A week after Google made the move to begin rolling out favicons next to all search results on the desktop, a wave of pretty stern backlash caused a bit of a course correct and within just days of the internet’s collective thumbs down vote on the new design. I didn’t have a huge issue with the change that added each site’s favicon next to the requisite result, but I did have issue with the deceptive nature of the way this coincided with the new ‘Ad’ label that became the primary way of identifying paid results.
This ‘Ad’ logo next to the non-organic search results looked in every way, shape and form like the favicons next to the other sites that were there organically. The size was similar, the positioning was similar, and for a good chunk of the public, I’m sure it became very easy to overlook the ‘Ad’ label quite quickly and not realize the result you were clicking on was simply an advertisement.
Because of this, the entire thing just felt a bit shady, and Google was quick to promise that in light of the early response, they would experiment with a few different options. My guess is they had these other trials in waiting in the event that their sly little move was pointed out for what it was: a way to get more clicks and engagement on advertisements.
Though they promised to look into some different options, I’m sure most users gave a quick eye roll and thought to themselves, “Yeah, I bet.” Regardless of everyone’s feelings about this new layout, Google is the provider of its search engine and a company that ultimately makes its money on advertising. If they want to hide ads in search results, they are free to do so. However, doing so against the collective will of the internet isn’t in their best interests, though, so I think the message was heard and a shift was made. According to the official Google Search Liason Twitter account:
Here’s our full statement on why we’re going to experiment further. Our early tests of the design for desktop were positive. But we appreciate the feedback, the trust people place in Google, and we’re dedicating to improving the experience. pic.twitter.com/gy9PwcLqHj— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) January 24, 2020
What we’re beginning to see across every account we log in with today is this very thing happening. Gone are the favicons and now the website URL and page title are exactly where they’ve always been. You’ll notice the ‘Ad’ icon is still the same and in the same place, but the other website favicons are gone and this give a clear indicator that the result on top is in fact a paid result. Check out the difference below:
The change is subtle and we still don’t get the stark differentiation we used to get for the Ads, but it feels like this is all heading in the right direction. As a website owner, I didn’t hate the favicons in the results if I’m honest. I think it makes it very clear what site your results come from and I like the visual queue. Clearly, most people didn’t like it, and I have to agree that the similarity to the ad icon was so extreme that it all felt quite disingenuous. Whether or not this new look is the one Google chooses to stick with is the big question, but I’m glad that it still feels like we collectively have some power with our voices when shady practices like this happen with monstrous companies.