Part 3: App Indexing & Mobile SERP Impact

Stuart Shaw 2 years ago

Welcome to part three of our look into the world of apps. We’ll be focusing on App Indexing, the implementation process and how it can affect browsing experiences with enhanced listings in SERPs. If you’d like to catch up on the previous articles in the series, please click the following links for part one and part two.

What is App Indexing?

Put simply, App Indexing is the process of generating parity between web and app content, allowing users to click directly through to installed apps via SERP listings on mobile devices.

Why is App Indexing Important?

App Indexing is generally seen as an attempt by Google to regain control over the searches lost to App Stores by encouraging users to find and recommend apps within SERPs. These stores have trained users away from using Google for app discovery and therefore limited Google’s primary goal to collect data, make money and ultimately provide a tailored user experience.

Up until App Indexing there was little incentive for app developers to optimise internal app data for searches. Apps were the home of UX first, and so became hugely attractive to both the users themselves and companies looking to provide a bespoke journey without the need to worry about meta, headers and page structure.

Your new SERP neighbours

Once enabled, app indexing allows Google to show users two additional elements in the search results.

App Packs <anchor link to #apppacks> and Deep Links <anchor link to #deeplinks>.

It’s worth considering whether you’d rather have these listings or be the competition...

App Packs (#apppacks)

These are typically the most popular elements you’ll have seen. They tend to appear towards the top of searches and contain between three to nine apps depending on how relevant they are to the search query.

app indexing

Clicking these links will take you directly to the associated app store listing so you can download/purchase the item. Alternatively, you can click the traditional listings found around them.

Deep Links (#deeplinks)

Deep links are what happens when Google finds a web page paired with an app page for an app that you have installed. Often it will include an icon to distinguish it in the SERP. I installed the Booking.com app and found that when searching for 'Malta Hotels' this site stood out within the results due to the icon. In addition to this I know I’m likely to have a better experience on the app over the mobile site (at least in most cases!) I may also find that personal preferences are saved to the app, including secure payment details and contact information – making the process that much more expedient.

app indexing

It should also be noted that these can appear within AdWords listings at the very top of a search results page.

app indexing

Just to hammer it home before you jump to page two, there’s an ‘install ad’ within the bottom block of ads too.

app indexing

How’s that for improving CTR? In previous articles within the series we talked about how the conversion rate on app visits was extremely high (around 70% higher than desktop visits). So not only are you likely to bag a fair amount of traffic via the ads but the likelihood of them converting is also higher – naturally the same is true for organic links like the one from Booking.com

The journey process is outlined below. You can see that options are available to view the content on the site or the app. This clearly shows the parity between both the mobile web page and the app screen.

app indexing

How does App Indexing work?

The steps to enabling App Indexing are relatively simple for your developer. However, as with many aspects of Design and Development it can be a lot easier to have it implemented pre-launch as opposed to it being an afterthought or ‘phase 2’. Google has provided a full guide for both Android and Apple processes here: https://firebase.google.com

It can be broken down into three broad (but simple) steps:

  1. Establish support for Universal Links (iOS) or HTTP Links (Android).
  2. Using the guides from Firebase, implement Google App Indexing using App Indexing SDK (iOS) or App Indexing API (Android).
  3. Using a rel=alternate link element, schema.org mark up or by way of reference in your sitemap.xml, map the website URLs explicitly to the appropriate screen/page within your app.
    It should be noted that if you’ve been super smart and ensured your URL structure within the App matches with that of the website, you don’t need to add this mapping – however we feel it’s always advisable.

Please note: At present there is no way to have an App’s content show in search results without this parity between the App screen and website content.

We’ve picked a random article from the Mail online, who perform the needed code quite neatly using the rel=alternate approach.

Original URL:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3821375/….html

Rel Alternates:

android-app://com.dailymail.online/dailymail/article/3821375

ios-app://384101264/mailonline/article/3821375

As you can see the key to easy implementation (on scale) is ensuring the pages have an ID. For news articles and eCommerce products this is relatively simple with IDs everywhere - however on traditional sites it’s unlikely you’ll have one.

To avoid a messy mapping, we would recommend ensuring your site structure and app URI structure are as logical as possible!

Key points to the visibility of Deep Links

Below are five points that can make or break your ability to have deep links appear and help encourage a higher CTR:

  • Installation Status: Put simply, if a user doesn’t have the app installed you won’t find deep links outside of those used on ads.
  • Technical Errors: Any app page with indexing errors will not appear this is likely due to security issues and Google’s commitment to UX.
  • Website Signals: The strength of the paired web page is also important as this is the canonical version of the content.
  • Content Mismatch: If there is a sizeable degree of disparity between the app content and its canonical website page, it will prevent that page from indexing. Such errors are reported in GSC so they can be fixed.
  • Interstitials: These are the in-screen pop ups that plague the internet nowadays. They can cause content mismatch errors thus preventing the app page from being indexed.

Summary

It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking at desktop rankings and SERPs as the primary focus in SEO. However, we can see from these articles that mobile results don’t only look vastly different to their desktop counterparts but count for an increasing amount of traffic. Google’s Mobile First Index is a key signal that device use is shifting and you’ll need to decide whether you want your users to stick with a tried and tested website visit or a bespoke app experience.

This concludes our look into the world of apps (see Part 1 and Part 2). We’ve summarised the data and points raised throughout this series into a handy data sheet which you can download by clicking below.

AppIndexing_CTA
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