APP INDEXING: MORE TRAFFIC, INSTALLATIONS, AND USAGE
App indexing enables Google to supplement the search results displayed on a smartphone or tablet with content from indexed apps. This serves to offer mobile internet users a better experience when searching for and consuming mobile online content.
App indexing is therefore the basic requirement for connecting apps and the mobile web. This is made possible by the use of deep links, which are built into the source code of the apps. By using an API or integrating appropriate code, Google can crawl an app's deep links and integrate them into the Google index for mobile search results. If you use deep links in your own apps, users can be directed straight from the search results to a specific point in the app or to the download, or rather the respective app store entry for the app. If someone asks a question on Google that an app can answer, even Google's autocomplete function will show the answer from the mobile app. Since many app publishers still do not use this option, this technology can give you a head start over your competitors.
NEW OPPORTUNITIES THANKS TO APP INDEXING & DEEP LINKING
App indexing offers advantages for both app publishers and end users. The main goals that app operators hope to achieve with app indexing are:
- Marketing their own apps more efficiently
- Achieving more app downloads
- Strengthening customer loyalty
- Achieving more traffic and a higher conversion rate
EXAMPLE: EFFICIENT APP INDEXING OF THE QUORA APP
I want to find a good tool to efficiently localise (translate) app texts (text strings). So I search for "What are the best text strings and localisation tools."
Google displays the Quora app and corresponding content from it at the top of the mobile search results. As a user, one tap takes take me directly to the appropriate answer to my question in the Quora app (via deep link).
WHY IS APP INDEXING RELEVANT?
Basically, it is important to know that Google displays different search results (SERPs) on desktops and on mobile devices (smartphones, tablets). The number of mobile internet users had already exceeded the number of desktop internet users in 2014 and the number of search queries on Google Search via mobile devices has exceeded the number of search queries made via desktops since 2015. App indexing has become an important ranking factor for Google in mobile search results and make it possible not only for a name and a short description of an app to be indexed and found on Google, but also for all contents of an app to be taken into account in the search algorithm. The app then appears in the search results with the corresponding search words for all this content. This massively increases the app's visibility and thus leads to more downloads of the app. Thanks to app indexing, users can also consume the app content they find more easily and conveniently in the native app, because they are led directly to the corresponding content via deep links.
OPEN APP CONTENT DIRECTLY FROM YOUR BROWSER
Only deep links and app indexing make it possible to find and open app content directly from your browser.
DIRECT TO AN APP VIA VOICE SEARCH
Thanks to app indexing, the target group can also be led directly to the app content via Google Voice Search - both from other apps and directly from mobile browsers. App indexing therefore also offers great added value in terms of the accessibility of the app. People who browse the internet via voice control can thus be guided to the app and consume the content more easily. Of course, the app must be suitably optimised for accessibility.
AUTOCOMPLETE THANKS TO APP INDEXING
Indexed content is displayed as autocomplete and/or search suggestions in mobile searches.
HOW ARE DEEP LINKS AND APP INDEXING IMPLEMENTED?
There are many sources on the internet with information on how to implement app indexing and deep linking in an app. There are also certain prerequisites that must be met in order for app indexing to be implemented at all. Both apps with Google's Android operating system and iOS apps can be indexed.
Here are the basic steps for app indexing in brief:
1. App and website content must be linked for app indexing.
2. An app indexing SDK / API must be integrated and configured in the app code.
3. Intent filters must be added to the manifest file
4. The app must be registered/configured in the Google Search Console and the Google Play Developer Console.
5. Mobile browser functionalities and bridge technologies are very dynamic. App links (indexing, deep links) should be continuously checked and optimised. User analytics tools like Firebase Analytics can analyse a lot of important information about app indexing performance.
WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT REQUIREMENTS FOR APP INDEXING?
Unfortunately, it is not yet possible for search engines (Google) to index content directly from an app if the developer has not created the necessary conditions and fulfilled certain criteria. The following is a non-exhaustive list of tasks that are necessary for app indexing:
1. The content you want to index must also be hosted on a website. This website must of course be mobile-optimised and contain clean deep links to the app.
2. You have to tell Google what you want to index. This requires header tags and description tags within the texts. The sitemap has to be delivered as well.
3. Once the content has been hosted, deferred, and indexed on the web, a few actions need to be taken within the app files. These are as follows:
a) First you have to make sure that the manifest files are configured for search engine crawlers.
b) Next, universal links must be configured so that browsers can open the app directly. Find out more about deep links, universal links, and other types of link in our blog post about DEEP LINKS.
c) If the app needs special permissions, you have to make sure that, for example, the Entitlements.plist file on iOS is configured correctly. The following links contain more details about app entitlements for Android and iOS.
e) Only relevant and high-quality content is worth indexing. The app must provide content that is relevant to your target audience. If your content isn't valuable, your app won’t be either - with or without app indexing.
It is important to note that it takes from a few days up to several weeks for Google to actually index content and deep links so that the content can be accessed directly via Google search results.
OTHER FORMS OF INDEXING
As already mentioned, both Apple (iOS) and Google (Android) apps can be indexed on the web. However, there are other alternative content indexing options in the operating system itself, which are platform-specific. We will cover more about content indexing in the operating system, e.g. Apple Spotlight Search, Siri Shortcuts, and Google Slices, in an upcoming blog post.
APP STREAMING AND INSTANT APPS FROM GOOGLE
The biggest advantage of instant apps is that they do not have to be searched for and installed via the Google Play Store, but can be displayed in mobile search results and installed directly. However, the entire app is not installed, but only the content requested by the user. This can then be consumed and used in exactly the same way as with a native app.
As long as you work with app links, it is not necessary to integrate the app indexing SDK for an instant app. With instant apps, which are only offered by Google, the app code is divided into different modules and these parts can then be downloaded and used separately.
Unlike progressive web apps, which open a web app in the mobile browser, instant apps are also installed on the smartphone. Thanks to app streaming technology, Google offers an option that severely weakens the boundaries between native apps and the mobile internet. The app opens virtually on a Google server and users can interact with this "virtual" app. Here's a good 101 on instant apps. Access to app content is, of course, greatly simplified as a result.
An example of a new possibility offered by app streaming is that Google's online payment service, Android Pay, is immediately ready for use when using instant apps and additional registration with the original app developer is no longer necessary. This is certainly an advantage, especially for mobile shopping (m-commerce). After closing or exiting an instant app, it remains in the smartphone cache so that it can be loaded faster when called up again. However, the cached app modules should (according to Google) disappear completely from the smartphone after a few hours.
Google streaming uses the following data:
Content from the native app
- Access to the app depending on the search term
- Additional content depending on the interaction
- Menu and navigation
- Interactive elements and the layout
If you want to turn a "normal" Android app into an instant app, you have to modularise it first. Sometimes this requires restructuring the app code. However, if it was your intention from the beginning to release the app as an instant app, the additional work required to modularise it is manageable.
BOTTOM LINE ON APP INDEXING
We believe that app indexing is an important success factor for native apps, depending on the type, target group, and content of the app. App indexing enables the target group to discover the app via a mobile browser (without searching the app store) and view the content (or parts of it) without leaving the browser. If this meets expectations, users are more likely to download the app than they are via app stores. Not many app publishers currently utilise this possibility, which is why app indexing can give you an advantage over the competition at the moment. However, the effort is definitely not to be underestimated. As we have shown, app indexing can help:
a) increase the number of app visits,
b) improve the loyalty of existing users,
c) achieve higher conversion rates, i.e. additional app retention and app installations.
Of course, it is important to look at the specific app, the content, and the usage context before deciding on app indexing. Not every app is suitable for app indexing. It is important to recognise that mobile browsers are getting better and better at both showing content from native apps (app indexing) and enabling "native" functionality in web apps (Progressive Web Apps - PWAs).
FURTHER LINKS ON THE TOPIC OF APP INDEXING:
Do you already have experience with app indexing? We would love to hear from you!
- Study by Searchmetrix on app indexing Note: this study offers a lot of good information, but you have to keep in mind that it dates back to 2016 and a lot of further developments have taken place since then.
- Video from Firebase about app indexing
- Explanation of app indexing in blog form via Firebase
- A detailed video zu mobile search and app indexing by Moz (in English)
- Detailed article by Deepcrawl about app deep linking & indexing
- Good blog post about app indexing entitled: Benefits of App Indexing on Growthtower.com
- 101 on Instant Apps
Do you already have experience with app indexing? We would love to hear from you!