Ever cheer for the little guy? Some observers describe the simplicity of DuckDuckGo as akin to the early stages of Google, and the tenacious startup has gotten some favorable press in the last couple of years. But will the search underdog ever get any real traction against the dominant player in the industry?

DuckDuckGoDon’t Track, Don’t Tell

DuckDuckGo was founded by entrepreneur Gabriel Weinberg and launched in 2008. The Pennsylvania-based search engine has taken an aggressive strategy of attacking Google on the grounds of privacy and personalization.

With a clean, uncluttered design, DuckDuckGo markets itself on the grounds of “better search” and “real privacy.” And the search engine hasn’t been shy about making its case. Back in 2011, DuckDuckGo made waves with a San Francisco billboard that read “Google Tracks You. We Don’t.”

Equally provocative is the site’s illustration of the supposed consequences of Google tracking – including unique identification of you as a searcher, targeted third-party advertisements and security concerns.

Of course, there’s another side to this tracking argument. Some have argued being tracked and targeted by advertisers is actually a good thing.

Bubble Dumb?

Then there’s the bubble argument, where DuckDuckGo illustrates the supposed consequences of personalized search results, where you search and click history dictate your search results – supposedly giving you more and more similar results (conservative or liberal, for example) over time and thereby limiting what types of results you see. Weinberg, the search engine’s founder, wrote on his blog that the effects of personalized search include “increasing partisanship and decreasing exposure to alternative viewpoints.”

Of course, Google claims that personalized search results in better search results and points out that you can turn off personalization if you don’t like it.

Reasons to Believe

Two big events in 2011 put the spotlight on DuckDuckGo. First, the search engine was named one of the 50 Best Websites of 2011 due to its simplicity and relevant, spam free results. Then venture capital firm Union Square Ventures invested in DuckDuckGo – giving the fledgling company some much needed money for expansion.

And with that recognition and investment came growth in the number of searches. Last February, DuckDuckGo celebrated its first million-search day. It was a great milestone for DuckDuckGo, but still just a small fraction of the traffic seen by Google and Bing.

As 2012 progressed, DuckDuckGo continued its attacks on Google. Weinberg complained to Reuters in November that it was difficult to make DuckDuckGo your default search engine in Google’s Chrome web browser. Google countered that it was not doing anything unfair, and some observers argued that it’s not difficult to change your default search engine in Chrome.

And while upstart search competitors have long claimed that Google doesn’t play fair, it’s important to point out the U.S. Federal Trade Commission ruled this month that Google doesn’t violate antitrust laws.

So what are your thoughts on the search landscape? Do smaller competitors like DuckDuckGo or blekko stand much of a chance of one day toppling Google? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

To find out what a page-one ranking on Google really means, check out our CTR study: A Tale of Two Studies: Establishing Google & Bing Click-Through Rates.