Google backtracks on new Search results design after backlash

The new design added a small icon next to each Search result, blurring the lines between actual search results and advertisements

Google on Friday backtracked on its plans to change the look of Google Search on desktop screens.

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The new design, which was launched on mobile screens on May 22 and Jan. 13 on desktop screens, added a favicon -- or a small icon -- next to each Search result, blurring the lines between actual search results and advertisements, which are all labeled with the same "Ad" favicon.

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Google said when it launched the redesign that its purpose was to "puts a site's brand front [and] center, helping searchers better understand where information is coming from, more easily scan results [and] decide what to explore."

After receiving backlash from experts and non-experts alike who said the new design was an ad money-grab that made it more difficult for users to differentiate between ads and regular search results, Google announced another change.

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"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 said in a Friday statement posted to Twitter.

The tech giant added that its "early tests of the design for desktop were positive," but it decided to backtrack on its early January changes after taking negative feedback.

In its full statement, Google said the new look was "well-received by users on mobile screens" because it helped them see "more quickly where information is coming from, and they can see a prominent bold ad label at the top." The tech giant added that web publishers, or those who feature their websites on Google, liked the design because their logos were on display.

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SEO consultant Bill Hartzer explained the phenomenon of users' eyes skipping over favicons and ad symbols to technology news website Digiday.

"Searchers will see the favicons and overlook them, also ignoring the 'Ad' favicon, as well," he said. "So, they're going to be more likely to click more on ads, which will benefit advertisers. But, in the long run, it will also benefit Google."

Google Search ads appear to have become less discernable over the years. Search Engine Land published a graphic in June that compares Search ad designs from throughout the years starting in 2007.

While ads used to have colorful shading and bright green links, today's Search ads have no backgrounds or borders, and links to the ads are black.

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Desktop ads still show the "Ad" label but normal results no longer display icons, but Google said on Twitter that it will continue experimenting with ad and other Search labels. The redesign is still up, however, on mobile Search.

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