They say “a favicon is worth a thousand words”. OK… they really don’t say that, but favicons can definitely be important from a Search perspective. In 2019, Google started displaying favicons in the mobile search results as part of a mobile redesign, and it ends up that those little graphics in the SERPs can sure help on several levels. For example, a favicon can help reinforce your brand, it can attract eyeballs in a crowded SERP, and it can also help with click-through rate. So you definitely want to make sure your favicon game is strong.
Google published guidelines for defining a favicon in order to make sure they can be properly displayed in the SERPs. If you don’t adhere to those guidelines, Google can choose to ignore your favicon and provide a generic one for you. And there’s nothing more “meh” than the generic globe favicon Google provides. Let’s just say you won’t stand out in the SERPs with their generic favicon showing…
In addition, you can end up with a blank favicon, which is super-awkward. The space for the favicon is reserved, but nothing shows up. It’s a just a blank white space where a favicon should appear. So sad… and I’ll explain more about that later in the post.
Here is another example of a blank favicon (and not just the generic globe favicon):
Favicon Assistance: When site owners reach out about favicon problems.
Every now and then I have site owners reaching out in frustration when their favicons go missing from the search results. When that happens, it can be a very confusing situation for those site owners… Well, I recently just helped a few more site owners over the past few weeks troubleshoot favicon problems in the search results. And based on what I found, I figured I would write a post explaining some of the top reasons I’ve seen that cause favicon problems in Google Search.
The problems are relatively easy to fix and changes can be picked up by Google pretty quickly for most sites. For example, one of the latest fixes I helped with was picked up in just a few hours and the SERPs were updated in less than a day (with the new favicon).
Favicons Disappearing and Questions About Quality:
When favicons go missing, some site owner immediately jump to thinking that Google somehow doesn’t trust their site anymore or that there are quality problems causing Google to stop displaying their favicons (like how rich snippets can be impacted by broad core updates). That’s not the case. Favicons going missing in the SERPs have nothing to do with site quality. Instead, it has everything to do with technical problems with the favicons, or violating Google’s guidelines for providing favicons.
So if your favicon goes missing, it’s not that Google has suddenly reevaluated your site quality-wise. It’s probably due to technical issues or other guideline violations (which I’ll cover below).
Where did your favicon go? Troubleshooting common favicon problems in Google Search.
Below, I’ll cover several common problems I have seen while helping site owners troubleshoot favicons that disappear from the search results (or favicons that just aren’t displayed properly by Google).
1. Wrong dimensions, no favicon for you…
This is the most common issue I have seen. Google has explained in detail that favicons must be a multiple of 48×48 pixels. So, make sure your favicon is at least 48×48 or a multiple of 48×48. For example, 96×96, 144×144, etc. Don’t have a favicon that’s smaller than 48×48.
For example, a site used the following image as its favicon (blurred to avoid calling out the site). It was 50×50 and not a multiple of 48×48 pixels. Google just used the generic globe favicon. Again, meh in the SERPs.
Also, the aspect ratio is important. If it’s not a square, it’s not going to work well. I’ve seen favicons that looked out of whack from an aspect ratio standpoint, or they just didn’t show up in the SERPs. For example, a site used the favicon below, which didn’t have a square ratio. Google forced it to fit the required aspect ratio (and it looked totally warped in the SERPs). Beware.
A note about favicon format: You have plenty of options:
Your favicon doesn’t have to be in the .ico format. It can be in any supported format, such as jpg, gif, png, and svg. I’ll cover more about svgs later in the post.
2. Robots.txt blocking the favicon:
Google’s documentation states that you should allow crawling of your favicon and your homepage in order for the favicon to be used in Search. If your homepage is blocked by robots.txt, you clearly have bigger issues to worry about than just the favicon. :) But the favicon location could cause problems and be confusing from a robots.txt perspective. For example, some directives in robots.txt can be “greedy” and block more than you think.
I recommend using the robots.txt Tester in Google Search Console to make sure your favicon and homepage can be crawled. It’s a quick test and can save you some frustration. For example, here is a site with a missing favicon and it’s blocking access to the favicon. It’s a bigger brand by the way, so yes, larger companies can make this mistake too.
And here’s an interesting side note. Google has a specific crawler for favicons called Google Favicon. You can check the Googlebot documentation for the user-agent string. Google will use this crawler to check your favicon when you request indexing of your homepage via Google Search Console (GSC). And the crawler will ignore robots.txt directives when someone requests a recrawl of the homepage based on a favicon change.
For example, this is directly from the favicon documentation:
“The Google Favicon crawler ignores robots.txt rules when the crawl was requested by a user.”
And here is the crawler user-agent:
But again, that’s just for Google Favicon to check the new favicon. You still should enable crawling of your homepage and your favicon if you want it to be used in the search results.
3. Duplicate favicon references and one didn’t meet Google’s favicon guidelines:
This is similar to the first issue I covered, but it includes duplicate favicon references in the homepage code (and one didn’t meet the guidelines). I’ve seen situations where one, or more, of the favicon references are to files that don’t meet the requirements and Google just displayed the generic globe favicon instead in the SERPs. So just make sure to double-check all of the references to your favicon from your homepage and make sure they are ok.
For example, this site’s favicon wasn’t showing up correctly. It ended up the homepage had multiple rel=“icon” references and one didn’t meet Google’s guidelines. Fixing that by just having one rel=”icon” reference pointing at the proper file enabled the site to regain its favicon in the SERPs:
4. Uh, empty favicon code…
Yes this seems obvious, but I’ve unfortunately seen it in action. If you literally leave out the file in the favicon code, then you will obviously have favicon problems in Search. :) So if you are experiencing favicon problems, then definitely double-check your code. And I also recommend using the various testing tools from Google to check both the static html and the rendered html to make sure your code is correct.
5. Your platform or CMS is botched favicon-wise.
For sites that use a specific platform or CMS to run their site, they may be in a situation where they can’t easily set or customize their favicon. And in situations where you don’t have much control, you are relying solely on the platform or CMS to get it right. And as you can guess, that doesn’t always work out well.
And yes, that means all sites using that platform could have favicon problems. I surfaced this problem recently for a smaller e-commerce platform. Google just isn’t replacing the favicon with the generic globe, it’s literally leaving the favicon blank! This is even worse than receiving the generic favicon in my opinion…
And when performing a query that brings up many sites using the platform, you can see the widespread problem. Yep, that’s all of the sites on the platform with missing favicons (not even the generic favicon). And look at the second listing in the SERP… the aspect ratio is messed up for the favicon. So we have a mix of blank favicons and one warped one. Not good.
Bonus 1: Don’t push the limits with your favicon.
In its documentation, Google has explained that it won’t show any favicon that it deems inappropriate (like pornography or hate symbols). If that’s the case, Google will simply provide the default, generic favicon. Just keep this in mind when crafting a favicon… I’m sure this won’t impact most sites, but it can clearly cause issues with your favicon displaying properly in the SERPs.
Here is what Google explains in their favicon documentation:
Bonus 2: Create an adaptive favicon that works well in dark mode.
People love dark mode and that includes Google Search. But I find many don’t test how their favicon displays in dark mode.
Once you check out your favicon in dark mode, and if you think it looks less-than-optimal, then you can always create an adaptive favicon that looks great in both light and dark mode. For example, creating an SVG that uses media queries to ensure your favicon adapts to the current environment (light mode versus dark mode).
Adam Argyle wrote a post explaining how to create an adaptive favicon on web.dev where he walks you through the process of creating an SVG that can change based on light versus dark mode. I haven’t tested it out yet, but it’s an interesting technique that seems to work well in the demo. I might try doing that in the near future.
Summary: Put your best favicon, I mean foot, forward in Search with one that actually shows up.
I hope this post helped you understand some of the most common favicon problems I’ve seen while helping site owners that reached out to me for help. With favicons being displayed prominently in the mobile search results, you don’t want a less-than-optimal favicon staring users in the face. And you also don’t want the “meh” generic favicon that Google can provide, or worse, a blank favicon. A few minutes of digging into the situation can usually surface the core favicon problem. And once fixed, you can finally have a favicon that works for you instead of against you. Good luck.