Favicons and the Ever-Changing SERP

Yet Another Change to Google’s Search Engine Results Page

If you missed the news a couple of weeks ago, Google rolled out yet another change to their search engine results page or SERP. Changes to the SERP pages have become somewhat commonplace over the past few years with Google. (Who remembers ads being removed from the right?) The most recently announced change only impacts mobile search results but if your site is like most of them out there, and a large segment of your traffic comes from mobile, you should be paying attention.


Icons in Results


The change made by Google in this latest round deals with icons that are shown in results. Previously, the only icon that you saw was below paid listings where there was a little green “Ad” icon next to the green link for the page.



This little green icon is now gone along with the green link.


This wasn’t the only change that took place, though. As part of this, Google added in icons for organic search results, which weren’t there previously. These icons show up on the left side of listing next to the URL.



These icons come from the favicon associated with the site. If the term favicon is unfamiliar to you let me help explain. The favicon is a 48x48 pixel image that should be included in the code of your site. This image is what is displayed in your browser tab. The idea is that it helps visitors identify the website that is open on the tab. For the SERPs, Google just pulls the favicon from the site and displays it as a 16x16 pixel image.


SEO Impact


From a strictly organic ranking perspective, there would appear to be little to no impact from this change. The only foreseeable impact would be if the link to your favicon was broken since broken links aren’t good, but that would have been having an impact on the site already. This is a purely cosmetic change and one that only affects organic listings. The primary thing that an organization will want to do is ensure that they have an appropriate favicon on their site that can be crawled by search engines. Google provided some guidelines on this to help:


  • 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


That’s it. Those are all of the guidelines. Pretty simple. Us SEO nerds out there will probably want to keep an eye on this due to the guidelines being a bit vague since there is the very likely possibility that some unsavory characters out there will look for ways to manipulate this by changing their favicons to something that they think will entice clicks. Thruline’s recommendation is to not fall into that. Use your logo as your favicon. It’s never worth it to try and game the system.


Organic Listing? Paid Listing?


Probably the biggest thing to come from this change is the blurring of lines between organic listings and paid listings. If we trace the history of the paid listing we can see that 10 years ago they had yellow boxes around them and we’re clearly called out as ads. Since that time the box has gone away, the “Ad” icon has become more subdued and any delineation between where the ads end and the organic listings begin has gone away.


Granted, paid listings still contain an “Ad” icon, but with the addition of the favicon for organic listings in the same place as the icon, it has become more difficult to differentiate the two. As inbound marketers, we need to be aware of this change since there is the very real possibility that searchers will be less able to identify an ad over an organic listing leading to decreases in click-through-rates for organic listings. Thruline’s inbound team will be monitoring this for all our inbound clients and can report on any impact.


So, is this a ploy to get more people to click on ads? That is for you to decide.


Allen Harkleroad, Manager of Inbound Marketing, Courtney Hill, Digital Media Supervisor & Ellie Murray, Digital Media Buyer