In context: Google recently rolled out some controversial changes to Search for desktop platforms. Specifically, the company adjusted the way it displays sponsored Search results. Whereas before it was reasonably easy for a savvy user to pick out from normal results, the latest changes have made paid and organic results almost impossible for a casual observer to differentiate.
Instead of ads alone having a small icon to help them stand out, all websites now have these "favicons" next to their search results. Google claims the decision was made to put a site's branding front and center, but there's reason to doubt that motivation.
Previous studies already suggested that up to 40-60 percent of Search users are "unaware of or unable to distinguish ads from organic search results." This new change could only have increased that number, or at least made it more consistent. That's good news for Google as it means a higher ad click-through rate, but for users who appreciate transparency, the changes are less than ideal.
Last week we updated the look of Search on desktop to mirror what’s been on mobile for months. We’ve heard your feedback about the update. We always want to make Search better, so we’re going to experiment with new placements for favicons….— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) January 24, 2020
Fortunately for them, Google seems to have taken their feedback on board -- sort of. In a series of Tweets published today, the company announced that it will be "experimenting" with favicon placements for Search results over the coming weeks. Some users might not see favicons at all, while others will see them in different areas.
Hopefully, Google only makes these changes to favicon placement for normal Search results. If it applies the tweaks to all results, ads included, then we'll likely find ourselves back in the same situation we're in now.
Masthead credit: TechCrunch