At the end of last week, Google announced a major design change for mobile search results. Slight design tests and updates occur frequently, but this roll-out included notable changes. First, the green [Ads] indicator was replaced with black, bolded text …
Below is the new ad format in a local pack result.
Reactions from the marketing community were swift and often sarcastic, but one reaction clearly missing… was surprise. Google has been moving to make ads look more like organic results for years.
Did Google go too far?
The question on the tips of every digital marketer’s tongue: Does this latest change do too much to merge ads and organic results? If we just go back one iteration, it doesn’t seem like a huge shift. The most recent version, shown below, also matched the color of the “Ad” marker to the display URL, substituting a thin rounded rectangle for the newer, bolded text :
Compare both 2019 versions to a desktop ad from 2017 …
The mismatched color and white-on-yellow block stand out quite a bit more than the two most recent treatments. If we go back to 2013, the evolution is much more obvious …
For years, Google ads were displayed in a single block, distinctively separate from organic results and even with a different background color. While the color has changed through the years, even this subtle background tied the ads together and clearly removed them from other result types.
When does it become unclear?
While Google isn’t using the exact icon preferred, the square, color-filled logo representation is clearly not the same as Google’s black “Ad” marker. Some brands are favored. Here is an example of two results for Adidas.com…
The Adidas logo doesn’t render well at this size, and ends up looking like a black triangle, which may be hard to distinguish from the “Ad” text at a glance. Associated Press has a similar problem …
At this size and resolution, “AP” could arguably be mistaken for “AD”. For well-known brands, this may not pose a problem (the AP logo is fairly recognizable), but it could impact click-through rates on smaller brands.
In the earlier iteration (the green “Ad” text in a rounded rectangle), there was no corresponding text or shape for organic results. The addition of a favicon to organic results adds an element that could mirror the “Ad” text in paid results, generating potential confusion.
Updating a Favicon
Google has already posted their guidelines on what and how to post on favicons. Long story short, devious, inappropriate or constantly changing favicons will be removed and your site could be punished.
If you don’t have a favicon, Google has a default. It isn’t terrible, but if you haven’t created a favicon, you should create one that matches your branding. There are several free tools on the web to convert standard graphics formats to a favicon (.ico) file.
A Brand-First Future for Google?
It’s easy to frown about the ad changes, but by moving the brand or domain to the first line and adding a favicon, this design reflects a brand-first approach, an emphasis of brand and site over specific content. Deciphering Google’s announcement creatively, this design shift makes it clearer that everything belongs to a single brand.
For now, it would behoove you to design your favicon to accurately reflect your brand and not appear too similar to the black “Ad” text. Eventually, you want your organic listings to positively represent your brand and push relevant clicks. While these changes are unlikely to impact rankings, it is recommended to monitor your click-through rates (CTRs) on both major organic pages and paid results. It will probably be a while before we fully have the impact of these changes.