The Role of Favicons in SEO

What is a Favicon?

Favicons are icons that visually represent a website and/or brand. They’re the small images (usually 16x6 pixels) you see next to page titles in Google's mobile search results as well as browser tabs, bookmarks and history. Ideally, a website’s favicon should be the same as the logo for the business.

Here’s what WooRank’s favicon looks like in our site's search snippet in Google's mobile search results:

WooRank favicon in mobile SERP

Here's the icon in a Google Chrome browser tab:

WooRank favicon in Google Chrome tab

Here’s WooRank’s favicon in Google Chrome’s bookmarks:

WooRank favicon in Google Chrome bookmarks

And here’s the favicon in Google Chrome’s browser history:

WooRank favicon in Google Chrome history

When a page doesn’t have a favicon listed in its source code the browser will show a generic icon representing:

Chrome browser tab for page with no favicon

Some companies that create web apps, like Google, will use a different favicon for each app or web property. Here’s a browser that has Google Drive, Google Maps and Google Search Console open:

Favicons for Google apps in Chrome

Favicons are added to a page in the <head> section by adding this line of code:

<link rel="shortcut icon” href=”https://www.example.com/favicon.ico” />

The URL listed in the link is the URL where the image file is stored.

It’s recommended that you use the .ico file (the file format specifically used to save icons) format for favicons, but all the major browsers also support PNG and (static) GIF files.

Favicons: A Brief History

The name was derived from the concept introduced first by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (now known as Edge). The word "favicon" is a combination of ‘favorite’ and ‘icon’. Which makes sense because it was displayed next to URLs in the browser’s favorites bar.

It was Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5 released in March 1999 that first supported this file. It was denoted as 'shortcut icon' in the rel element of the link code that was placed in the section a site. In December 1999, the favicon was standardized by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) with the recommendation of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML).

Favicons And Their Impact on SEO

Favicons have no direct impact on search engine optimization or a page's ranking in search results. However, Google does display a website's favicon when showing a page in mobile search results:

WooRank favicon appearing in mobile search results

Pages without favicons, or that are using favicons violating Google's favicon guidelines, will have a default icon next to the URL instead of the specified icon.

Default icon favicon in search results

When asked if this process was manual or automatic, however, Googler John Mueller played coy:

Thanks to this change by Google, branding is more important than ever in the world of SEO.

Some people in the SEO sphere will advise adding a favicon to your site will improve SEO because Google automatically tries to access the URL https://www.yoursite.com/favicon.ico when it crawls a page. So if you don’t have a favicon Google will see as many 404 errors as you have pages on your website.

However, Google hasn’t mentioned anything in regards to favicon playing a role in ranking. Plus, Google is generally smart enough to understand that a nonexisting favicon URL returning a 404 is not indicative of an unhealthy website.

Favicons Beyond SEO Value

Back in 2015, the Nielsen Norman Group (a UX consulting group) published a study into users’ behaviors when shopping for clothing online.

What they found was that shoppers will follow this basic process:

  • Open a bunch of tabs for products they are considering for a purchase
  • Evaluate their options
  • Eliminate the products they don’t want to buy by closing the browser tabs for those pages
  • Repeat the process by opening a new group of tabs with products for consideration

In the end, Nielson Norman came to this conclusion:

Alternating periods of rapid information hunting (spawning of new tabs) with periods of information digestion (consideration and consolidation, when some of those tabs are closed again) is a typical behavior, often associated with page parking.

Most of your visitors are constantly moving, opening, searching, bookmarking while opening, searching, bookmarking other things.

Your site’s favicon is, therefore, not just that tiny little icon on a browser, but an important tool in keeping your brand in view of your customers while they’re shopping for your products.

Adding a favicon to your site will allow you to enjoy benefits for:

  • Brand awareness: Favicons keep your business’ brand identity in front of a user’s eyes even when they’re not on your site.

  • Credibility and trust: If your site is missing a favicon, it will be conspicuous in its absence. On the the flip side of that, adding a favicon to your site will make your business look more professional, established and reliable.

So while It may seem that a website’s favicon is a negligible part of the website, that is far from the truth. A well-designed favicon can make your site’s marketing more effective in subtle, but important, ways.

Recent guides