This month Google released an update which changed the appearance of the desktop search results. This changes added a favicon next to each listing. Favicons refer to the icon which browsers display next to the title of a webpage in each tab. The first browser to support favicons was Internet Explorer 5 in 1999. Today they’re used in tab titles, bookmarks and in some cases, the browser history too.
Browser tabs showing favicons.
Despite this visual update already being in place on mobile search results since May 2019, the desktop update caused instant backlash. Users accused Google of disguising adverts by no longer providing a visual distinction between paid and organic search results. As a result of the criticism Google has now stated that based on the user feedback the desktop update has been rolled back in order to perform further tests.

Whilst we don’t have sufficient data to share anything comprehensive with you, we can say that we have already begun to see evidence here at JTHN of a minor increase in CTR in desktop ad campaigns. Other tests conducted by organisations have demonstrated the confusion caused to users. One of which surveyed users as to whether or not the two different Google search visual layouts contained adverts. In one case there was a 16% change in opinion when the two layouts were compared.
Google mobile search results showing favicons.

Is it still worth using a favicon?

Favicons are beneficial to have in place on your website regardless of whether or not they’re displayed in Google’s search results. They help identify your brand in browsers through bookmarks, history and tabs. When it comes to Google, even though they’ve rolled back this update for the moment, they’ve made it clear they’re still conducting tests. Favicons are still displayed in Google’s mobile search results too.

Google have provided the following guidelines to optimise your favicon:

  1. Both the favicon file and the home page must be crawlable by Google (that is, they cannot be blocked to Google).
  2. Your favicon should be a visual representation of your website’s brand, in order to help users quickly identify your site when they scan through search results.
  3. 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. Note: do not provide a 16x16px favicon.
  4. The favicon URL should be stable (don’t change the URL frequently).
  5. 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 most important thing to remember is that a favicon isn’t guaranteed in search results even if all guidelines are met.