Google recently changed how search results looked, and some Google users were angry and felt the change was about more than just looks.
Google Explains Why the Change Was Made
Google stated that the change was to made to mirror the look of results on mobile, for a more modern look, and for more consistency with searching, regardless of device.
Google added that the change was made because they wanted to help users better understand where the information was coming from, and what pages contained what the users were looking for.
What Will Be Different
There was a redesign of desktop searches so that it featured “favicons”, or preferred icons. These large icons are put next to the search results.
Organic results will show these favicons, or a brand’s icon, next to the URL.
For ads, they will see a bolded black ad label next to the URL that looks similar to a favicon.
Some of the reasons for the anger was that it was ugly, harder to use, and it made it more difficult to tell the difference between organic results and ads.
Google assured users that they were listening to the complaints, but didn’t confirm that it would roll back the changes. They did say that they would move the favicons of the pages on search results in order to make it more to the users liking.
The problem is the subtlety of the ads. Google has made changes in the past, and the trend is towards making it more difficult to distinguish between what users think is an ad and what they think isn’t.
Once all the organic search results have favicons and ads are labeled with icons of a similar size, the result is “banner blindness”.
Searchers will end up overlooking the favicons from organic searches, but will overlook the ad favicons as well. However, that makes searchers more likely to click on ads, benefitting advertisers, and by extension, Google.
The Effects of the Change
Research has shown that shortly after the desktop search changes, the changes had an effect, when looking at click-through rates (CTR). The desktop CTR increased, ranging from 4% to 10.5%. There was a slight decline in the CTR on mobile devices.
When changes were made to mobile searches in May, the CTR for mobile increased 17% to 18% during the May 24 to 30 range, compared to the May 17 to 23 range.
Other research has shown little difference in the CTR, but at the time people were still getting used to seeing the ad favicons next to search results.
It is believed that, given some time, people will ignore the ad favicons and banner blindness will kick in and the CTR will increase.
Generally, any changes made by Google are not for the ease and comfort of the user, but to get more money from advertisers.
There is a reason why the Google parent company, Alphabet made nearly $34 billion dollars from advertising alone in the third quarter of 2019.