Google Testing Favicons in the Desktop Search Results

Nick Fitzgerald

Is Google on the way to destroying the distinction between paid and organic search results?

Google released a new look for its online search results in mid-January of this year, blurring the line between the organic search results and the ads above them. The only thing that differentiates advertising and search results is a small “Ad” button next to the former in black and white. It was designed to resemble the current favicons now appearing next to the search results that you are searching for.

While it seemed to be an insignificant move, it meant that advertisements and search results looked almost entirely alike.

A significant change to the way Google displays ads

Until 2013, the search engine giant had previously assigned its advertisements a different background color to differentiate them from its organic search results. But even after that, unique colors continued to be used that allowed users to see where their advertising ended quickly, and natural results began.

All that changed with the use of favicons. The latest changes made advertising and organic outcomes identical, aside from the little favicon’ Ad’ next to a paid post.

According to Search Engine Land, Google’s Sundeep Jain justified their new ad designs by claiming that the new look “makes it easier for users to digest the content.” He added that the company was trying to reduce the number of different colors used on a website to induce a more ‘harmonious’ style.


But the changes inspired a negative response in the tech community, with some calling it a ‘dark pattern.’

Journalist John Porter suggested that the changes would artificially increase Google’s profits:

“It’s hard not to get the feeling that this’ harmony’ is less about offering a better user experience, and more about helping Google’s ad revenue.” 

Writing for The Verge, He goes on to explain that, according to one digital marketing agency, more people are already clicking on the desktop and mobile search ads as a direct result of these changes.

Remember that Google’s most significant revenue stream is the ‘Pay Per Click’ (PPC) ads it sells to businesses. The more people click on the ads, the more revenue Google gets. It’s not hard to see how dissolving the visual differences between ads and organic results can help Google in this regard.

Writing for TechCrunch, Natasha Lomas labels the change ‘ user-hostile design’ and notes how it is particularly challenging to detect the distinction between ads and organic results under these changes:

“This visual trickery may be fractionally less confusing in a small screen mobile environment— where Google debuted last year. But those favicons are truly minuscule on a desktop screen. And where you click to get real information begins to feel like a total lottery. “

Has Google u-turned on these controversial changes?

The tech community’s mistake was so severe that Google has backtracked on the blanket use of favicons on Google’s search results and returned to an ‘experimental’ level.

As a consequence, favicons may be found in your Google search results right now, or you may not. Whether favicons stay in the mobile search results, time will tell.

Google often walks a fine line between being aggressive with ads and favoring organic results. They want people to continue using the search engine, but by overdoing the ads, they don’t want to drive users to other search engines. This latest development represents the latest evolution of this delicate balancing act.

Favicons are still relevant for your hearing practice

Whatever direction Google wants to go in, it remains true that favicons are still useful to your business.

To understand why this is the case, consider how most of your website visitors go about deciding which hearing practice is right for them. They are likely to switch continuously between different websites, including yours. When they open your website, your business’s favicon logo stays at the top of the screen, on the tab itself.

Therefore, the favicon of your site is not just that tiny little icon on a browser but a vital resource for keeping your brand in the minds of your potential customers as they research the best options.

Adding a favicon to your site will help you to convert more hearing aid patients in the following ways:

  • Brand awareness:Favicons keep the brand name of your company in front of the eyes of a customer even though they are not on your site.
  • Credibility and trust:Adding a favicon to your site would make your company look more professional, more developed, and more reliable.

While the favicon of a website can seem a small part of your brand strategy, a well-designed favicon can improve the visibility of your hearing practice brand in subtle but crucial ways.