What is app indexing and why is it important?

Imagine a version of Google where any search you do on your mobile will serve results from not just the mobile web but the apps on your phone too…

Then wouldn’t it be great if you could choose how you viewed the page when clicking through? Either on the mobile web or via an app already downloaded to your phone, which automatically opens up and serves you content from deep inside (say a news story from The Guardian app, or a public event on Facebook).

It’s a multi-platform, channel agnostic world where everything connected to the internet can be searchable!

And perhaps a powerful argument for not buying that WiFi enabled underwear drawer.

Either way, the presence of apps in mobile search results are becoming a more common occurrence as developers can now allow Google to index their content from all over your mobile phone.

So what does this mean for mobile users and app developers? Let’s answer a few important questions…

What is indexing?

Google automatically sends out ‘spiders’ to ‘crawl’ websites for new and updated information on a regular basis. This information is then included in Google’s index (or library of web based content), which you access every time you make a search enquiry. Indexing is basically Google filling its searchable database full of new information.

Up until 2013, Google only indexed the desktop and mobile web. It seemed that app developers (and with all this talk of spiders, crawling and webs: arachnophobes) were no friend of Google, with apps remaining walled off from the searchable internet.

However over the last couple of years, things have begun to change…

john-goodman-arachnophobia

The gradual inclusion of app content in search results

In an update revealed on Halloween 2013 (again, Google appears to be staffed by ghouls), the search engine revealed it would begin indexing content in apps. Although only for a select number of publishers and only for Android apps.

In 2014 however the trial was expanded to any webmaster who wanted their Android app included in search results. Then eventually this year Chrome on iOS was welcomed to the app-indexing party along with Safari, who arrived last month, late and already drunk. Go home Safari, you’ve had enough already and the neighbours have been complaining!

How does app indexing work?

Google can index the content contained within an app, either through a sitemap file or through Google’s Webmaster Tools. If someone searches for content that is contained within an app, and the user has that app installed, they will then have the option to view that content within the app, rather than just on a usual mobile webpage.

For sites that have the same content on their main website as well as their app, the app results will appear as deep links within the search listing. If the user has the app installed and they tap on these deep links, the app will launch and take them directly to the content.

Google App Indexing

What is a deep link?

According to Tech Crunch, a deep link is any link that directs a user past the home page of a website to a specific page. So in the context of mobile apps, a deep link would serve a specific piece of content inside it, rather than just launching the first screen of the app.

How to let Google index your apps

In order for these deep links to appear in search results, Google needs to both discover and understand your app. You can do this using the following process, which is outlined in this post from Moz that goes into fantastic detail on the following:

  • For iOS you need to set up support for Universal Links. This is what Apple calls HTTP links that have a single URL, used to open both a specific page on a website and the corresponding view in an app.
  • Implement Google App Indexing using the App Indexing API for Android, or by integrating the App Indexing SDK for iOS 9.
  • Explicitly map your web pages to their corresponding app screens using either a rel=alternate link element on the individual page, by referencing the app URLs in your XML sitemaps, or by using schema.org markup.

There are also detailed breakdowns from Google on both Android and iOS implementation.

At the moment iOS results for apps will only appear if you have the corresponding app downloaded, however Android results will show results even if you don’t have the app.

Why should you allow Google to index you app?

Because Google itself has stated it’s a ranking factor for both Android and iOS users, whether or not the user has your app installed…

“If your app is indexed, Google will use the content within your app as a signal in ranking, not just your web content.” So it’s definitely worth doing to increase your presence in search results.”

Apps also hold a significant amount of data that was going undiscovered. It was a missing piece from the complete customer journey, possibly as profound as visits to retail stores. This ability to index apps could help build better, more relevant customer experiences in the future.

Perhaps the most important factor here is the user experience. If you love using apps then you should be able to use them in exactly the same non-siloed way as the rest of the ‘indexed’ world, not kept in a closed off partition. Similarly if I hate apps, then I want a choice not to have them load automatically. The point is that I have the choice to begin with.

Apps are also a fantastic customer retention tool, fostering a greater customer loyalty, have a longer usage time and can be an effective communication tool. All things that you probably want to be nurturing.

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