You may have noticed recently that Google added favicons to search results.
Favicons are those little square images that sometimes appear in the address bar of a web page or bookmarked URLs.
But there is a reason why Google added favicons to the search engine results pages (SERPs).
This was not a feature that was added to make the search results “better” for the users.
So what purpose does this change to search results actually serve?
Favicons Were Added to Make AdWords Blend In More
In most search engine results pages, at the very top, there are paid ads (AdWords), then the three-pack map, the organic results (usually eight to ten results), then more paid ads at the bottom of the page.
In the current version of the search results pages, AdWords have a black “Ad”, and the organic results have the favicons. So both paid and organic results have an icon on the left, so they look similar to each other. This is a new design pattern.
Google must indicate if a result is an ad. So they are making it blend in as much as possible, by giving the organic (unpaid) results icons in the place as the “Ad” symbol.
In 2013, Google displayed ads with a yellow bubble with white writing that said “Ad”. In June of 2016, Google changed it to a green bubble with the white “Ad” text. In late 2018, this ad indicator became green text with a green outline.
In the past, for certain rich snippet results, like Recipes, there would have been a small square image in about the same spot in organic results. But there had never been a time where all the organic search results and paid ad results had a similar-sized icon in the same place.
What’s the Real Reason Google Made This Change?
Google’s parent company, Alphabet, missed their revenue expectations in Q1 of 2019.
Wall Street had predicted Alphabet would have revenue of $30 billion for Q1 2019, and revenue was $29.48 billion.
Though Earnings per Share were higher than anticipated, Alphabet/Google does not want to miss their revenue target two quarters in a row. Even if it means using a “dark pattern” to get people to click on more ads.
A dark pattern is a trick that a website or app uses to make the user do something they didn’t intend to do.
Google Wants People To Keep Using Their Search Engine
Maintaining a majority share of the search engine market is critical for Google’s ad revenue. They serve up quality organic results, so people will continue to use Google as a search engine, and they can continue to serve up ads.
Businesses that want to get to page one of Google, but are unable to, will continue to use AdWords as a way to generate qualified leads.
Google will always walk a fine line between being aggressive with ads and delivering quality organic results. They want people to keep using the search engine, but they don’t want to push people to Bing or DuckDuckGo by going overboard with ads.
Many people would (rightfully) say this new SERP layout is a bit of a dark pattern. But as long as they retain a 70-90% market share (depending on where you get numbers from), any changes they make are unlikely to make radical long-term changes.