Besides being great at surfacing the most relevant search results, Google also excels in boxing out rival search engines. With a 60 to 90 percent market share since 2009, it has maintained over two decades of dominance. But continually being slapped by privacy and antitrust cases may soon slow it down. On the other hand, the Google lawsuit series may be an opportunity for some privacy search engine pioneers to chip away at the (unfair) competition, carve a niche and hit the tech giant where it hurts.
Early last year, a massive Google class action lawsuit alleged that the Silicon Valley company had been tracking the personal identities of users browsing in private mode. This was followed by antitrust suits filed by the Department of Justice and some state attorneys general. Part of the more recent complaint against Google was how it had leveraged its solid lead in search and digital advertising at the expense of other players.
But some of these “other players” won’t simply sit out the results of a potentially drawn-out legal battle. DuckDuckGo, one of the best privacy search engine alternatives and a staunch Google critic, has been gearing up for growth. It broke the 100-million mark in daily mobile searches in January and has now surpassed Bing’s share in this segment (0.48 percent vs. 0.42 percent in global figures). With studies revealing that consumers want to be in control of their digital data and seek transparency from search engines, the likes of DuckDuckGo are poised to fill some gaps created by Google’s business model.
In this blog post, we look into that possibility and more.
The Privacy-Focused Google Alternatives
The rise of privacy-focused Google competitors is a response to one of the major search engines’ perceived shortcomings: tracking user data without consent. In this light, it’s the technologically savvy users who convert to these alternatives to Google as they’re likely to have privacy concerns.
We can see that online privacy search engines cater to a segment of the entire search market. They have distinctive features that attract a cult following. Let’s look at each Google alternative and how its business model differs from big ol’ Google’s.
DuckDuckGo Privacy First Search Engine
DuckDuckGo (DDG) is arguably the best search engine privacy first web advocates can rely on to contend with Google. While it’s still considered a niche competitor, DDG is fast becoming a part of the conversation. Particularly, the Pennsylvania-based internet firm points out the breach in private browsing, which is the subject of the Google class action lawsuit, also known as the Google Incognito lawsuit. It also insists that if Google was serious about privacy, it should have abandoned its “surveillance business model” already.
So, how is the DuckDuckGo privacy first search engine different? We know it does not collect user data for profiling and personalization. Instead, it pulls information from over 400 sources – including Bing (but not Google!), WolframAlpha, the DuckDuckBot and crowdsourced sites like Wikipedia.
People can choose it as their default search engine on desktop and mobile browsers. They can also add the DuckDuckGo browser extension to Google Chrome.
But an astute DuckDuckGo browser might think, “How does this private browsing firm make money?” The company says its main revenue generator is the most obvious: keyword-based advertising. But unlike Google, it doesn’t track your personal information to deliver results. It claims that it doesn’t need to because bidding for search ads are based on “keywords, not people.”
Brave Search Engine
Brave was first introduced as a free and open-source private web browser. Now, it’s getting ready to be known as one of the best privacy search engine alternatives with the acquisition of open search engine Tailcat. The resulting Brave search engine promises to provide an independent, high-quality and privacy-focused indexing.
Banking on online privacy becoming mainstream, Brave has rolled out a slew of privacy-focused products. It’s expecting 2021 to be a year of growth, with its browser recently gaining 25 million monthly active users.
To earn revenue, it dishes out Brave Ads, an opt-in advertising platform that rewards you for viewing non-invasive ads. The rewards come in the form of Basic Attention Tokens or BAT, which you can withdraw as cash or use to tip websites and content creators at the end of each month. There is no tracking of personal information – only giving of control back to consumers.
Neeva Search Engine
Neeva may be a newcomer to the “beat the Google competition.” But the minds behind it are search advertising veterans, from Google and YouTube, no less. Cofounder Sridhar Ramaswamy was the head of Google’s billion-dollar advertising division for many years. Now he’s providing searchers with possibly the most intriguing Google alternative: ad-free search.
Other Best Privacy Search Engine Options
The search for the best search engine for privacy continues, and here are a few more to watch out for:
• Ecosia – A green search engine whose parent company is based in Germany. It shows ads next to search results but says it does not build user profiles based on search history. Ecosia donates 80 percent of its ad revenue to non-profit organizations that advocate reforestation.
• OneSearch – Verizon, which also owns Yahoo, ventures into Google alternative territory with OneSearch. Similar to other search engine alternatives, it doesn’t collect personal data and search history. But it personalizes ads based on location, deriving from IP addresses that aren’t matched to users. This could benefit businesses’ local search engine optimization (SEO) if it launches successfully.
• StartPage – Last but not least, this best search engine privacy bet claims it’s like Google, but private. Considering it does not track user behavior, how is it going to match the latter’s targeting accuracy and become the ultimate Google competitor?
The Impact of Privacy-Focused Google Competitors
With the Google antitrust case pending and privacy concerns spreading among consumers, Google alternatives like DDG, Brave and Neeva can capture and cater to an underserved market. That may not chip away at Google’s market dominance. “They still are very small,” said Tim Clarke, Thrive’s Senior Reputation Manager, “and will split market share among the smaller group of people that doesn’t want to use Google.”
But there’s no doubt the opportunity exists. A Harvard Business Review (HBR) study tackled ads and internet browsing privacy, and this is what the researchers found out:
“If people dislike the way their information is shared, purchase interest drops.”
Consumers appreciate ad personalization when they trust the publisher or brand tracking their data. Click-throughs occur when they know how their personal information is being used.
It’s when people are targeted by an ad based on their behavior from third-party websites that they prioritize privacy concerns over personalization, the HBR study said. This is where the likes of DuckDuckGo and the Brave search engine and browser power combo come in.
What Data Does Google Collect?
Since the Google lawsuit chain was set in motion, the search engine firm has been out to prove wrong – if not best – search engine privacy regulators. It has used data anonymization in machine learning to keep personal information on people’s devices. Some Google antitrust case watchers may be pleased to know it’s not selling user data to third-party ad sellers.
However, to make more relevant products and better services, the tech company gathers personal information. What data does Google collect to deliver the best user experience? Here are some examples:
• Your location and location history on Google Maps
• Your viewing habits on YouTube
• Your queries on Google Search
• Your online purchases and budget
• Your browsing habits
Your activities are tracked and the resulting data is used to build a user profile. The proponents of the Google Incognito lawsuit and Google antitrust case believe that this access to massive data is growing its ad machinery while keeping others out of the competition (the Google competition).
The Future of SEO: What Digital Advertising Looks Like in a Post-Google Future
The Google class action lawsuit may take a year or so to complete. Add the legal process involved in hearing the antitrust cases, and we know the search behemoth will be busy for quite some time. This means the rising Google alternatives may not have a significant impact on search engine marketing or pay-per-click advertising until a verdict is announced. But as an advertiser, business owner, user or even a Google competitor, it should not stop you from preparing for a very different picture of the future of SEO.
The future of SEO may do away with individual targeting and focus on contextual targeting instead. This refers to placing ads on pages based on what those pages contain. For example, an ad for reading glasses may appear on a book review blog page or an ad for running shoes in an article about running.
Instead of cookies, consent signals will be delivered based on identity – a user’s privacy preferences. This helps improve the user experience while advertisers and consumers maintain a good relationship.
Reputation Management Fine-Tuning
If the Google competition expands, Clarke said reputation management must also change:
“Reputation management companies will need to work on different review platforms that are prominent in searches for DuckDuckGo as well and have new strategies and tactics. We will also have to look at how reviews affect the search queries in these new platforms differently from Google.”
Some Tradeoffs for Online Privacy
You might be wondering what digital advertising will look like when private browsing is the norm. Alternatives to Google like Brave let users choose which ads to see, rewarding them when they pay attention.
For some people, it would seem their attention is the commodity and will protect it from any form of ads. To be the best search engine for privacy focused users, the enlisted alternatives to Google must face some challenges such as:
• The time it takes to build trust
• Capturing enough market interest as Google competitors and niche rivals
• Convincing users to choose straightforward yet bordering-on-generic results over personalized results
Prepare for a Potential Shift
Consumers are becoming more aware or proactive about privacy. The onset of the Google lawsuit, especially the Google Incognito lawsuit, has helped spark conversations around it. In this article, we talked about the possibilities for the likes of the Neeva search engine to carve a niche. The Brave browser and the DuckDuckGo browser extension for Chrome can be a good start for users to learn a new way to “google.”
But we also learned that Google is bent to tackle privacy matters head-on after asking, “What data does Google collect?”
When it comes to the diminishing significance of Google Ads due to privacy concerns, the jury is still out. But while we wait for things to unfold, brands and businesses can prepare for the future with guidance from SEO experts.
Thrive is a digital marketing agency that provides technical SEO, equipping advertisers with the right strategy to handle a potential shift in the not-so distant future. We outline your campaigns to ensure compliance with internet browsing privacy regulations starting now.
Call us at 866-908-4748 to start exploring the possibilities that can work for your business and support your privacy philosophy.