Google has been the king of search since its birth in 1997. There have been other search engines worth mentioning, such as AltaVista, Ask, Dogpile, Excite, Yahoo, etc., but none of them stood a chance with Google it seems. Now, as you can see Google is also the world’s most visited website according to Alexa search rankings, moving Facebook (that held the first position briefly) to the second spot. With the ongoing controversies against Google search algorithms and its favoring Google Plus profiles in search results, one comes to ask the question, whether Google is still the world’s best search engine?
If it’s not, then what is? We are trying to find an answer to this in this post. If you don’t want to wait till the end, look at the bottom of the article, which will quench your thirst. In our test, we decided to include three other search engines. Bing, obviously; a new search engine called Blekko; and another new search engine called DuckDuckGo.
About These Guys!
Okay, so as a first step, let me tell you briefly about these contenders we have here. I suppose you don’t need any introduction to the main contenders, Google and Bing. If you don’t know about them, you can probably visit Google.com, Wikipedia, Microsoft, Encyclopedia Britannica, etc., although you may have to first move that rock, under which you are living.
Blekko is a relatively new search engine, launched in 2010. It is said to have about 3 billion pages in the index out of which it serves up search queries. It uses a new system known as slashtags, which are similar to hashtags in Twitter, but hash is replaced by a slash (/). Blekko serves a tiny fraction of the whole search market that goes beyond five billion queries per day, and ranks around 1000 on Alexa.
DuckDuckGo is a relatively newer contender, with a great interface. It is pretty simple to use. Amazing thing is when asked about Blekko, Google web spam team head Matt Cutts actually said DuckDuckGo is one of the Google competitors he liked. Here’s a video of the Google guy endorsing other search engines:
So, they are the contenders we set against Google and Microsoft Bing.
Setting Up the Search Engines for the Test
Before the test began, we had to set up these search engines, obviously. Did you imagine I was going to serve up the results taken from an unknown place on the planet? No. We went through painstaking procedure to set up the search engines. Here are the steps taken.
When you are logged into any of the Google services, your past search history will influence your search results. Earlier, this was even worse, when you would be served up with a number of results from the same website, which you happened to visit for information quite often. As a result, it is not a good idea to log into your Google account if you want to simulate search results in another region.
We are most interested in search results as seen from the United States as this blog has the highest number of visits from the US. We are using Google Chrome, and we have already added Google USA search as one of the search engines within Chrome. It is in fact the default search engine.
Also, in order to analyze better, we tweaked the interface to show the maximum number of results, which is 100. We also do not use Safe search option when logged in, and pretty much get all kind of weird results. But in the experiment, we logged out and set up the search engine and enabled Safe search so that all ‘weird’ ones get filtered out.
We need to be logged out of our Microsoft account in order for Bing test to work perfectly. We tweaked the Bing search preferences, and set up the United States as the default location. Also, increased the number of results to fifty which is the maximum allowed by Bing. We also removed our search history from Bing.
These are some of the settings on Bing Search.
Within Blekko, accessing the preferences is pretty easy. On the top right, you have ‘Prefs’ that has a short tab full of settings you can tweak. We do not have a lot of options to configure in the search engine though.
We selected the results region as the United States and tweaked a little bit of the stuff available, such as safe search and the color scheme. The search engine loads more results automatically as you scroll down.
After setting up the search engines, we also needed to remove sponsored listings from the search results. In order to do that, we installed a Chrome plugin called AdBlock. This is just for the test, and we DO NOT endorse this plugin, and we never will.
The Test Begins
After setting up the search engines, we obviously had to find some nifty keywords that we could put against these search engines. It was an extremely difficult task indeed. We have to search for all kinds of search terms, such a latest news event, an object of classic value, a highly searched business keyword, a geographical location, an important person, a legal requirement, a living organism, a company, a scientific experiment, and so on.
We have specific icons on these following images of test scenarios. Here’s what they mean.
A green check: indicates a very good and relevant search result.
A yellow sign: indicates a not-so-relevant result or a promotional content
A red cross mark: Irrelevant or self-promotional content that people may not like.
These images are huge files, so click on them to view in full size, and they may take a while to load. You will find the images in Google-Bing-Blekko-DuckDuckGo order.
So, here we go…
1. An Object of Classic Value
So, we decided to search for something very unique. In fact, we searched for a number of one-in-a-million objects and looked for the relevance in search results. One of the objects that we searched for was the famed Russian ‘Faberge egg’. The total number of results also matters. Here are the findings.
In Google: 573,000 results
DuckDuckGo doesn’t give the number of results as a whole, so we will not be updating that anymore.
Here are my findings. Google obviously gave the most relevant results of all, although Bing would not be far behind. What is surprising is what I got with DuckDuckGo, which gave a number of amazing results, including a Scribd document that exceptionally well talked about the history of Faberge eggs. Blekko came up with obviously irrelevant results we don’t want to talk about. Here are the rankings.
2. An Official/Legal Requirement
The search term we are going to use is ‘pay tax online’.
Google: 843 million results
Bing: 83.5 million
Blekko: 22 million
Google has aced as expected. Bing has also aced this time. We don’t know if we should continue testing Blekko as it gives us pretty unnecessary results this time as well, even with ‘money’ slashtag. DuckDuckGo has all the relevant results on the front page, but the order is not quite right. It doesn’t give IRS official site at the top of the page.
3. A Latest News Event
In order to get a keyword to test in the latest developments, we went into Google Trends. An interesting news item besides the obvious Valentine ’s Day movies is about a meteor that hit Russia. Obviously Google should have the news item already in its results. Let’s analyze. Keyword: ‘Russian meteor’.
To give a chance to the competition, we tested this time without double quotes on Google alone [to make it return a few irrelevant results as well].
Google: 6.75 million results (16,600 with double quotes)
Bing: 7940 results
At this time, DDG has failed miserably as you can see. It probably doesn’t even understand breaking news stories. This is one area that they could improve on. About Blekko, I am happy that it has shown some improvement this time, but several of the x-marked ones on the image are duplicate stories from similar domains. Blekko probably doesn’t handle duplicate content well. Other than that, Blekko has pointed to a lot of news articles related to the Russian meteor.
Google, on the other hand, has given as the most relevant results even without the quotes.
4. A Competitive Search Term
A competitive search term is a term that can bring in good business to the high-ranking website. So, a lot of businesses capitalize on them, making them highly competitive. In this analysis, we went into Google keyword tool, and looked for keyword ideas. We selected ‘compare car insurance’, a relatively high competition search term with 301,000 global monthly searches in Google.
Google: 89.3 million
Blekko: 11 million
As you can see there is only one result that is not for profit among the search results in Google. In other search engines, all of the results pointed to companies that in one or other way wanted to make money. These results are not fully irrelevant. They are all good results, but they are mostly from insurance companies or their partners who directly or indirectly want you to sign up. That is the reason why they are marked yellow.
5. A Famous Personality
We could search for anybody on the search engines, and we decided someone who has no affiliation to these tech companies. What about actor ‘Clive Owen’?
Google: 19.9 million
Overall, we were superbly impressed by Bing’s treatment of the search term. It gave us Clive Owen’s Facebook page, a few images and videos, and quite a bit of information, just as given on Google page as well. However, there was one page from Deadline.com that quite a bit marred the search experience. Overall, Bing did a little better job than Google I would say. Also, you can see we have discounted simple news story collections with tag ‘Clive Owen’.
6. A Company
In this, I searched for several companies, including the major tech giants, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, etc. And guess what, the information will surprise you.
On Google, you can get the company website as the top result, along with some internal site links. When I searched for ‘Google’, Google came up with its own Google Plus profile on the right side. That was kind of a self-promotion we didn’t like. Also, Google didn’t give any stock information for the company searched for. Also, you can get the latest news stories concerning the company.
On Bing, on the other hand, we got comprehensive company information, such as the stock quotes, social media profiles if any, and the Wikipedia page about the company. When I searched for ‘Facebook’ on Bing, I actually got a recommendation to connect to Bing via Facebook.
Blekko had been pretty average on this. One thing I wanted to see was whether I could get any information about the fruit if I searched for Apple. And the fact is it doesn’t matter what search term you use (‘apple’ or ‘Apple’), you cannot get the details about fruit on the first page on Google or Bing. However, on DDG, I was surprised to find some information about apple the fruit. That was a pleasant surprise.
Bing wins this round.
7. How They Handle Synonyms
We did multiple searches in which we used unpopular words to determine if the search engines returned relevant results with their popular known alternatives. For instance, we searched “Good TBA movies” instead of “upcoming good movies”. In this particular search query, Google immediately identified TBA as ‘To Be Announced’ and returned a page that contained information about upcoming movies. Also, Blekko and DDG both returned one relevant result each, but the rest of them were crap. Bing did not succeed this specific test as it did not return any link to any of the upcoming movies.
Other search terms we used to confuse search engines:
“The best social network”: Bing and Google identified we meant ‘the most popular’ social network. Blekko returned completely irrelevant results, and DDG returned results that had ‘the best’ rather than ‘the most popular’ in them.
“Movie dialogue from…”: Bing and Google displayed results containing movie ‘quotes’, while other search engines failed to identify specific synonyms. Bing and Google went one step ahead and fetched a page with complete script of a movie that I searched.
“Remotest isles from America”: I liked how Google still gave one or two relevant results. Bing gave as the top result, a location map of a Bank of America ATM in Sunny Isles of Florida. Blekko and DDG did not give any relevant results. We say there were no relevant results, because none of the results sufficiently gave me the information I was searching for. However, others may find these pages somewhat relevant.
“World’s worst man”: Out of curiosity, I searched this, and none of the search engines gave me a definitive answer. Google had an article up with information about deceased North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il. Both Bing and Google had some other information about ‘Florida Man’ (I don’t know what that is). Other search engines also did not return pretty good results.
“Most popular country in the world”: I think you know I was actually looking for ‘populous countries’. I really enjoyed Google’s treatment of this search term and related terms like ‘popular cities’. They give you as the top result both popular countries and a list of countries by population. Bing also gives pretty good results, although overall Google gives better results on this. Blekko listed only ‘popular countries’ while DDG had identified also populous countries.
“purchasing girlfriend on facebook”: This points to a recent news item. Google and Bing returned highly relevant results that contained other terms like ‘buy’ and ‘get’. DDG mostly returned irrelevant results as there were not many pages that had the specific word ‘purchasing’. Blekko was irrelevant as always.
I was astounded by how much Bing has improved over the years. It used to return pretty awful results earlier, but now it mostly returns highly relevant search results. Three days ago, in Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’ thread, Bill gates mentioned:
Seriously Bing is the better product at this point. Try the challenge. I am biased but the work to make Bing better has been amazing.I would have to say that Bing has changed a lot and has become a very useful search engine, although they are waging war against Google in a bad way.
DuckDuckGo is an amazing new search engine as well, although not quite good at various aspects like news search or identifying synonyms. Blekko has been a total failure in most of the searches we did, and so we do not recommend it.
Overall, what we have identified is Google still reigns supreme as the king of search, and there is no other search engine in the planet even now that returns better, more relevant results than Google. I did not actually expect this to be an easy win for Google, but it has been. However, Bing definitely has a great chance to compete with Google, as its algorithm is pretty damn good as well.