Yep! How True Is It? Regarding Ahrefs’ Search Engine and Their Tall Claims

By | 14th Jun 2022 | 6 min read

‘A creater friendly search engine’: Yep’s catchphrase. 

The new child in the block is begotten by Ahrefs, a significant SEO player supplying search engine toolkits to businesses. The company claims they have $100 Million in revenue per year from its 50K plus subscribers. They have invested $60 million without external investment in this new venture. 

Some anecdote: This author started using computers in the mid-nineties. The first-ever search engine I used was Lycos. Then came Altavista, and we, the youngsters, quickly turned to it. Another name, Ask Jeeves, demanded our interest within a year or two (I started typesetting in DOS, pagination in Aldus Pagemaker, the predecessor of Adobe Indesign, and studied to make batch files and code in Lisp).

Yahoo! chatrooms were popular, and we intermittently used Yahoo! search too, but not as much as we used Altavista. When Microsoft launched Windows 98 and later Windows XP, MSN search was introduced. Internet cafes across my state connected to the web via a slow dial-up connection putting MSN search as their priority. 

It was a war between Netscape Navigator and MS Explorer. We preferred Netscape Search provided by AOL, while the pirated windows machines in these cafes actively pushed MSN Search. But why search, when we knew by heart, which websites to visit. I also remember using the Opera browser to differentiate myself from the crowd. Such a snob! 

That was a short-term glory. Google had started crawling the web even before MSN. It took only a year or two to completely eclipse all other search engines combined. 

Web 2.0 started happening. The advent of Unicode ensured an explosion of content creation in vernacular languages. WordPress and Blogspot were the frontrunners in the blogosphere. In India, Rediff blogs too. Many blog aggregators effectively functioned as search engines. Bloggers started diverting their comments to yahoo groups so that a centralised pooling would happen. After the demise of Netscape, Mozilla Firefox became our browser of choice. 

Another exciting development was the popularity of Debian and Redhat Linux in our circles. 

By mid-2004, we got Gmail. Getting an invitation and getting to invite others was a privilege. We migrated from mail.yahoo.com, rediffmail.com and hotmail.com to Gmail. We abandoned Yahoo groups taking Google groups to the central stage. Since then, Google has become the first choice for a search engine. As Google (now Alphabet) had bought Blogger that served Blogspot blogs, it became another reason to stick with Google. 

True that Bing came. But I seldom used it. Whenever I needed privacy, I went with DuckDuckGo. No other search engines enjoyed my trust. 

There was a time of active distro-hopping in the FLOSS world: I hopped from Red Hat (the Fedora project was not around) to Debian, Suse Linux, Manjaro, Fedora, Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Linux Mint, Arch Linux, Solaris, PCBSD, Chakra Linux, KaOS and finally to MacOS. :) That was a rollercoaster ride. At the same time, I changed browsers too, from Netscape to Explorer to Opera to Firefox to Chromium to Chrome and now Safari and Chrome.

Regarding search engine preference, once Google came, I stuck primarily with Google Search and occasionally went to DuckDuckGo in the Tor browser. I seldom used Bing and didn’t mind Edge browser. After all, it is Chromium in another skin.

In Mobile, I used Symbian, Android and iOs, but predominantly put up with Android. And the browser of choice? Chrome and Firefox with Google Search only. It is not that I am unaware of Brave or use Tor+DDG. I am too lazy to install them. 

It might be the story of most of us: Trying out different options and settling on one or two. Now Google has an undisputed numero uno position in the search business. Bing is a distant second. privacy-aware people might use DDG. But a Yep? Of course, who knows! 

Now we can come back to ahrefs’ claim. They insist they would give 90% of the revenue to the creators. We all know that the search business is not a search business but an advertisement business. The key to revenue is snooping. The endless human profiles and their connections are recorded systematically so that the machines have more knowledge about a person than that individual. 

“Let’s say that the biggest search engine in the world makes $100B a year. Now, imagine if they gave $90B to content creators and publishers,”

Have Jan Kamps quotes a company insider in his TechCrunch story

The search game is about relevancy now. Google had just introduced ‘multisearch’, which will be functional by year-end worldwide. It gives contextually and locally relevant search results and would allow searching within a panoramic view both with an image and a text or sound bite. To this competitive world comes, Yep!

The Yep search should actively profile people and businesses to make their claim senile. Getting even 1% of the search market is not a small game. To succeed, more people ought to use Yep. More content consumers should use Yep. Just roping in content creators won’t do any good.

And why are content creators getting most of their revenue from a handful of players? Because they have more aligned businesses other than just search. For instance, Meta has a package of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp with their search mechanism. Youtube is of so much value to Google’s success. Baidu wins with Alibaba and Mandarin content. Bing exists because Microsoft Windows is still the most popular operating system, and their Edge browser pushes Bing by default. Amazon is many things, including a marketplace, a cloud service provider, a video content provider, and many more. 

Yep do have an advantage. Let me lift it directly from the TechCrunch story:

“…the company already had a huge dataset available from its day-to-day business. Ahrefs has been crawling and storing data about the web for 12 years to provide its customers with its core product: an SEO toolset. The search results are powered by its own crawler — AhrefsBot — which the company claims visits more than 8 billion web pages every 24 hours.” 

But then comes the privacy claim. Ahrefs founder and CEO Dmytro Gerasymenko insist that his search engine is meant to be heavily privacy-forward.

“We do save certain data on searches, but never in a personally identifiable way. For example, we will track how many times a word is searched for and the position of the link getting the most clicks. But we won’t create your profile for targeted advertising.”

Now that is a lot. Does anyone think that the data Google keeps is personally identifiable by someone other than the machine? Will GDPR and other such laws allow Google to keep it humanely identifiable? I think it is a No. Otherwise, Cambridge Analytica would still be around. 

Here is where the claims meet reality.

Unless people use it to search, you won’t be able to provide more revenue than your competitor. If you want to be a profit-making search engine, you should give micro-relevant search results, which is impossible without profiling. Either you can be privacy first and be a DDG - always free like Wikipedia, but supported by annual fundraising. Or you should profile and break the privacy to provide individualised search results. There isn’t a midway.

Let us see how Yep survives.