There is no emoticon for the face the SEO world is giving to Google over the shrinking distinction between paid and organic mobile search results — and they’re not wrong. Recently, Google implemented some mobile search redesigns — specifically, a new black label for ads and favicons for organic search results. The search icon said that while testing it was shown that favicons made it easier for the majority of users to identify websites. Moreover, that greater than two-thirds of users stated it was easier to scan results more quickly.
It might be questionable as to whether that’s an accurate reflection of user sentiment or not. Either way, content creators and digital marketers feel slighted by the new business model as though Google designed it with only the best interest of the user in mind while forgetting it was the devoted SEO companies and digital marketers who have done the heavy lifting.
A Favicon is Worth a Thousand Keywords
Part of the controversy is how subtle the new ads label is, especially compared to past iterations. Now, a favicon is worth a thousand keywords. Here is a quick look at what the Google Ad Mark has looked like:
Now, when looking directly at it, you probably do not recognize you’re looking directly at it. While this may be advantageous for advertisers who don’t want to broadcast that they’re paying to appear at the top of search results, it’s frustrating for SEOs. Google’s new favicon labelling for organic paid results is clearly not clear enough for the average user.
Content becomes less distinguishable from paid placements and all the while, Google is increasing its revenue from each click on an ad — whether users know it’s an ad or not. This combination will ultimately mislead users.
Can the guidelines save us?
To Google’s credit, it has published guidelines so webmasters know what’s fair game. A summary of the SERP favicon guidelines are as follows:
- The favicon URL should not change frequently.
- Your favicon should visually represent your website’s brand. This will help users easily recognize your site when they view search results.
- Both the home page and the favicon file must be crawlable by Google.
- Google will not display favicons it deems inappropriate, including pornography or hate symbols (for example, swastikas). If this is discovered within a favicon, Google will replace it with a default icon.
- Your favicon should be a multiple of 48px square, for example: 48x48px, 96x96px, 144x144px and so on. SVG files, of course, do not have a specific size. Any valid favicon format is supported. Google will rescale your image to 16x16px for use in search results, so make sure that it looks good at that resolution.
Search Engine Land’s own Barry Schwartz reported that there doesn’t seem to be a penalty in terms of rankings or placement in search — just the loss of your custom favicon in SERPs. The punishments could change over time if the violations become frequent. Who can tell with Google?
Gifs and jokes aside, these unilateral decisions have enormous implications for the marketers, publishers, brands and creators whose content Google relies on to attract searchers.
As bad behavior around favicons becomes more prevalent, so too do the discussions about how we can affect the features and policies that Google puts in place and how we can free ourselves from them.