The word “Google” has become synonymous with “search engine” and the two are often used interchangeably without thought. But if you compare search engines, you may be surprised to find out that some lesser-known players could better serve what you’re looking for. Compare and contrast Google, DuckDuckGo, and Bing to see which one can best provide the search experience you’re looking for.
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Needless to say, Google is doing something right in its effort to provide searchers with the most relevant, accurate information on the internet. However, with great power comes great responsibility, and Google is not without its criticism from both webmasters and searchers alike.
Superior query understanding
Google is constantly testing and improving the algorithms that assess and deliver on queries. They maintain that their singular goal is to provide searchers with the most relevant results possible and that all updates they make are an effort to serve that purpose. This can sometimes get them into trouble with SEOs at companies who are vying for top search results, but Google always maintains that their concern is user experience, not businesses’ rankings.
And when we say constantly, we mean constantly. Google’s performance is actually made up of hundreds of “baby algorithms” that all work in tandem, and a business that performs well for one baby algorithm may get knocked out of top spot by a business that performs well for two different ones. They work together to assess SEO fundamentals that could indicate that a website is the most relevant, accurate source, such as the principles of Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T).
A driver of Google’s superior understanding is the ability to recognize search intent. Search intent can be broken down into three categories: Informational Searches, Transactional Searches, and Navigational Searches, or as Google calls them, “Know” “Go” and “Do.” Google algorithms will match language you use and mountains of search data to guess what a user’s intent is and give them the best results to carry out that intent.
Take a search for the query “best ice cream,” for example. Google first assumes that I want to eat ice cream and gives me Navigational results in the form of the local pack (recognizing local intent when it isn’t explicitly stated is another talent of Google’s). Underneath the local pack, Google has assumed I want to compare and contrast information, so it’s given me some results that aggregate information about ice cream spots, while still knowing I’m in Seattle. Google doesn’t bother showing me pictures of ice cream, directions for how to make ice cream, or a history lesson on the invention of ice cream.
In an effort to not direct users to outdated, inaccurate information, Google takes into account the freshness of your content and displays dates that posts were published in the results. And yes, they have algorithms to detect whether you made impactful updates to content or if you just changed the date.
Adding Google’s Local Search capabilities is what really puts the engine head and shoulders above the rest. Because they own another Google product like Google Maps, they’re able to control a superior influx of data about the businesses in any given location that they can then integrate into search results.
Furthermore, many enjoy the personalization that localization provides when they enter a query. A user can search “dentists near me” or even just “dentists” and Google will show them a local pack of the top 3 dentists based on proximity of their location to the dentists, reviews, and a variety of other local search factors.
Local Search includes an entirely different set of algorithms in addition to the algorithms used for other types of search queries, pulling information from the likes of GMB and Yelp rather than informational blogs. Perhaps the most impressive capability within Google’s local search performance is the ability to determine “local intent” even when it’s not explicitly included in the query, such as the ice cream example above.
Depending on the query, localization can pop up in a number of other nuanced ways. For example, if I search for Rio de Janeiro from my computer in the US, I’m likely to be served tourism-related results, whereas if I search from Rio, the results will be entirely different.
Features and zero-click search
Featured snippets are Google’s way of pulling the most relevant part from a web page to answer a query, without that user ever having to actually click through to that web page. Most recently, Google even added a feature that highlights that chunk of information on the web page they got it from, should you choose to click through anyway.
A wide range of search features exist on Google and they exist to format information in a more clear way that makes sense for the query. Some of the most popular features include:
- Local pack
- Knowledge graph
- Brand pack
- Answer snippet
- Shopping pack
- Jobs pack
- Paid ads
- News pack
- Image pack
- Video pack
- Related searches
- People also ask
However, there’s actually hundreds of these features and users have most likely never seen many of them that are geared toward super niche, low volume queries. Because of the visual space they take up and the way they naturally draw the eye, features are a hugely sought after spot to the point where platforms like Traject Data work to track them for SEOs.
For example, if you search for something that would be best answered with a list (Google matches your “intent” here), like “best search engines,” Google has a feature to show you a bulleted list.
It’s almost impossible to know how many search features are really out there on Google because some really obscure ones can appear for niche queries. Have you used Google to flip a coin for you when you didn’t have one handy?
Best-in-class Image Search
Fun fact: Did you know the Google Images search engine was created due to the overwhelming number of users searching for JLo in her iconic green Versace dress? Google couldn’t handle the demand and text results for the query obviously weren’t giving users what they wanted to see.
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, said:
“At the time, it was the most popular search query we had ever seen. But we had no surefire way of getting users exactly what they wanted: J.Lo wearing that dress.”
This is all to say that Google has about 20 years of experience in developing algorithms that are able to find, interpret, and assign images based on search queries, even without images having alt text or titles.
The crown jewel of these developments is Google Lens, a product that identifies image attributes using visual analysis based on a neural network, and can then present you with relevant information about it. If you’re searching for tough-to-find images that you can only visually describe and don’t have alt text, Google may be able to find it for you using this recognition technology.
Expansive suite of products
Google owns a plethora of other products that they can leverage to not only pull in additional information, like Maps but integrate personal data to shape your experience. For example, when searching “anchorage alaska flight,” a top displayed result is data pulled from a flight confirmation email received in Gmail.
Pros and Cons
- Understanding of the intent behind your query and serving a relevant answer is simply superior in many cases
- They prioritize fresh, updated content over information that might be outdated
- It’s accessible and usable on any device
- It has the most specific verticals that help you narrow down the experience you want
- A high amount of personalization is available, search results can be complemented by your location, content in your Gmail, etc.
- It has a highly competitive and robust ad platform, so some wonder if they’re making certain changes to their engine for their own gain as a business, or for the gain of searchers. With ads taking up the first few results combined with search features, it can be several scrolls before you see the first organic result.
- That “always improving algorithm” piece can get them into trouble every once in a while. Sometimes in their effort to be innovative, they release a change that just misses the mark, and with their massive stake in the market, they have to decide whether to roll it back to keep the pitchfork mob at bay. For example, check out the recent favicons backlash.
- Google Maps is highly susceptible to spam from blackhat SEOs trying to game the system, and critics in the SEO community aren’t necessarily impressed with Google’s efforts to combat this
- They track a lot of user data. Like a LOT of data. While this helps with personalization, it can pose some threats to your privacy
The bottom line on Google Search
Google is the king for a reason. This search engine will continue to dominate the share of the market because their algorithm combined with personalization capabilities make its understanding of linguistics and intent superior to other search engines.
DuckDuckGo is a dark horse on the search engine landscape and has grown so exponentially that a graph of their number of queries over time almost looks like a cartoonishly perfect curve. They attribute this to their commitment to user privacy, and even point out on their usage graph events like the release of NSA files that most likely played a role in continued adoption.
While its share of the market is still minuscule compared to Google, many report that it returns adequate search results with a slick UI and less personal risk.
DuckDuckGo says on its website that it pulls search results from over 400 sources. The engine says, “These include hundreds of vertical sources delivering niche Instant Answers, DuckDuckBot (our crawler) and crowd-sourced sites (like Wikipedia, stored in our answer indexes).
We also of course have more traditional links in the search results, which we also source from multiple partners, though most commonly from Bing (and none from Google).”
So if DuckDuckGo is pulling results through a partner search engine like Bing, wouldn’t that mean that Bing has access to the data around who searched that query? DuckDuckGo says no. According to their website, they maintain their privacy commitment by proxying the query through servers so it stays anonymous.
DuckDuckGo says, “Any call to a partner looks to the partner as it is from us and not the user itself, and no user personal information is passed in that process (e.g. their IP address). That way we can build our search result pages using these 100s of partner sources, while still keeping them completely anonymous to you.”
The name of the game for DuckDuckGo is privacy, privacy, privacy. In contrast to engines like Google that track location, clickstreams, and a myriad of other data, this is what allowed DuckDuckGo to make its splash on the search landscape. Take one look at their website or social media feeds and you’ll be able to tell the extent to which security is a cornerstone of their brand.
The first thing users may notice when they begin using DuckDuckGo is that it has a similar layout to Google. For users who fear leaving the better-known search giant in favor of DuckDuckGo, this feature parity and similar layout may ease the transition.
After submitting a query, DuckDuckGo populates with 10 organic search results, similarly to what Google does depending on the amount of featured snippets that are eligible for Google to serve up. Also similarly to how Google presents its top organic results, you’ll see an ad or two taking up a top spot, clearly marked with “Ad.”
There are also search-vertical options, and while it has fewer than Google does, you can still narrow your search within these categories:
Depending on which vertical you search with, DuckDuckGo seems to be able to recognize intent well enough to dynamically generate applicable search verticals.
No Page 2
A user experience attribute where DuckDuckGo diverges is the prompt to see search results beyond the first page. On Google, you have to navigate to a new page of search results and then navigate back if you don’t see something you like on page 2. On DuckDuckGo, the next results simply load underneath the top results and you can continue scrolling up and down through all of them at once. This could be an advantage for those who aren’t sure what they’re looking for and are shopping around between titles and meta descriptions.
Potential SEO Mishaps
One thing you may notice in the DuckDuckGo results is that some meta descriptions may be missing and replaced with the text “We would like to show you a description here but the site won’t allow us.”
While forum answers seem to point to a technical SEO error committed by the webmaster, it’s important to note that because DuckDuckGo sources from other places that sometimes include other major search engines, how you block crawling or optimize for those engines will likely have an effect on how you appear on DuckDuckGo.
It also offers a section of more visual results on the right rail reminiscent of Google’s Knowledge panel, complete with quick-access information for details like name, address, phone number, website, or even the steps in a how-to or recipe.
It’s important to note that Yelp is a favorite source for DuckDuckGo to integrate these quick answers from, so factor that in if you’re optimizing for this engine or deciding whether to trust the results. Following in Google’s footsteps with zero-click searches, DuckDuckGo will also sometimes use these featured snippet-esque spaces to provide what they call an “Instant Answer” to a question.
One additional note on the business quick-info is that it comes from Apple Maps by default, not Google Maps. Looking around in some of the engine’s preference settings, opening “directions” appears to default to Bing. This could be a disadvantage because the Google Maps platform and Google My Business is a robust source of data and often a marketing channel in its own right for businesses.
If you want DuckDuckGo to pull from Google Maps (or another map platform) instead of these defaults, you can manually change that setting.
This could be an area where DuckDuckGo beats out Google in truly serving users’ desires. Searchers can use a “bang” or a shortcut code in their query to let DuckDuckGo know that they want to search within that site (such as Wikipedia or Amazon) instead of in the general DuckDuckGo results. DuckDuckGo currently has 13,505 bangs to choose from and you can even submit your own.
Shortcuts like this do exist on Google, but only to create a shortcut to other Google verticals, like Image Search. On Google, even if you include “Wikipedia” in your search query, you’ll need to make a pit stop on the Google results page and click on Wikipedia. Perhaps Google isn’t willing to give up that chance to show you a few ads?
Local Search is there, but lacking
DuckDuckGo is truly for people who prioritize data security above all, because the geotargeting will be lackluster compared to other search engines. Unlike DuckDuckGo, Google not only knows exactly where you are, but knows when certain searches usually have a local intent behind them. If you allow it to, DuckDuckGo can estimate your general region, but it’s not exact. And that’s when you specifically search for an obvious brick and mortar. For a more nuanced query that may or may not indicate I’m looking for a midnight snack like “ice cream,” Google recognizes the local intent and DuckDuckGo does not.
Beyond this shortcoming, DuckDuckGo has done a good job of catching up to Google in integrating helpful and visual features into localized DuckDuckGo results, like Yelp Reviews and ratings. But again, Google’s extensive suite of products allows it to own it’s own review platform in Google My Business, which DuckDuckGo can’t compare with at this point.
Pros and Cons
- They do not track or store information about users
- It has a great UX
- Bangs get you to where you want to search faster
- Users can get answers quickly with zero-click (Instant Answers)
- Search results are not dated, so it’s hard to be sure if you’re visiting outdated content
- Semantic understanding is simply inferior to Google. They do serve users disambiguation prompts, so you can get to the best-matched intent with a few clicks if you’re willing
- Geo-targeting and local intent recognition are lacking
- The Image Search vertical results are more limited
- No personalized results
The bottom line on DuckDuckGo
If privacy is paramount to you and you’re willing to go through a few more manual steps to help DuckDuckGo understand where you are and what you’re looking for, this may be the search engine for you.
While Google may have 88.16% of the search market share, Bing very nearly makes up the remaining portion. For the last few years, any search queries entered through Yahoo are actually powered by Bing, so the market share for both combined is a little over 10%.
Bing has an entirely different approach to Google’s stark white UI and instead presents a home page teeming with highly visual information, and this strongly foreshadows some of the things the engine excels at. The verb “Bing it” hasn’t quite caught on as much as “Google it” but it’s certainly not a search engine to be ignored.
More interesting, diversified UX
When you arrive on the Bing homepage, you’ll see a range of highly visual prompts to learn more about things you may not have known to search for, like news, trending social conversations, historical facts, beautiful images, or prompts to learn about a new city.
Bing has a reputation for being the “video search engine” and it still maintains the qualities that made it superior upon its launch. When deciding on a video to watch from Bing, users can sometimes see a preview of the video content in the thumbnail when they hover. When the user selects a video, they’re able to watch it directly in the SERP, rather than navigating to a new site.
Perhaps most notably? Bing doesn’t have the same YouTube bias as Google does following Google’s acquisition of YouTube in 2006.
Content is still King
While Google focuses on the context around a query to return answers based on intent, Bing’s algorithm relies more heavily on the keywords alone. However, they stand united on one concept, which is that content is king. Bing defines content quality as a trifecta of authority, utility, and presentation.
Image Search Filters
Users report that it’s easier to search for images with certain attributes on Bing, because its filter feature has a superior UX. Users are able to filter images by copyright license and other attributes in an easy-to-find menu, unlike on Google where this functionality is extremely difficult to find.
Alexa and Cortana use Bing
While most people would have assumed Cortana would keep voice search within the Microsoft family, some don’t know that Alexa is putting Bing into 100 million homes and counting. With many SEO experts naming voice search as a top trend to look out for in 2020 and beyond, it wouldn’t be surprising if this influx of data and voice queries continued to help improve Bing’s results delivery in order to further rival Google.
Pros and Cons
- It provides information outside of search, such as news, interesting images, and historical events
- It has excellent video indexing
- It’s easier to filter in image search
- The UI is more aesthetically pleasing
- You can get free Microsoft stuff
- The audience skews older, so businesses in industries that also skew older may prioritize optimizing for Bing
- Bing ranks forums low in search results in favor of older, established sites, even if forums have a more direct answer to a query
- Its ability to ascertain intent and the context around a search query isn’t as sophisticated as Google
The bottom line on Bing
If you’re looking for a more holistic internet experience that is heavy on news and updates from social media, this may be the search engine you want to sit down at as you start your day. Basic search queries will most likely be comparable to Google, but in some cases, searches for media like videos and images will return better results on Bing.
If you’re a little behind the times and looking for information on Yahoo, it just simply isn’t the household name in search engines it used to be.
Yahoo search results are now powered by Bing, so it’s literally Bing with a fresh coat of paint on it—or an old crumbling coat of paint, depending on how accurate you like your analogies. However, this information does become important to know when discussing Bing’s market share, since Yahoo’s and Bing’s usage can be combined for a more accurate percentage of users who see Bing results (and Bing ads).
Beyond performing this market share assessment, do yourself a favor and search on any one of the seventeen search engines that made the cut on this list before Yahoo did.
Comparing Search Engines: Google vs. DuckDuckGo vs. Bing
In comparing these three major players in the search engine space, one interesting conclusion can be drawn: No search engine is without a fault, and all three search engines compared here have at least one area in which they are superior than the others.
This may indicate that there isn’t a right search engine, but a right search engine for you. Weigh the pros and cons and decide what your priorities are in a search experience, and then take the plunge of clicking “make this my default search engine.”