in which DDG served 15 billion searches.
And this large rate of increase has been consistent over the years.
Compared to 2018 when DuckDuckGo served 9.2 billion searches, 2019 saw a 63% increase in annual searches.
Annual traffic also grew by 56% in 2018 and 55% in 2017.
This number is expected to continue to grow. The question surrounds if the 50%+ rate can be sustainable for years to come, which would obviously start to direct Google much more significantly.
Pros of Using DuckDuckGo
A staple of its foundation, DuckDuckGo preaches its desire to not track any information of its users or their searches and prides itself on offering the most private search engine on the market.
Easy to Use
Its clean interface and simple user experience make using the platform a somewhat unique search experience.
Usability seems to be a primary focus, and it shows. It’s also aesthetically pleasing while still following the basic concept and layout of other search engines.
Growing in Popularity
The more users, the more profit, the more resources = the better the search engine.
Cons of Using DuckDuckGo
Not as Good as Google ¯_(ツ)_/¯
It’s the up-and-coming search engine, while Google continues to be the premium gold standard.
DuckDuckGo simply doesn’t have the resources of big, long-standing search engines. But it’s getting more every year, including a $10 million investment at the end of 2018 when it was valued at nearly $75 million.
Tiny Search Market Share
DuckDuckGo only owned .22% of the total search market share in 2017, which is less than Ask, Yandex, Baidu, and all three “major players” in the United States (Google, Bing, and Yahoo).
This means there is room for a lot of growth, but it needs to sustain its increasing popularity for years to come to gain significant market share.
Always Playing Catch-up
Features, ideas, and practices of DuckDuckGo are going to shadow Google, for the most part, including doing the opposite of what Google is doing in terms of privacy.
This isn’t out of the norm for other search engines; they’re all chasing the big dog in Google.
Google is the O.G.
But why, exactly?
To start, it’s the most robust, vast search engine out there in more ways than one, with a family of tools and databases to accompany it and support its mission of delivering the most relevant, credible answers quickly and easily.
Google Maps is a powerful asset for the search engine. It boasts a plethora of significant information for businesses across the world, from names, addresses, and phone numbers to business-related photos, videos, reviews, and more.
And while Google’s attempt at establishing a human network with similar, useful information in Google+ proved futile, it illustrates the company’s dedication to not only improving search but owning and building high-quality vessels to improve it through its platform.
Like DuckDuckGo, Google offers specific search verticals to help simply searches, but with more options.
In addition to traditional web results and the above-mentioned Maps results, there are verticals for:
Additional search settings and tools can be used to further refine searches (shown below).
“The Google Search index contains hundreds of billions of webpages and is well over 100,000,000 gigabytes in size,” Google says.
This is, by far, the vastest of search engine indexes. And it’s one of the main reasons Google is the dominant player in search.
It isn’t just the largest search index; it’s also the smartest.
Google is constantly making updates to its algorithms and ranking signals, including the addition of artificial intelligence via RankBrain. This machine-learning mechanism is another reason Google dominates and delivers, with no competitor close in comparison.
It has the best crawlers, the best index, and the best algorithms, which is why I truly believe in the mantra, “If it’s not on Google, it’s not real.”
This is a playful statement based on Google’s incredible ability to identify search queries – and their answers – from unique long-tail searches without some of the most important pieces of information.
For instance, finding a film about a particular person or place without knowing the name of the movie, year of origin, or other seemingly critical information.
When I look for a 1980s skateboarding movie with a title I don’t know but remember the main character has blonde hair, Google delivers me the answer I am looking for right in Position 1.
The movie I was looking for is, of course, “Gleaming the Cube” with Christian Slater from 1989.
Other popular entities Google owns contribute to its powerhouse position, such as YouTube, Gmail, Play, AdSense, etc.
It also boasts one of the best (and free) productivity tool suites with includes Sheets, Docs, Slides, Calendar, and more.
What makes Google the true Goliath of the industry? It’s the combination of:
- Its vast network of Alphabet-owned tools and properties.
- Its unmatched ability to understand real-world entities and their relationship to one another (things, not strings).
- Its constant commitment to improving the Google Search experience for the short- and long-term.
- Its unparalleled leadership in the world of search and all things websites.
Of course, none of this changes the fact that Google is always extracting information from its users and applying it where it can for the gain of the company and/or the people paying the company for the extracted user data.
As more and more companies are adapting to – or building around – the idea of user privacy as integral, Google continues to find ways to leverage its loose policies on privacy as a tool to attract users because of the features it can offer by collecting and storing user data.
It’s no secret that Google is doing this, so it’s not ethically wrong; it’s just not known by the majority of users exactly what data is being used, what it’s being used for, or why it’s being used at all.
This has allowed Google to become one of the richest companies in the world, thanks to the targeted advertising sold on its own platform and through its many partners.
That doesn’t change the fact that it is currently the best search engine out there. And that’s in part due to the search engine’s ability to collect and store data to further improve its engine. Then further tailor it to each user through personalization.
DuckDuckGo delivers the same search results to every user since it’s not curating unique searches for each user based on their search history, interests, and web history.
That’s exactly why Google has become one of the most successful companies: the quality of its search platform.
Pros of Using Google
It’s the Best
Google has and will continue to accomplish feats other companies – including search engines – simply aren’t able to yet, if ever.
It’s a superstar brand that has been, not just in the thick of search since its inception, but pushing it to new heights anytime it can, and before all of its competitors.
Google has the largest search index, the smartest search engine algorithm, and the largest portfolio of free tools that all fit right inside its search engine.
It’s the Dominant Power of Search
Yeah, it’s basically the same as the two points above. But it’s what truly matters.
Google is the best and has been for quite some time. And it has changed every American’s life since its launch in 1998.
It will continue to be ingrained in our lives for many years to come.
Cons of Using Google
It’s Hard Not to Feel Violated
Google also has the largest ad network, too. That’s thanks to data its compiled from its users and their behavior.
On the organic side, Google treats personalization as a benefit to the user, but that’s all achieved through data collection as well.
Overthink User Experience & Other Ideas
Google is always testing features and changes, big and small, to try and get an idea of what works best.
Sometimes, Google will change things and, afterward, it doesn’t seem like it was a change for the better.
But, that’s Google, and sometimes the changes (or lack of commonsense features) leave webmasters, marketers, and searchers scratching their heads.
It Isn’t Always Right (Still)
While it’s impressive in almost everything it does, Google’s full-blown launch of its Featured Snippet attribute led to a lot more noticeably wrong or misleading answers.
In trying to provide its best (and often auto-generated) quick answer for simple questions, Google sometimes has pulled incorrect information that still shows the computer can’t always outsmart (or outdo!) humans yet.
Which Search Engine Should You Use?
As someone who somehow used Yahoo mail for two solid decades, I can admit I am an iconoclast that prefers the less-common options and going against the current. However, this is not why I was still using Yahoo email in 2017. 😆
I used Yahoo mail for that long because I liked how it operated (until I had my account hacked, then said hacking was covered up) and I was comfortable with it.
As a news junkie and newspaper reader, Yahoo’s front page always enticed me to stick around, scroll, and read. And the stories are tailored to the user, so I was being served content I should and would eat right up.
Without at least scanning through and, I’m sure, storing some – if not most – of my user data, that Yahoo homepage would have never had been as successful as it was in terms of grabbing my attention and piquing my unique interests to read a bunch of content there daily. And I knew that after the first 12 years or so.
More importantly, I didn’t mind because it worked for me.
So, what does Yahoo have to do with whether you should use DuckDuckGo or Google?
What works best for you is the right answer here. It’s all about preference.
Both search engines can likely get you the answer you’re looking for and in a time-efficient manner.
Anyone who is passionate about privacy would likely lean toward – and prefer – DuckDuckGo solely for its strong privacy policies but also since it is a better-than-average search engine trying to do right for the people. And it does a strong job in achieving that.
That doesn’t change the fact that fewer and fewer searches are coming empty on DuckDuckGo – you’d be hard-pressed to identify one now on the fly.
So, it’s not like you can shoot over to Google to find something you can’t find on DuckDuckGo anymore.
The big difference is how the information is served to the user and how much data is collected and stored to serve it.
Because we already know if you can’t find it on Google – you likely can’t find it on DuckDuckGo either.
It’s pretty likely it simply doesn’t exist.
- 17 Great Search Engines You Can Use Instead of Google
- DuckDuckGo SEO: What You Should Know
- SEO for Beginners: An Introduction to SEO Basics
All screenshots taken by author, May 2021