Lewis Koch
Lewis Koch Senior SEO Strategist

Favicons – what’s the controversy?

Lewis Koch
Lewis Koch Senior SEO Strategist

Last month Google introduced a mobile search redesign by adding a new black label for ads and favicons for the organic search results. During testing, Google said the use of favicons benefited the majority, more than two-thirds of users by making websites more distinguishable and search results easier to scan.

For example:

SEO vs PPC Perspectives

The subtlety of the change is what has caused the most controversy, whether the change makes a clear enough distinction between adverts and organic results. An age old debate between SEO and PPC teams. For frustrated SEO teams, the answer would be a resounding NO while PPC teams would, in the most part, say no. Generally this is because advertisers don’t want to broadcast the fact they are paying to appear at the top of the search results. While SEO teams hate the fact that adverts are now more blended with organic results which may have taken years of painstaking work to achieve.

I caught up with our PPC Account Manager, Jon Sealy, who offers a counter to my view:

“I feel this change from Google lends itself to the user finding it easier to differentiate between adverts and organic search results. However, on mobile devices the ads are the only search results the user will see above the page fold therefore the change feels ever so slightly redundant. This won’t be the case for all users though and I suspect some will begin to notice the difference between ads and organic searches now.”

It’s also important to note that Google makes money every time a user clicks on an ad. Over 90% of Google’s income is through advertising. So is Google misleading users?

Favicon Guidelines

In almost every case of Google releasing something new, there are always those that wish test and maximise the change. As a result, Google has released the following guidelines for webmasters:

  • 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.


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