DuckDuckGo is a search engine with a radically unique value proposition.
While its competitors collect your data and search history for targeted ads, DuckDuckGo uses a different business model designed around privacy.
So how does DuckDuckGo make money? DuckDuckGo makes money through keyword-based advertising, affiliate marketing, and their Tracker Radar tool.
We'll dig deeper into each of these revenue streams in this article.
What is DuckDuckGo?
DuckDuckGo is a privacy-focused search engine, browser extension, and browser app.
As its search bar proudly states, it lets you search the web without being tracked.
DuckDuckGo was built to be a solution to many of the annoyances Google search brings to users:
- The fact that Google search can be manipulated with search engine optimization
- Concerns about how Google tracks your search history and collects personal data
- The onslaught of personalized ads that follow you across the internet
Once thought of as mainly a tech company, Google is now widely recognized as an advertising company.
It's still the dominant search engine, making billions selling access to the highest bidder. But more and more people are becoming aware of the societal harms of these targeted ads.
As these concerns about online privacy continue to grow, so too do the searches on DuckDuckGo.
There are now an average of 100 million searches on the platform every single day, and this number is increasing steadily.
In fact, a record number of daily searches was set in early 2022, making DuckGoDuck now the 10th most popular search engine in the world.
These numbers amount to 2.6% of the United States search engine market and 0.67% of the global search engine market. But these numbers also represent a 46% growth in 2021.
Next to Google's 91% of the global search engine market share, DuckDuckGo may seem like a relatively small fish (or duck) in a big pond. But DuckDuckGo's growth over the years is significant. It highlights the public's shift in perception towards privacy.
It states that whenever they record something such as how many searches occur, the data remains completely anonymous. And that isn't something that will likely ever change.
Who owns and funds DuckDuckGo?
DuckDuckGo was bootstrapped out of the basement of American entrepreneur and MIT grad Gabriel Weinberg in 2008.
It remains a private company with Weinberg still the CEO and likely the company's majority shareholder. The company falls under its parent company DuckDuckGo, Inc., based in Paoli, Pennsylvania.
How does DuckDuckGo make money?
DuckDuckGo has a few different methods to generate revenue.
Like other search engines, DuckDuckGo's primary business model revolves around advertising.
The difference from the others is that DuckDuckGo doesn't bludgeon you over the head with ads for products you searched for last week.
It serves ads related to whatever your search query is about.
If you search for camping gear, these are the kinds of ads you will see.
And because it doesn't store user data, not even your IP address, you don't receive a personalized search result.
Each search is like they're meeting and serving you for the first time. Now that's privacy.
So, if you exit the tab or change your search to airline tickets, you'll get these kinds of ads.
Click on any of the ads and DuckDuckGo will make some money. That's how keyword-based search ads work in a nutshell.
It really is a basic model that other companies like Google profit from as well. It's just that DuckDuckGo stops there and doesn't also then collect your data or personal information to sell to advertisers for extra profit.
Another distinction is that DuckDuckGo doesn't have its own ad-buying platform like Google Ads. They instead operate as a partner of Microsoft's ad network.
This allows marketers who buy Bing ads space the option to also appear on DuckDuckGo.
DuckDuckGo also earns affiliate revenue from both Amazon and eBay. This is one of the creative ways the business avoids sole dependence on advertising.
When you visit Amazon and eBay through DuckDuckGo and buy something, they can receive an affiliate commission.
They make a point to say this is a non-tracking affiliate partnership, and any information exchanged remains anonymous. They also say this doesn't influence their search results, appearing only organically like any other link.
DuckDuckGo's search uses its own web crawler along with the help of 400 other sources like Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, and Wikipedia to bring you results.
DuckDuckGo's CEO hasn't commented on how much this generates. But considering how quickly their daily search number is growing, this could be a huge revenue stream for the company.
Do you ever search for something on Google and get bombarded by related ads on every site you visit?
I bet you do and, while it's awesome for the site owners profiting from ads, it can get a little tiring as a searcher.
This occurs because major platforms like Google and Facebook have hidden trackers on many of the most popular websites. These trackers allow them to collect your information and, of course, follow you with targeted ads.
As a result, DuckDuckGo released a data set that tracks and monitors these hidden trackers.
Tracker Radar continuously crawls the internet for third-party properties on sites. It tracks how they use the browser API, how often they set cookies, and more. It then cross-references this data with its other findings to determine tracker behavior.
This allows users to build comprehensive and up-to-date tracker blocklists.
The open-source code for this data set is available free to the public at Github.
DuckDuckGo makes money from the tool through licensing fees when companies source it for commercial use.
Is DuckDuckGo profitable?
According to a post on DuckDuckGo's official blog, Spread Privacy, it has been a profitable company since 2014.
DuckDuckGo managed to go against the grain of other search engines and build a great business.
And they've done an excellent job at marketing.
I would bet cold hard cash that they studied the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout because they seem to check all the boxes.
- They've niched down on a growing target audience that cares about user privacy.
- They've positioned themselves as the go-to private search engine.
- From the time they rented their first billboard in 2011 to today, they've been very clear with their messaging.
This list goes on and on.
DuckDuckGo remains a private company so they're pretty secretive about their actual numbers — not just with how much money they make but also regarding how much they spend.
But in an interview with PhillyMag, CEO Weinberg did share that the company generated over $100 million in revenue in 2020.
Since the time of that quote, their search traffic has continued to rise.
How much is DuckDuckGo worth?
It would be safe to assume that DuckDuckGo has reached unicorn status.
Setting a valuation on a private company is tricky. You could argue it is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. But it is helpful to compare the numbers with a public company like Google to come up with an educated guess.
That's around a 10x multiple. With this benchmark, it's safe to assume that DuckDuckGo is worth at least $1 billion.
A Quick Recap of DuckDuckGo
We've covered quite a bit. We've gone over a few of the ways that DuckDuckGo makes money and some of its privacy features.
Between ads, affiliate partnerships, and the tools it can provide, it appears the privacy search engine is a thriving business.
If the trends continue, more and more people will seek out a search engine that protects personal data. This is where DuckDuckGo, the self-proclaimed ‘internet privacy company', will continue to stand out and reap the rewards.