Mobile Apps Mean More For Search Visibility

Chris CrumSearch

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If your business doesn't have a mobile app yet, it might be time to change that...for SEO purposes. Now it's an even better idea to have an app available for both Android and iOS users. Google is indexing app content across both platforms, and it's using the implementation of app indexing as a ranking signal for search results.

Do mobile apps make sense for your business? Do you already have them? Planning to have them developed? Discuss.

First off, you should know that more Google searches are now taking place on mobile devices than on computers in ten countries. That includes the U.S. and Japan. That means on smartphones specifically. When Google announced this news, it shared a report about search ads getting better for app discovery, so that's another thing to consider. One in four app users discovers an app through search, according to the report. And Google's really only just getting started with this whole app indexing thing.

Google first began testing app indexing in the fall of 2013. Googlebot began indexing content in Android apps, and gave webmasters the ability to let Google know which app they’d like Google to index through their existing sitemaps file and through Webmaster Tools. Over time, they expanded the testing, and at Google I/O last year, they opened up app indexing to all Android developers. Here's a session from the event, which you might want to take a look at if this is all still new to you.

Here’s a much shorter overview on getting your Android app in the Google index:

For more on getting your Android app set up, read this.

In December, Google said clicks on app deep links jumped by 10x the prior quarter, with 15% of signed-in Google searches on Android now returning deep links. These numbers have likely only increased since then.

As you probably know, Google announced two new mobile ranking signals in February. One was the famous mobile-friendly update, which looks at the mobile-friendliness of your mobile website. You probably heard it referred to as "mobilegeddon," though ultimately, it so far hasn't had a very big impact on rankings in general.

The other signal Google announced, which it said it had already implemented, was app indexing. That was only for signed in Google users who had the app installed on their Android devices at first, but last month, Google expanded the signal so that users no longer had to have the apps installed. That's huge.

“You’ve invested time and effort into making your app an awesome experience, and we want to help people find the great content you’ve created,” said product manager Lawrence Chang in a blog post. “App Indexing has already been helping people engage with your Android app after they’ve installed it — we now have 30 billion links within apps indexed...people searching on Google can also discover your app if they haven’t installed it yet. If you’ve implemented App Indexing, when indexed content from your app is relevant to a search done on Google on Android devices, people may start to see app install buttons for your app in search results. Tapping these buttons will take them to the Google Play store where they can install your app, then continue straight on to the right content within it.”

“With the addition of these install links, we are starting to use App Indexing as a ranking signal for all users on Android, regardless of whether they have your app installed or not,” he added. “We hope that Search will now help you acquire new users, as well as re-engage your existing ones.”

This week, Google announced the expansion of app indexing to iOS apps, and there's no reason to think that the ranking signal won't apply there as well.

This isn't available to all iOS developers just yet, but Google says indexed links from an initial group of apps it's ben working with will begin appearing on iOS in search results both in the Google App and Chrome for signed-in users globally in the coming weeks.

Google says it wants to make the technology available to more app developers ASAP, so if you want to get a head start on that, you should add deep linking support to your iOS app, make sure it’s possible to return to search results with one click, provide deep link annotations on your site, and let Google know you’re interested.

In a separate announcement, Google also revealed that goo.gl short links will now function as a single link for you to use to all your content, whether it’s in your Android app, iOS app, or website.

“Once you’ve taken the necessary steps to set up App Indexing for Android and iOS, goo.gl URLs will send users straight to the right page in your app if they have it installed, and everyone else to your website. This will provide additional opportunities for your app users to re-engage with your app,” explained Google software engineer Fabian Schlup. “This feature works for both new short URLs and retroactively, so any existing goo.gl short links to your content will now also direct users to your app.”

You can integrate the URL shortener API into your app’s share flow to take advantage of the feature a well. This way, users will be able to share links that automatically redirect accordingly. Others will be able to embed links in their sites and apps which deep link directly to your app.

“Take Google Maps as an example,” said Schlup. “With the new cross-platform goo.gl links, the Maps share button generates one link that provides the best possible sharing experience for everyone. When opened, the link auto-detects the user’s platform and if they have Maps installed. If the user has the app installed, the short link opens the content directly in the Android or iOS Maps app. If the user doesn’t have the app installed or is on desktop, the short link opens the page on the Maps website.”

You can set up app deep linking on goo.gl by participating in app indexing for Android and iOS and using the API with your app’s share flow, email campaigns, etc. That part is optional.

Last week, Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) added new reports to show how Google understands and treats app content in search results. This should come in quite handy if you go down the app indexing path.

Google I/O is just getting underway, so keep an eye out for plenty of content from there that will help you optimize your mobile apps and get more out of app indexing. Here's the Google Developers YouTube channel, which will likely see uploads of related sessions from the conference eventually.

Are Google's app indexing efforts enough to make you get your own mobile apps out there? Let us know in the comments.

Images via Google

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.