Google have just announced some subtle, yet potentially quite significant UI updates to their mobile search results. Whilst they aren’t yet live at the time of writing this post, we can expect them to start rolling out soon.

You can read the official announcement on the Google blog here:

The primary changes can be summarised as:

  • The introduction of a websites brand/favicon into the search results in a prominent location.
  • Moving the websites URL from below the listing to alongside the brand favicon above the main listing.
  • Further updates to the Google Ads display, making them look ever closer to an organic listing.

Updates to Google Mobile Search Results

Original image source: Google

Our views on the changes

Introducing a brands favicon and URL above each listing seems like a positive move and we rather like the visual updates, but we expect it may end up favouring big, recognisable brands rather than smaller content publishers. The suggestion is that the move could be partially motivated to increase the visibility of the source of content with the intention of somewhat tackling the rise of fake news/information from perceived lower quality/less reliable sources. There is an irony in there somewhere given the amount of unreliable content generated by major media publishers as well, but overall it seems a good step from Google in our opinion.

Our expectation is that click-through behaviour will be impacted by this change, depending on the type of query. For example, if you are searching for content on a specific topic and you see a well-known brand logo such as the BBC or New York Times prominently displaying against a listing, it is our belief that many people will be more compelled to click on these listings vs. a random website favicon of a brand they’ve never heard of.

This element is important when we consider part of the Google algorithm known as ‘RankBrain’ [a great reference source here for more information]. This part of the algorithm is dynamically altering the search results based on real user behaviour. For example, if a website ranked in position 1 is receiving a low click-through rate vs. listings in positions 2 or 3, then there is a good chance that RankBrain will adjust the rankings and move the lower performing listing below the others.

If we anticipate that brand logo introduction is likely to favour more recognisable brands and positively improve their click-through rates from search, then it is a fair conclusion to expect that it could also positively improve their rankings due to RankBrain.

Putting the above aside, we still believe that a large portion of the UI update could also be focused on Google increasing its advertising revenue from Google Ads. Over the years they have consistently removed visual treatment to the paid listings, making them closer to organic listings. This latest UI update makes the Ads even more closely aligned to the organic listings and is likely to result in more clicks on the Ads.

We are expecting to see some increase in Google Ad CTRs and a decrease in CTRs for high ranking organic listings, at least in the short term as people get familiar with the updated interface.

Google will, of course, tell us that this is not the motivation, but this is a publicly listed company with a huge percentage of its revenue tied to Google Ads. We imagine that they will have ensured that this change drives a positive uplift prior to announcing and releasing it to the world.

Of course, the above is largely just our hypotheses at the current time, but it will be interesting to see the impact once the updates hit the wild. Do you have any questions or differing viewpoints? do let us know in the comments below.