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Inside The Private Search Alternative

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Inside The Private Search Alternative

As digital advertising grows arguably more intrusive, DuckDuckGo offers marketers a privacy-focused alternative through its partnership with Microsoft.

In an exclusive interview with Search Engine Journal, Steve Fischer, Chief Business Officer at DuckDuckGo, explains how the company’s contextual advertising model respects user privacy while providing relevant ads and analytics to advertisers.

This article provides key insights into DuckDuckGo’s privacy-first approach, contrasting it with competitors like Google.

As third-party cookies are phased out due to increased privacy regulations, marketers are concerned about how to reach potential customers without collecting as much data.

DuckDuckGo offers an alternative. The company says its ads respect user privacy while enabling marketers to target relevant audiences.

With Google facing an antitrust lawsuit alleging anti-competitive practices, DuckDuckGo’s approach is gaining renewed relevance.

Google stands accused of stifling competition and reducing consumer choice to dominate the search and advertising market further.

As regulators scrutinize potential anti-competitive behavior, options like DuckDuckGo give the marketplace increased choice.

DuckDuckGo & Microsoft: A Partnership Built On Privacy

DuckDuckGo takes the stance that privacy is a fundamental human right. As a result, DuckDuckGo has constructed its business model to safeguard user privacy no matter what.

This differs from the practices of many other tech companies, which regularly gather and analyze user data for purposes like advertising.

Fischer tells Search Engine Journal that data collection is unnecessary:

“It’s a myth that search engines need to track you to make money. We make our money from private ads on our search engine. On most other search engines, ads are based on profiles compiled from your personal information, such as search, browsing, and purchase history.”

A private search ad is an online advertisement targeted based on the context of what you’re searching for, rather than targeting you based on personal data and web history.

For example, if you search for “mountain bikes,” you may see ads for mountain bike brands and gear that match the topic you were searching for. However, the advertisers don’t know your name, email, or browsing history.

This allows for relevant advertising without tracking individuals across multiple sites.

What Does DuckDuckGo Do Different?

Unlike its competitors, DuckDuckGo doesn’t monitor users’ searches or browsing history and prevents other companies from doing so.

Instead, it displays private advertisements on its search engine based on search results, not personal data, to generate revenue.

“[Some] search engines associate individuals’ ad-click behavior with a user profile, which can be used later to target ads on that search engine or around the Internet.
[But] when you click on a Microsoft-provided ad that appears on DuckDuckGo, neither DuckDuckGo nor Microsoft Advertising associates your ad-click behavior with a user profile.”

This method aligns with research indicating that nearly half of surveyed publishing executives don’t believe behavioral advertising provides significant advantages.

Working with Microsoft has been fruitful, turning DuckDuckGo into an advertising platform with an expanding user base of over 30 million in the United States and around 100 million globally.

DuckDuckGo vs. Google

DuckDuckGo takes a unique approach to privacy and transparency. Fischer explains:

“Our focus on contextual advertising – only serving ads based on the keywords a user types into that one search, not on their past behavior – has fueled our profitable growth.

Conversely, Google’s business model relies heavily on collecting and analyzing user data. Google collects vast amounts of user data across its products and services, including search queries, browsing history, location data and more.”

Google’s data collection practices are documented in an advertising policy page stating that “Google will use your information to make your ads more useful for you.”

However, it’s worth noting that Google allows users to opt out of personalized ads, which prevents the company from gathering and leveraging your information to build a profile for ad-targeting purposes.

If you turn off ad personalization in your Google account settings, Google won’t collect or utilize your data to customize ads shown to you.

DuckDuckGo has help pages that clearly explain how ads are selected and displayed on its site and how its ad auction process works.

Complying With Privacy Regulations

Fischer also explained that since the search engine doesn’t gather any user data for advertising purposes, it easily complies with privacy laws like the GDPR and CCPA that restrict companies’ data collection and use.

Since DuckDuckGo doesn’t profile users or sell their information to advertisers, it avoids the regulatory compliance burdens faced by other tech companies whose business models rely on targeted advertising.

DuckDuckGo embraces “data minimalism,” gathering only essential user information, including usage and diagnostic data not tied to individual users, and avoiding storage of personal data. Data minimalism is gaining appeal as regulations tighten worldwide.

Measuring Ad Performance While Maintaining Privacy

Purchasing advertisements on DuckDuckGo through Microsoft Advertising gives marketers vital campaign analytics while protecting privacy.

Microsoft’s platform supplies all the critical data. However, ad click information isn’t linked to user profiles.

Fischer explains:

“Buying ads on DuckDuckGo through Microsoft Advertising means the measurement and reporting will be provided by Microsoft. Marketers can receive critical information they need from buying these ads to optimize and run effective search campaigns.

Conversions can also be measured via Microsoft’s advertising platform (once a customer clicks on an ad, the full IP address and user-agent string is used so the ad-click can be properly processed and charged to the advertiser). However, the ad-click isn’t associated with a user profile, nor does this data get stored or shared other than for accounting purposes.”

In other words: DuckDuckGo’s relationship with Microsoft has been mutually advantageous. Microsoft gains a way to display advertisements in a privacy-focused setting, while DuckDuckGo derives an income stream that doesn’t conflict with its business priorities.

Future Plans For Privacy Enhancement

DuckDuckGo intends to keep investing in new technologies to improve user privacy.

“DuckDuckGo remains an ad-based business, constantly working to deliver relevant but privacy-respecting advertising to our audience.”

One innovation the company is working on is a privately-designed ad conversion platform that can be externally verified. This would empower advertisers to evaluate ad effectiveness while protecting user privacy fully.

“Private conversion measurement is an industry-wide effort, with companies such as Apple and Mozilla also working on attribution technology, which respects user privacy, and we’ve started working on an architecture for private ad conversions that can be externally validated as non-profiling.”

In Summary

As attitudes and regulations evolve regarding privacy, DuckDuckGo’s contextual advertising model offers an alternative for digital marketers.

By partnering with Microsoft Advertising, DuckDuckGo provides relevant ads without collecting personal data.

As innovations like privately designed ad platforms emerge, privacy-focused options will likely continue expanding.


Featured Image: IB Photography/Shutterstock

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

Google removed the Covid-era structured data associated with the Home Activities rich results that allowed online events to be surfaced in search since August 2020, publishing a mention of the removal in the search documentation changelog.

Home Activities Rich Results

The structured data for the Home Activities rich results allowed providers of online livestreams, pre-recorded events and online events to be findable in Google Search.

The original documentation has been completely removed from the Google Search Central webpages and now redirects to a changelog notation that explains that the Home Activity rich results is no longer available for display.

The original purpose was to allow people to discover things to do from home while in quarantine, particularly online classes and events. Google’s rich results surfaced details of how to watch, description of the activities and registration information.

Providers of online events were required to use Event or Video structured data. Publishers and businesses who have this kind of structured data should be aware that this kind of rich result is no longer surfaced but it’s not necessary to remove the structured data if it’s a burden, it’s not going to hurt anything to publish structured data that isn’t used for rich results.

The changelog for Google’s official documentation explains:

“Removing home activity documentation
What: Removed documentation on home activity structured data.

Why: The home activity feature no longer appears in Google Search results.”

Read more about Google’s Home Activities rich results:

Google Announces Home Activities Rich Results

Read the Wayback Machine’s archive of Google’s original announcement from 2020:

Home activities

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Olga Strel

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Google’s Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

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Google's Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, Gary Illyes, Analyst at Google, revealed that the search engine takes a binary approach when assessing a website’s lastmod signal from sitemaps.

The revelation came as Illyes encouraged website owners to upgrade to WordPress 6.5, which now natively supports the lastmod element in sitemaps.

When Mark Williams-Cook asked if Google has a “reputation system” to gauge how much to trust a site’s reported lastmod dates, Illyes stated, “It’s binary: we either trust it or we don’t.”

No Shades Of Gray For Lastmod

The lastmod tag indicates the date of the most recent significant update to a webpage, helping search engines prioritize crawling and indexing.

Illyes’ response suggests Google doesn’t factor in a website’s history or gradually build trust in the lastmod values being reported.

Google either accepts the lastmod dates provided in a site’s sitemap as accurate, or it disregards them.

This binary approach reinforces the need to implement the lastmod tag correctly and only specify dates when making meaningful changes.

Illyes commends the WordPress developer community for their work on version 6.5, which automatically populates the lastmod field without extra configuration.

Accurate Lastmod Essential For Crawl Prioritization

While convenient for WordPress users, the native lastmod support is only beneficial if Google trusts you’re using it correctly.

Inaccurate lastmod tags could lead to Google ignoring the signal when scheduling crawls.

With Illyes confirming Google’s stance, it shows there’s no room for error when using this tag.

Why SEJ Cares

Understanding how Google acts on lastmod can help ensure Google displays new publish dates in search results when you update your content.

It’s an all-or-nothing situation – if the dates are deemed untrustworthy, the signal could be disregarded sitewide.

With the information revealed by Illyes, you can ensure your implementation follows best practices to the letter.


Featured Image: Danishch/Shutterstock

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

There’s one thing standing between you and several days of SEO, socializing, and Singaporean sunshine: your boss (and their Q4 budget 😅).

But don’t worry—we’ve got your back. Here are 5 arguments (and an example message) you can use to persuade your boss to send you to Ahrefs Evolve.

About Ahrefs Evolve

  • 2 days in sunny Singapore (Oct 24–25)
  • 500 digital marketing enthusiasts
  • 18 top speakers from around the world

Learn more and buy tickets.

SEO is changing at a breakneck pace. Between AI Overviews, Google’s rolling update schedule, their huge API leak, and all the documents released during their antitrust trial, it’s hard to keep up. What works in SEO today?

You could watch a YouTube video or two, maybe even attend an hour-long webinar. Or, much more effective: you could spend two full days learning from a panel of 18 international SEO experts, discussing your takeaways live with other attendees.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve speakers from around the world.

Our world-class speakers are tackling the hardest problems and best opportunities in SEO today. The talk agenda covers topics like:

  • Responding to AI Overviews: Amanda King will teach you how to respond to AI Overviews, Google Gemini, and other AI search functions.
  • Surviving (and thriving) Google’s algo updates: Lily Ray will talk through Google’s recent updates, and share data-driven recommendations for what’s working in search today.
  • Planning for the future of SEO: Bernard Huang will talk through the failures of AI content and the path to better results.

(And attendees will get video recordings of each session, so you can share the knowledge with your teammates too.)

View the full talk agenda here.

There’s no substitute for meeting with influencers, peers, and partners in real life. 

Conferences create serendipity: chance encounters and conversations that can have a huge positive impact on you and your business. By way of example, these are some of the real benefits that have come my way from attending conferences:

  • Conversations that lead to new customers for our business,
  • Invitations to speak at events,
  • New business partnerships and co-marketing opportunities, and
  • Meeting people that we went on to hire.

There’s a “halo” effect that lingers long after the event is over: the people you meet will remember you for longer, think more highly of you, and be more likely to help you out, should you ask.

(And let’s not forget: there’s a lot of information, particularly in SEO, that only gets shared in person.)

The “international” part of Evolve matters too. Evolve is a different crowd to your local run-of-the-mill conference. It’s a chance to meet with people from markets you wouldn’t normally meet—from Australia to Indonesia and beyond.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve attendees by home country.

If you’re an Ahrefs customer (thank you!), you’ll learn tons of tips, tricks and workflow improvements from attending Evolve. You’ll have opportunities to:

  • Attend talks from the Ahrefs team, showcasing advanced features and strategies that you can use in your own business.
  • Pick our brains at the Ahrefs booth, where we’ll offer informal 1:1 coaching sessions and previews of up-coming releases (like our new content optimization tool 🤫).
  • Join dedicated Ahrefs training workshops, hosted by the Ahrefs team and Ahrefs power users (tickets for these workshops will sold separately).

As a manager myself, there are two questions I need answered when approving expenses:

  • Is this a reasonable cost?
  • Will we see a return on this investment?

To answer those questions: early bird tickets for Evolve start at $570. For context, “super early bird” tickets for MozCon (another popular SEO conference) this year were almost twice as much: $999.

There’s a lot included in the ticket price too:

  • World-class international speakers,
  • 5-star hotel venue,
  • 5-star hotel food (two tea breaks with snacks & lunch),
  • Networking afterparty, and
  • Full talk recordings to later share with your team.

SEO is a crucial growth channel for most businesses. If you can improve your company’s SEO performance after attending Evolve (and we think you will), you’ll very easily see a positive return on the investment.

Traveling to tropical Singapore (and eating tons of satay) is great for you, but it’s also great for your team. Attending Evolve is a chance to break with routine, reignite your passion for marketing, and come back to your job reinvigorated.

This would be true for any international conference, but it goes double for Singapore. It’s a truly unique place: an ultra-safe, high-tech city that brings together dozens of different cultures.

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Little India in Singapore

You’ll discover different beliefs, working practices, and ways of business—and if you’re anything like me, come back a richer, wiser person for the experience.

If you’re nervous about pitching your boss on attending Evolve, remember: the worst that can happen is a polite “not this time”, and you’ll find yourself in the same position you are now.

So here goes: take this message template, tweak it to your liking, and send it to your boss over email or Slack… and I’ll see you in Singapore 😉

Email template

Hi [your boss’ name],

Our SEO tool provider, Ahrefs, is holding an SEO and digital marketing conference in Singapore in October. I’d like to attend, and I think it’s in the company’s interest:

  • The talks will help us respond to all the changes happening in SEO today. I’m particularly interested in the talks about AI and recent Google updates. 
  • I can network with my peers. I can discover what’s working at other companies, and explore opportunities for partnerships and co-marketing.
  • I can learn how we can use Ahrefs better across the organization.
  • I’ll come back reinvigorated with new ideas and motivation, and I can share my top takeaways and talk recordings with my team after the event.

Early bird tickets are $570. Given how important SEO is to the growth of our business, I think we’ll easily see a return from the spend.

Can we set up time to chat in more detail? Thanks!

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