At the end of May 2019, Google launched an update to SERP design.
Here is a comparison from The Verge of old and new designs.
Basically, Google replaced a squared and clearly visible “Ad” sign with just bold text.
From now on, user can only distinguish between paid and organic results in Google by looking at favicons.
In mobile search results, a favicon is the only sign that page is not an ad.
Of course, it might be a massive revenue boost for Google (as ads are by far top revenue source).
But also, this move scares a lot of publishers, which are afraid of Google stealing their hard-earned organic traffic and revenue.
Google Ads sliding seamlessly into your organic search results pic.twitter.com/j6RsU7dEYc
— Cyrus (@CyrusShepard) June 2, 2019
Here are some reactions to newly introduced favicons.
Here is a tweet from Cyrus Shepard (founder at ZyppySEO),
He continues, that from now it is super hard to identify accuracy in Google. Especially, when correct and relevant results (not some spammy ads) – are important.
One of the top results is literally a cheap made-for-Adsense site. Complete with Google ads, of course.
Are Googlers proud of these results? pic.twitter.com/aU3VETKPUk
— Cyrus (@CyrusShepard) June 2, 2019
There are obviously many questions and confusion about favicons in mobile search results.
Let’s try to digest some of them here.
How to setup favicons?
Follow official Google favicon guidelines from here.
To quickly sum it up, here is how to add favicons to your site.
- Create a favicon that follows the guidelines below.
- Add a
<link>tag to the header of your home page with the following syntax:
<link rel="shortcut icon" href="/path/to/favicon.ico">
- Can be any of the following strings:
- “shortcut icon”
- The URL of the favicon. Can be a relative path (
/smile.ico) or absolute path (
https://example.com/smile.ico), but must be in the same domain as the home page.
- Google will look for and update your favicon whenever it crawls your home page.
And here are favicon requirements and guidelines from Google.
- Both the favicon file and the home page must be crawlable by Google (that is, they cannot be blocked to Google).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Note that a favicon isn’t guaranteed in search results even if all guidelines are met.
How to create favicons?
You can use any standard design software: Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Canva, etc.
Also, there are a bunch of favicon generators, which make it even easier.
Are favicons a ranking factor?
Obviously, it is the top question. Do favicons, similar to content, backlinks, site speed, influence on your position in search results?
Here is a response from John Mueller (Google representative) about this issue. 😊
So, if I understood correctly, favicons don’t influence Google rankings.
Ok, but what if your favicon is really bad and it lowers CTR? Or if your site doesn’t have a favicon, will people click less? And for Google, low CTR can be a ranking factor.
Here is this question to John Mueller.
And here is the answer.
John Mueller continues: “it’s going to be hard to nail down any change in clicks on a favicon. If it’s a well-known brand, people know you already. If it’s a generic query and it’s a generic site, people won’t really care either way.”
Is Google penalizing for inappropriate favicons?
What happens if your favicon doesn’t follow official guidelines?
Barry Schwartz already found a few examples, when Google penalized sites for bad favicons.
In one case, the favicon was very similar to Ad symbol, in other – an extremist Nazi logo. Both favicons were removed by Google and reset to default no-favicon style.
Does the favicon penalty affect Search rankings?
Barry sums up, that it doesn’t:
“It doesn’t appear that the site gets dinged in terms of their rankings or placement in search. It just seems they lose the ability to show a custom favicon.”
There are however many unanswered questions:
- how long this penalty lasts?
- how site owners are notified?
- how much time to reevaluate updated favicon?
- how to notify Google that you changed the favicon?
What if you don’t have a favicon?
In this case, Google will just display a default icon.
This shouldn’t influence your search rankings, but to be sure, just add your favicon. 😀
Are ads also changing on a desktop search?
There is no information if Google will roll out similar updates to the desktop search.
So, at the moment it’s all as usual on desktop SERPs – no favicons.
To sum it all up, UPDATE YOUR FAVICONS PEOPLE.
and keep calm.