Building a search engine? The most important feature you can add.
2012/11/15 (434 words)

TL/DR Part of the genius behind DuckDuckGo customer retention is the !bang feature. Every new search engine should implement it while trying to gain traction.

Let me explain. Your current search engine is like a favorite couch. Its comfortable, familiar and you have been using it for years. Switching is not a comfortable experience.

Im a search engine junkie. The moment I discover a new one I switch my defaults over to it and for a period of about a week use it day to day. Altavista, Google, Yahoo, MSN, Live, Bing, Gigablast, Cuil, Blekko, Baidu, Yandex, IxQuick, Ask, DuckDuckGo (DDG), Verticalset, Millionshort. I have tried them all and those are just a few of the General Purpose search engines.

Just recently a new one popped up, Procog. I have always had a great deal of respect for Matt Wells (technical guy behind Procog), things like his technical rants, this technical interview and Gigablast itself are pretty impressive. I think the results are pretty good (for most of the queries I have tried), and I really like the transparency behind the ranking algorithm. The catch? The same one that gets me nearly every time I try a new search engine; any query that dosn’t give me the results I need. It may be because the engine is lacking or it could be because I don’t know how to bend it to my will. Either way, it’s crippling.

The solution.

DDG’s !bang syntax solved this by allowing me to easily redirect my query when I find it lacking. When I think Google might have a result DDG dosn’t I add !g to confirm. The more I do this and refine my behaviour the more confidence I have in DDG’s abilities.

Guess what? Despite DDG not working 100% of the time for me im still using it as my default search engine. Im even contributing to it. Why? Because when I hit one of those edge cases where I am not comfortable I can revert with 3 extra keystrokes !g This is great user experience.

So…. Working on a new search engine? Want me to use it? Want to retain me as a user?

Then do me a favor, while im getting familiar with it’s quirks, allow me to easily switch to something im comfortable with. I want to like your search engine. I really want to try your search engine. Implement !bang’s before working on your awesome Google beating algorithms and you will get my attention for at least a week, and if you offer something different you might get it for longer then that.