In March 2015, I presented at SMX West on a panel about app store optimization and deep linking, alongside Justin Briggs and Mariya Moeva from Google. We covered some of the great work each of the major search engines, startups, and app marketers are doing to make the content within apps more accessible to the world — a worthy goal, to which any app marketer can attest.
What struck me the most were Mariya’s words, which made it clear that Google believes apps are first-class citizens. No longer is it “web pages first, apps second.” No longer will web pages be considered the primary way to access content available on the web.
To me, this is a recognition by Google that the experience of native apps, in many cases, exceeds the experience of a web page on a mobile device. Thus, the question is no longer, “Mobile web or app?” but rather, “How do I do both mobile web and app optimization appropriately and effectively?”
Thus far, Google App Indexing has been the best answer to this question. For those unaware, Google App Indexing essentially allows app content to be indexed just like website content, thus allowing app content to appear in mobile search results. Deep linking to your app is what makes this possible.
It used to be that App Indexing would only surface app content for users who already had your app installed. Recently, however, Google took a huge stride forward by making it available for apps that a user doesn’t already have installed. This will, perhaps almost overnight, make Google web search an effective means to discover apps.
But let’s take a step back first. At the end of the day, just like on the web, there are really four quadrants of ways to get users using your app. On one side is how much the user’s engagement would cost, from “organic” to “paid.” On the other side is how “new” this user is to an app, from “discovery” to “re-engagement.” So, roughly speaking, there are four ways to attract users to use an app: organic discovery; organic re-engagement; paid discovery; and paid re-engagement.
There are plenty of ways to do paid discovery (e.g. Twitter App Install ads, AdWords for apps, etc.) and there are plenty of ways to do paid re-engagement, too (e.g. Twitter, Flurry, etc).
But for the holy grail — organic — there are far fewer ways to do attract users. For organic discovery, it’s thus far been all about app store optimization (ASO). For organic re-engagement, the only real option was Google App Indexing for Android.
Now, though, we can add the latest additions to Google App Indexing for organic discovery. And, in particular, we can add deep links to the equation along with the billions of Android-based mobile searches Google handles. Google has said that they “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.”
In other words, implementing App Indexing could give you a boost in visibility for mobile searches on Android. Net-net, why wouldn’t you do it? More searches, more visibility, more relevant results… it’s all things dreams are made of!
Implementing Google App Indexing is actually somewhat trivial. The key is to recognize how App Indexing maps a web page to a piece of content within an app. This happens on both the web page as well as from the app itself.
From The Web
On your web pages, you need to add a simple rel=”alternate” tag like so:
<link rel=”alternative” href=”android-app://your_app_package_name/your_app_schema/example/deep/link” />
And that’s it. The href refers directly to the deep link in your app. Now Google can crawl your website, understand the content on each page, and understand that this content is mapped to a particular piece of content within your app as well. Think of it as a proxy-crawl for your app.
From The App
On your app, it’s all about making sure that the deep link of “schema://deep/link” works so that users can go to the right piece of content upon installation and open of the app.
In Android, this is done by providing what are called “intents” to the AndroidManifest.xml file, a configuration file for every Android app. You’ll want to make sure these match what you’ve done on the web exactly, so make sure your Android development team and your web team work together closely!
That’s it! Now Google can start promoting your app as a first-class citizen to its Android users.
If you’re interested in learning more about Google App Indexing, deep linking, and app marketing in general, check out our session at SMX Advanced in Seattle this June.