In 2019, Google announced that there would be changes to its search result page design that would improve the user’s experience visually while also providing better, credible results. Google recently rolled out its new design that identified each result with a favicon representing each website, reflecting its mobile layout. Favicons are meant to give websites another layer of brand identity, which helps people recognize trusted sources in a way to combat misinformation.
Rolling Out then Rolling Back
However, when the trial rolled out and people started noticing the change on their desktop results page, the new look was not very well received. Suspicions quickly arose that Google’s changes to paid-for ad results made them indistinguishable from organic results. The advertisements no longer had a distinct color block and their ad label was smaller and bold. With Google’s history of subtly changing the way paid advertisements were distinct, it’s difficult not to see that their long-term play was meant to do that.
Which is why within a week, Google took back their changes to ad results. According to Google, the idea to bring favicons to desktop Search was how well users responded to them on mobile and the positive feedback from early desktop trials. But once receiving backlash, Google reverted its design and announced that there will be testing for new placements for favicons.
Online Advertiser Realtor
It comes as no surprise that updates to the way paid advertisements slowly become less and less distinguishable from organic results. The tech giant generates its yearly $110.8 billion revenue mostly through its service, AdWords. Google acts as the realtor of the Internet, selling prime ad space to the highest bidder. As a private, for-profit organization, making advertisements more prominent to users generates more dollars.
There are two ways to look at Google’s blending of paid ad results to organic results. The first being that, in a purely economic sense, the company makes display changes slowly over time to its primary revenue stream. From a user’s perspective standpoint in this case, these changes are logical and since the service is free and it is an individual’s responsibility to learn how to properly navigate search results.
The second perspective sees Google’s actions not just as a revenue stream, but a way to scrape as much data as it can to be the first and only stop for results. The changes are then more efficient at controlling online traffic, effectively controlling the paths users follow. Giving a profitable company the power to control the way people use the Internet can lead to nefarious results.
Slow Boiling Frogs
As the frogs in the boiling Google pot, it’s hard to know how much control to relinquish to giant tech entities. The value of freedom of knowledge continues to outweigh the value of sharing information for free by more and more. But the information being shared for free is worth the large part of over $100 billion of yearly revenue. The frogs in this scenario have to find out if there’s even enough time to jump out of the pot.