DuckDuckGo, one of the larger fledgling search engines hoping to grab share from the big three, isn't exactly top of mind to most search advertisers, but a couple of Search Engine Land articles by Matt McGee documenting its rapid traffic growth piqued our interest. After seeing McGee's report that DuckDuckGo had surpassed 1M searches in a day for the first time, RKG Senior Analyst Paul Koch did some searches on the site and found something that wasn't on our radar: Microsoft adCenter-powered sponsored links:
Digging into our logs, we found ad traffic from DuckDuckGo dating all the way back to May of last year, but it was very spotty through most of 2011. It looks like they made a change to significantly ramp up ad serving in mid-January of 2012 though. Paid search ad clicks originating from DuckDuckGo have jumped at a far greater rate of growth than their reported query figures:
We saw ad traffic from DuckDuckGo grow 607% between the weeks of January 2nd and February 6th. Over the same period, DuckDuckGo direct queries were up a very impressive, but much smaller 83%.
Room for More Ad Growth
It should be pointed out that this still represents an incredibly tiny slice of the paid search pie. We see DuckDuckGo only generating 0.02% of all adCenter-powered clicks and they are not even one of the top hundred search partners for Bing and Yahoo.
If DuckDuckGo really holds a 0.1% share of the overall U.S search market -- which is not unreasonable -- it should have a lot of room left for ad growth. That is, of course, if they choose to go that route. For one thing, they only appear to be showing a single paid search ad at a time, while the larger engines generally run about 10 ads with two or three of them appearing above the organic listings. Were DuckDuckGo generating ad clicks in line with that 0.1% share figure, they would be a top 3 or 4 search partner for the adCenter platform.
Meanwhile over at Blekko...
Blekko is roughly in the same league as DuckDuckGo. They both have decent name recognition among a tech-savvy audience and similar traffic levels. If we believe the Alexa rankings, Blekko ranks 2216 for U.S. traffic, while DuckDuckGo is at 1855. Looking at RKG traffic figures, they also seem to have had similar plans for ramping up the monetization of their audience through ad growth.
As we did above, we've pegged the week of 1/2/2012 at 100% to show the relative growth in traffic. That growth is remarkably similar for the two engines with Blekko showing a 567% increase in paid clicks from the week of January 2nd to the week of February 6th, compared to DuckDuckGo's aforementioned 607% increase.
There are a couple interesting differences in strategy here though. Blekko is showing ads through Google's search partner program and they are running a lot more of them at the same time:
Blekko has four ads above the organic results and four on the right rail. It's not pictured here, but they also repeat the top four ads beneath the organic results. The referrer information we see for Blekko also suggests that a good deal of their PPC traffic is being generated through other sites that have Blekko-powered search incorporated. One example is Topix, which shares a founder with Blekko in Rich Skrenta.
Potential for a Backlash?
It has to be a tricky situation being a niche search engine that's trying to grow its user base while driving up revenue per search. Both DuckDuckGo and Blekko surely benefit from being an alternative for users that find the major engines' results to be too commercial. DuckDuckGo drives this point home on their about us page, saying that, among other things, they are a search engine with, "way less spam and clutter." That's certainly true now when it comes to sponsored links, but will they be willing or able to keep it that way for long? If they do continue to ramp up monetization through ads, will it destroy one of their selling points or will their users take it in stride?
Postscript: Just before publishing, I caught MediaPost's article from yesterday evening confirming that Blekko "began testing ads". Check it out for some more detail and a quote from Blekko's CEO.