Last week, Google began rolling out some mobile search redesigns — namely, a new black label for ads and favicons for organic search results. The company said that during testing, the favicons made it easier for the majority of users to identify websites and more than two-thirds of users reported that it was easier to scan results more quickly.
Whether that’s an accurate reflection of user sentiment or not, content creators and digital marketers feel as though Google has designed aspects of its business model to ride on the coattails of what’s best for the user while leaving them to do the heavy lifting.
Ads? Favicons? Fadvicons?
Part of the controversy is how subtle the new ads label is, especially compared to past iterations.
Google hiding the ad label a little further.
Next step light grey? pic.twitter.com/KStBzx3k2M
— Thomasbcn (@Thomasbcn) May 23, 2019
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 and paid results isn’t clear enough for the average user. It’s blurring the lines to far, I can barely spot the difference on your typical query and I’ve depressingly been working in the industry for 10 years. pic.twitter.com/EwWkDIjT7N
— Pete Reis-Campbell (@petecampbell) May 28, 2019
…especially because our content becomes less distinguishable from paid placements and because Google makes money every time someone clicks on an ad — whether they know it’s an ad or not. This combination can potentially mislead users on a large scale, particularly in instances when the URL isn’t visible.
To which phishing sites & bad actors are going to have a field day with.
Something already expressed by many to their team obscuring URLs.
Tell me which is the right site?
Bad actor. Get similar favicon to big brand. Add big brand name to title. BOOM! Catch the [email protected] pic.twitter.com/tOr4QEcpWY
— Kristine Schachinger (@schachin) May 26, 2019
Can the guidelines save us?
Introducing new features can inadvertently introduce new ways to exploit the system as well. To Google’s credit, it generally publishes guidelines so webmasters know what’s fair game. The SERP favicon guidelines are as follows:
- Both the favicon file and the home page must be crawlable by Google.
- Your favicon should be a visual representation of your website’s brand, to help users quickly identify your site when they scan through search results.
- 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.
- The favicon URL should be stable (don’t change the URL frequently).
- Google will not show any favicon that it deems inappropriate, including pornography or hate symbols (for example, swastikas). If this type of imagery is discovered within a favicon, Google will replace it with a default icon.
The second item is the most ambiguous as publishers are the ones that define what their brands are about. Bill Hartzer decided to put this to the test.
How I made my Google organic search result look like a Google ad. https://t.co/8Qeoe7rnHr pic.twitter.com/bRBx0YLAR9
— Bill Hartzer (@bhartzer) May 26, 2019
And, two days later…
So, Google (manually) replaced the “Ad” favicon I had as my favicon with the default. But now, the mobile SERPs result for “Bill Hartzer” now looks like this: pic.twitter.com/aRTO01nQII
— Bill Hartzer (@bhartzer) May 28, 2019
But, how did Google find out?
We have automated means and already can take reports by those who use the Feedback link at the bottom of the page or though our spam reporting page https://t.co/n8jLZFWVJ5
If we think we need more specific tools, those might get added.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) May 27, 2019
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.
This has some site owners scrambling to adjust or replace their favicons to meet the guidelines and yearning for more details on how the entire favicon screening process works. And, where there’s a lack of transparency, people will try to make money…or at least, joke about it.
How long until “Favicon Optimization” is a thing that people charge for?
— Kyle Menchaca (@KyleMenchaca) May 24, 2019
As passionate and poignant as some SEOs are about these changes, some are just as keen to share a meme, have a laugh and remind one another that we’re all in it together.
Here’s Itamar Blauer’s take on the new black ads label:
Already just looks like a favicon. Live scenes at Google ? pic.twitter.com/KxR7qjzBtn
— Itamar Blauer (@ItamarBlauer) May 23, 2019
Lily Ray on the restrictive favicon dimensions:
There goes my plan to post porn in 16 x 16px
— Lily Ray (@lilyraynyc) May 27, 2019
And, Cyrus Shepard, trying to make author photos a thing again.
If your site’s favicon is ALSO your photo, it means it will show in Google’s new mobile search results – only tiny.
Do you know what this means?
Yep, Google Author Photos are BACK! ??? pic.twitter.com/qohlxcM1RJ
— Cyrus (@CyrusShepard) May 24, 2019
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.
Earlier this month, the announcement of support for How-to markup had many SEOs feeling as though Google was appropriating content so that it could keep users on SERPs and serve them more ads. In March, a very belated pagination announcement also made SEOs feel like they had been unnecessarily kept in the dark.
As this behavior becomes more prevalent, so too do the discussions about how we can affect the features and policies that Google puts in place, and if not, how we can free ourselves from them.