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What is DuckDuckGo, and Does It Affect Your SEO?

DuckGWhat looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, and doesn’t track your personal information? That would be DuckDuckGo, one of the fastest growing search engines on the internet. With 8 million queries per day, the Duck isn’t anywhere near Google or even Yahoo, but it’s broken solidly out of the startup noise. Here’s an overview on what DuckDuckGo is and what you need to know about it.

It’s hard for a new search engine to take off. DuckDuckGo succeeded largely because it promises a level of privacy and anonymity that other search engines refuse to deliver. The company says it collects absolutely no personal information, and thus has none to use (for advertising) or share (with the NSA). It’s easy to see why they’ve gotten attention.

And DuckDuckGo isn’t shy about leveraging that message. In 2011 they famously posted a billboard in the heart of San Francisco that read, “Google tracks you. We don’t.” Meanwhile, company founder Gabriel Weinberg built a close relationships with the open source community and other tech-fluent types who would naturally support a non-invasive search company. The result was a strong early user base that jumped dramatically after the NSA spying came to light.

Now DuckDuckGo continues to grow. It was added to Safari as a built-in search option in September, and to Firefox in November. It’s still a underdog, but one worth understanding.

Searching DuckDuckGo

The Duck works like any other search engine: type in your query, find relevant results. But the lack of user information puts it at a disadvantage, at least in theory. Giants like Bing and Google determine relevancy partly based on other recent searches you’ve performed, as well as your exact location. The new bird on the block can’t narrow it down that much.


Instead, DuckDuckGo has focused on usability. In keeping with its indie, pro-privacy message, it shows less ads with its search results. That helps keep the screen clutter-free. (Sort of; the top of every search result page is an oversized carousel that pushes most of the results below the fold.) The engine also filters out webpages that are themselves ad-heavy, meaning “purer” content tends to make its way to the top of the SERPs.

All of this helps create what DuckDuckGo claims are higher quality search results. In the sense that they are less frustrating for users, that’s probably true—even if the relevancy isn’t as fine grain as Google’s. But it also changes what sorts of content will rank and how users will find it.

Optimizing for the Duck

For the most part, SEO aimed at DuckDuckGo isn’t any different. What works for Google and Bing will work here too. And to be clear, at this point in the game there’s no reason to focus on DuckDuckGo at all—it simply doesn’t have a big enough share of daily searches. But that could change if it continues growing.

One notable difference about the Duck is that it intentionally filters out any site it deems to be a “content mill.” This is like the Panda update on steroids. It’s mostly aimed at high-volume sites like eHow, but if your site publishes lots of articles without controlling for quality you could be 86’d too. This is in addition to the filtering out of ad-heavy pages, mentioned above.

Another sticking point is local search. DuckDuckGo can’t grab a user’s exact location—that would violate their privacy guarantee—so it bases local results on your IP address. Your “location” is more like the center of your GeoIP region, which is generally the right town but not necessarily anywhere near your actual address.

That probably won’t inconvenience most users, but it does mean that overly specific local-SEO’d pages may be missed. In other words, if you’ve optimized a page for Decatur, Georgia but not for greater Atlanta, Decatur users may not see it in their Duck results. The solution is to optimize at the regional as well as hyper-local level, something you should already be doing.

It’ll be exciting to see whether DuckDuckGo keeps growing and how they compete with the other search engines without personal data. Have you tried DuckDuckGo yet? What do you think?