Google search results – another blunder in usability?

Recently Google just rolled out a new look and feel for their search results. It looks like they are now adopting their usage of icon/imagery in search results by displaying the website(s) favicon:

New Google Search Results with Favicon

Is it a usability blunder?

Firstly the icon is irrelevant to people conducting a holistic search for non-specific terms. A user searching for “local florist”, may be looking for a number of florists to contact rather than a specific florist identifiable by it’s favicon:

Google search result Florist

In the above example for “local florist”, the favicon is slowing down the users ability to quickly and easily scan search results.

Why? Images themselves are quite powerful at drawing attention and that is exactly what is occurring here: The user is being drawn to the icon first.

I highlighted this previously in other blog post Google search menu icons & my gripe.

There are more positives that meet the eye (no pun intended). Displaying the favicon can speed up a users search as they are now able to dismiss any irrelevant search result based on the favicon.

A great example is if you are looking for a blog article and if the Amazon favicon appears – you can swiftly dismiss that search result (the Amazon icon in this instance for all intensive purposes denotes the Amazon shopping website).

But is this really a problem?

I would say yes it can be a problem.

Let’s look at the results for the search term “local florist” – displaying the favicon for each website in the search result could be detrimental for usability.

A user typically wants to find something quickly without cognitive blockers such as the favicon. The favicon draws attention, it is visual content and visual content trumps text.

I should clarify the problem presented by the favicon depends on context. The user is instantly drawn to the icon but then has to decipher said favicon and figure out if it holds any meaning to the user.

But it’s great, I tell you!

On the other hand the favicon works brilliantly if you know exactly what you are looking for. i.e. searching for a particular thing.

A good example to illustrate it’s effectiveness is the search term “Nike”. You will see the famous “Nike” tick as the favicon which most people associate Nike with, rather than the letters spelling Nike.


The favicon actually benefits the user by speeding up the user’s search because the user is cognitively aware of the “Nike tick”. This is only beneficial if the user was looking for Nike related terms – the favicon acts as a visual aid.

To further illustrate this benefit, below the Nike tick result was “JD Sports” (JD Sports is a well known seller of sports fashion). google_new_search_nike_jdsports

The JD logo itself is quite famous so it’s fair to say when searching “Nike”, JD Sports in the U.K is synonymous with Nike, as users are most likely looking to buy Nike.

Yay or nay?

The use of favicon is growing on me but my instant response was “nay” as I was being slowed down by the favicon more than anything. I’d like to ask the person responsible why they made this decision.

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