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This post has been updated following Google's announcement that App Indexing is coming to iOS.
Over the last few weeks, everyone in the SEO world has been concentrating on the impact Google’s roll out of its mobile-friendly update could have on their websites.
However, this update is far from the be-all and end-all when it comes to mobile search. What may have gone a little more under the radar is a recent update to Google’s App Indexing:
Android smartphone or tablet users can now discover content from an app when searching using Google, even if they haven’t got that app installed.
And, with the announcement that App Indexing is being introduced for iOS, Apple users are being invited to the party too.
So, what is App Indexing and how can you use it to help your business? Read on to find out.
App Indexing is a means of allowing Google to crawl and index a mobile app, and therefore show your app’s content in mobile search results.
This means that, if you’ve implemented App Indexing correctly, your app may be displayed to Google searchers if it features content relevant to their search – regardless of whether or not that searcher has your app installed.
Non-brand Google search on Android tablet showing relevant apps in SERPs
At the moment, this feature is predominantly for Android users - both tablet and mobile. Prior to Google's recent announcement that it is beginning to open up App Indexing for iOS to a 'small group of test partners', it was for Android users only. With the promise that Google is 'working to make this technology available to more app developers as soon as possible', we can expect to see a wider iOS roll out soon.
Currently, App Indexing has no impact on the search results given by Google to people using Windows Phone devices.
Usually, the app search result will show two different links, depending on the searcher: a link to install the app if the user hasn’t got it installed, or a link to open the app if they have.
Brand search showing app 'install' button presented when app is not already installed
These search results are reasonably normal in the way they appear in the search engine results pages (SERPs) but the link goes to the app, rather than the website.
Brand search showing app link presented when app is already installed
Whether or not App Indexing is suitable for your online business will depend on the nature of your app. The key thing to remember is that App Indexing only works if your app has corresponding content online.
For example, say your website publishes recipes. If you can access the same recipe in your app as you can online, you can have the app content indexed.
Of course, it’s not just food websites that this applies to. App Indexing is best suited to businesses that offer a similar experience or content from their app as they do online. For example, publishers, ecommerce sites, informational apps/sites like IMDB, travel companies, fashion retailers, social media platforms, motor sales… the list goes on.
Same Daily Mail article online and in app presented in Google mobile SERPs
App Indexing is not for standalone apps. So for example, games like Candy Crush that are only available as mobile or tablet apps will not be able to implement this.
Implementing App Indexing means you can drive people straight into your native app, rather than your website. This will be appealing to some businesses more than others, but some of the main benefits of encouraging more people to become users of your app are:
Various businesses, including the likes of Airbnb, ASOS, the Mail Online and TripAdvisor, have been taking advantage of App Indexing to drive more traffic to their apps.
According to Google itself, online handmade marketplace Etsy has seen an 11.6% increase in average daily app traffic from referral links due to App Indexing. Meanwhile, after implementation, 95% of mobile search clicks are opening The Guardian’s app directly.
Etsy mobile SERP showing 'Install' button shown after implementation of App Indexing
The list of high profile businesses already taking advantage of App Indexing is extensive and covers a huge range of sectors, from publishing and property to food and travel. You can see Google’s full list of featured apps here.
There will be no impact on your mobile website in terms of non-Android mobile traffic, as App Indexing only applies to Android users.
It may reduce the amount of Android traffic you’re getting to your mobile or responsive site. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, given the benefits of driving people to your app as we’ve already mentioned.
Each business must weigh up the pros and cons of the two. Losing traffic to your mobile site may well mean an increased bank of more engaged customers within your app, so may be a worthwhile trade-off to make.
Some firms in India, such as FlipKart and Myntra, are so app-dominant that they have gone so far as to switch off their mobile sites. They now just have one mobile page that prompts people to install the app instead. Going even further, Myntra has shut down its desktop site too; you can no longer order products via the site.
Myntra.com desktop homepage pushing visitors to download the app instead
While this may be country-specific at the moment – India is an incredibly mobile-focused market that effectively skipped the desktop revolution – it could well be an indicator of the way the global market is headed.
There are several steps required to implement App Indexing, and this will require the support of the developers of both your app and your website. Please note that the steps below apply to Android apps. For information about implementing App Indexing for iOS, click here.
To implement App Indexing:
XML sitemaps – Add the app URI to the XML sitemap entry for its corresponding page on the website using an <xhtml:link> element
<link> elements – Similar to the XML sitemap method, this requires the addition of a <link> element to each individual website page for which there is a corresponding app URI
Schema.org markup – Add a snippet of JSON+LD code markup to define the relationship between each website page and app URI
Again, see Google Developers for more information on this
Google will begin the indexing process once the first two steps above are completed; the third step will give the search engine clearer guidance on how to find the content and where to focus.
It is also possible to restrict indexing to specific parts of an app’s content, should there be a need to do so.
For example, it may be that some app content is nearly identical to other content within the same app, such as a list of products sorted by different criteria, in which case there would be no value in having Google index it. In this respect, there is little difference to how a website’s content should be assessed and controlled. A noindex.xml file is included within the Android app and works in a similar way to the robots noindex meta tag often used on web pages.
Finally, there are a number of requirements and considerations that need to be understood:
An additional feature is the App Indexing API. This provides a way for the Google app (version 3.6 and above) to offer autocomplete suggestions for an app as users enter their search query. This works by notifying Google when a user views content within the app, and allows Google to gain a greater understanding of how users are interacting with the app.
For more information, see Google’s information for developers.
Google provides a deep link testing tool that can be used to test any app links you’ve set up. All you need to do is enter the deep link URI in the onscreen text box and then scan the QR code using your Android phone.
If App Indexing has been implemented correctly, the QR code should open a browser page with a link. Click that link, and it should open the deep link you originally entered in the tool.
Any errors will also be reported in Google Search Console.
Google Analytics (GA) for apps – known as Mobile App Analytics – is a specific setup that allows you to track your app in a similar way as you would use GA to track the performance of your website.
With properly implemented Mobile App Analytics, you will be able to see what devices people are using your app on – and where they’ve come from.
Using the Traffic Sources report and Google Play integration, you will be able to report on traffic sources for views of your app in the Google Play store. By setting the referrer in your app you will also be able to report on traffic from Google SERPS directly to your indexed app pages (provided they had the app installed on their device, otherwise they would be directed to the Play Store).
Find out more about Mobile App Analytics over on the Google Analytics website.
Do you still have questions about App Indexing? Contact us – our experts will be happy to help.