Everything You Need to Know About App Indexing

Google prides itself on the fact that it can crawl all web content. However, the evolution of mobile technology has also brought new ways to distribute content to users, in particular through mobile applications. Until now, Google was not able to crawl the content of apps, which is now possible. App indexing allows users to access your website’s content through your mobile application when performing a search on Google.

For instance, local Montreal news sites with mobile applications as TVA Nouvelles and Journal de Montreal will appear in search results for queries such as “Montreal news”. Users will then have the option of opening those pages directly in their mobile applications rather than in their standard web versions. Generally speaking, mobile applications are more adapted to users’ needs than their equivalent mobile-friendly website.
App listings in search results are commonly referred to as “mobile app packs”, and are very similar to local search results. In both cases, research shows that device users are more likely to favor the first three search results, clearly demonstrating the strong impact these listings have on mobile search behavior.

What does it looks like in search results?

Mobile app packs in search results have the following characteristics:

  1. Title: Google lists the application page’s html title, which is also the application’s name. The length is usually limited to 55-62 characters, with longer titles being truncated.
  2. URL: The URL shown points to iTunes or the Google Play Store.
  3. Icons: iOS display is square, whereas Android is rounded.
  4. Design: Android results appear more frequently in Google search results - which make sense, since Android is owned by Google. An “Apps” title can be found above the pack, with a link to Google Play at the end.

Benefits of App Indexing

App indexing holds several advantages for your digital strategy. Firstly, it significantly increases your application’s visibility and helps increase the number of downloads.
Secondly, mobile applications are often more adapted to users’ needs than mobile sites, improving user satisfaction, retention rates, and word-of-mouth. This especially holds true in certain industries such as publishing, for which enhanced navigation and functionalities make articles more useful and enjoyable to read.
Thirdly, app indexing can considerably increase your visibility in Google’s search results. For the past few months, Google has been notifying users that applications can be opened directly from the results pages. This can help your app stand out from competitors’ listings. Note that this functionality is only available on Android 4.1 mobile browsers and more recent versions, when the user’s account is logged in.
In September 2015, Google officially announced that app indexing is a ranking factor for mobile search queries. In fact, Google has been treating queries from desktop and mobile results differently since April 2015: when searching on Google from a mobile device, users are now more likely to be shown mobile-friendly websites in the results pages, since these are viewed favorably by the search engine in its mission to provide users with the most relevant results.

Example of App Indexing application in Google search results on iPhone. Notice the button prompting the user to download the app for free.

The user is also given the deeplinking option to download the app from article pages, giving us an indication of the interplay between the article on the website and its version on the mobile app.

The Native App Paradox

It is something of a contradiction to find that app indexing has been on the rise for the past two years, notably due to Google’s announcement that it will be indexing iOS apps, yet native applications (ie, apps that are promoted on iTunes or Google Play and are designed for specific mobile operating systems) are losing ground to web apps. According to a research conducted by Morgan Stanley, U.S. mobile browser traffic is twice as high as app traffic and is growing 1.2 times faster.

This is mainly due to the following development constraints on native apps:  

  • Higher development costs due to the prevalence of two distinct coding languages (Objective-C for iTunes and C++ for Android), while web apps are operating-system agnostic. Furthermore, updates on native apps must then be made to the source code on two platforms instead of one, thus incurring additional expenses.
  •  The user must download and install native apps, which can cause friction and drop-off.
  • Native apps must be re-submitted to app stores for approval after each update. On Google Play the delay for approval can be of less than one day, while Apple’s App Store can take as long as a week. Important bug fixes on iOS can therefore take up to a week before they’re made available, whereas web app updates can be deployed at any time by the developers. This can have a significant impact on user satisfaction, reviews, and uninstallation rates – three key app store optimization factors. 

There are pros and cons to both native apps and web apps. Since web browsers act as intermediaries, web apps are often slower. They are also ineffective in zones with little to no wifi access, such as subways. Furthermore, web apps don’t benefit from the deeplinking and app indexing advantages of native applications.

This article was originally written by Francis Roussin.

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