At the end of last week, Google announced a major design change for mobile search results. Minor design tests and changes happen frequently, but this roll-out included two major changes. First, the green [Ads] indicator was replaced with black, bolded text …

Below is the new ad format in a local pack result. Note that I’ve removed the surrounding design elements (including rounded boxes) to focus on the elements that have changed …

Reactions from the marketing community were swift and often sarcastic, but one reaction clearly missing was surprise. Google has been moving to make ads look more like organic results for years.

Has Google finally gone too far?

Does this latest change do too much to blend ads and organic results? If we just go back one iteration, it doesn’t seem like a huge shift. The most recent version, shown below, also matched the color of the “Ad” marker to the display URL, substituting a thin rounded rectangle for the newer, bolded text …

Compare both 2019 versions to a desktop ad from 2017 …

The mismatched color and white-on-yellow block stand out quite a bit more than the two most recent treatments. If we go back to 2013, the evolution is much more obvious …

For years, Google ads were displayed in a single block, clearly separate from organic results and with a distinct background color. While that color changed over the years, even this subtle background tied the ads together and separated them clearly from other result types.

What about organic results?

Unlike some previous ad redesigns, this change arrived with a redesign of organic results. Here’s what an organic result for Moz’s Algorithm History looked like on most mobile devices last week …

While fonts and sizing and the surrounding UI have changed over the past couple of years, the core placement has been the same: (1) display title, (2) display URL or breadcrumb, and (3) snippet. Like the new ad format, the new organic format flips lines (1) and (2) …

The new format also adds a small version of the site’s favicon. Google seems to also be shifting toward showing the brand name, when available, versus the site’s root domain, but this is another change that Google has moved gradually toward over the recent past.

When do the lines blur?

While Google isn’t using the exact icon we’d prefer at Moz, the square, color-filled logo representation is clearly pretty different from Google’s black “Ad” marker. Some brands aren’t so lucky. Consider these two results for Adidas.com …

The Adidas logo doesn’t render well at this size, and ends up looking like a black triangle, which may be hard to distinguish from the “Ad” text at a glance. Associated Press has a similar problem …

At this size and resolution, “AP” could arguably be mistaken for “AD”. For well-known brands, this may not pose a problem (the AP logo is fairly recognizable), but it could impact click-through rates on smaller brands.

These are extreme examples, of course, but in the previous iteration (the green “Ad” text in a rounded rectangle) there was no analogous text or shape for organic results. The addition of a favicon to organic results adds an element that could mirror the “Ad” text in paid results, creating potential confusion.

Should I update my favicon?

Marketers were quick to brainstorm ideas and more than a little mischief over the weekend. That may be fun for a while, but Google has already pushed back on manipulating favicons and posted their guidelines. Long story short, manipulative, inappropriate, or constantly changing favicons are probably going to be removed.

If you don’t have a favicon, Google will serve up a default. Here’s an example from my personal site:

The default icon isn’t terrible, but if you don’t currently have a favicon, it’s worth putting one together that matches your branding. Google currently recommends providing a favicon at 48X48 pixels (or a multiple of 48). There are many free tools on the web to convert standard graphics formats to a favicon (.ico) file.

I created a new favicon on Tuesday, May 28, and resubmitted the home-page to Google Search Console. The updated favicon appeared the morning of Thursday, May 30 (just under two days) …

Anecdotally, most people are reporting favicons being updated in a day or less. My personal site has some mobile-friendly errors, which could have caused delays, but there are currently no errors or updates within GSC to tell you when to expect your favicon to appear in search results.

Is Google’s future brand-first?

It’s easy to get hung up on the ad changes, but by moving the brand or domain to the first line and adding a favicon, this design reflects a brand-first approach, an emphasis of brand and site over specific content. Reading between the lines of Google’s announcement, this design shift makes it clearer that everything in the “card” (the search result container, essentially) belongs to a single brand. Consider the Moz blog, for example:

The wrapper makes the card a bit more apparent, but by leading with the brand, the new design makes it clearer that all of these elements — the organic result, site-links, and blog posts — are tied to a single source. Taking a brand-first approach may also be a part of Google’s larger strategy to combat false information and help searchers attribute content to its source.

Of course, like all changes, we don’t know how long this one will last. Like most major design shifts, we can assume that Google has been testing this one for some time, but if favicons are manipulated or abused to the point that automation can’t handle the problem, they may have to change course.

For now, I’d make sure your favicon accurately reflects your brand and doesn’t look too similar to the black “Ad” text. Ultimately, you want your organic listings to positively represent your brand and drive relevant clicks. While these changes are unlikely to impact rankings, I would recommend monitoring your click-through rates (CTRs) on both major organic pages and paid results. It may be some time before we fully understand the impact of these changes.