Last year, Google made what seemed like a fairly simple change to its mobile search results: it added the favicon of the domain to some results. The favicon is the icon that you see on the left of a browser tab, and usually shows the site's branding (like the green icon you see on our website). It appeared that Google was trying to make a small visual change that could help better identify the website on the other side of the result.
The company decided that, because the response was so positive on mobile, that they would bring the feature to the desktop search experience. That seemingly simple change backfired on Google when users noticed something about the new markers: they were the same size as the ad marker. This makes it far more difficult for some users to casually determine which results are legitimate and which are paid.
This minimized distinction was immediately met with claims of deception, with people claiming that Google did this on purpose to confuse users and drive additional ad clicks. As advertising is Google's primary business model and users have become more and more observant of which results are ads, it would not be surprising for the company to want to enhance its returns. In this case, however, it truly does appear to be just a case of a bad design decision. The design has since been removed, with a statement, saying,
While early tests for desktop were positive, we are always incorporating feedback from our users. We are experimenting with a change to the current desktop favicons and will continue to iterate on the design over time.
So, we will likely see a return of the favicons to search results on the desktop experience in the future, it will only be after solving the perception issue this design created. Favicons still appear on Google News posts, but News does not display ads.