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How to Make Sure Google Can See (and Index) Your App

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You spent a lot of time developing your mobile app. Users seem to like it and you’re getting plenty of downloads, but is your app showing up for relevant searches when people look for something like it?

Traditional SEO is all about ranking sites, which are accessed through a browser. But apps represent a new realm of online user experience—they’re downloaded directly, require no browser to access them, and aren’t hosted on any particular domain. As a result, they aren’t indexed the same way by Google and other search engines, so if you want to make your app visible in search engines, you’ll need to take a few extra steps to ensure it happens.

The Convergence of User Access

articleimage1600 The Convergence of User Access

First, it’s important to understand where app traffic and visibility stand in the SEO world. Consider that just a few years ago, desktop sites, mobile sites, and apps were all separate entities—mobile sites were hosted on a completely different domain, and apps were categorized independently. Now, user access is becoming more seamless—users are relying on mobile sites more than desktop sites, they’re accessing apps regularly, and they don’t think of these three realms as radically different from one another since they’re using the same devices for all three.

As a result, the way we think about hosting and offering these three resources should also become more seamless. Already, mobile and desktop are beginning to unify in the form of responsive sites hosted on a single domain. So how do we make sure that app-based content is also available through the same URL- and search-based means?

The App Indexing API

articleimage1600  The App Indexing API

The short version of the story is that Google offers a specific, easy-to-integrate API that will ensure your app is seen and indexed by its search algorithm. However, Android and iOS apps are treated a little differently. Namely, for Android apps, if a user searches for a term specific to your app and has not yet downloaded it, he/she will see it appear in mobile search results. Those who already have the app installed will get autocomplete suggestions, along with deep links to content within the app. For iOS, things are a little less beneficial; mobile search visibility only applies for users who have already downloaded the app.

Either way, applying the app indexing API is relatively simple. You can think about it in three steps:

  • Make sure HTTP deep links are supported in your app—there are different ways to do this for Android and iOS apps, but I’ll dig a little deeper into that below.
  • Directly implement Google’s app indexing API, which they conveniently offer to developers.
  • Use rel=alternate link elements or a Schema markup to map various web pages to their app-based counterparts, so Google can gain a better understanding of your app.

That being said, Android and iOS apps do require a bit of a different approach.

Android App Indexing

articleimage1600 Android App Indexing

To get your Android app’s content properly indexed:

  • Add intent filters to your manifest so you can dictate how your app will respond to different types of user actions. Action, category, and data tags are the most important. This will allow for HTTP deep links, which is a requirement for app search visibility.
  • Use Google’s Search Console to associate your app with your site. This will ensure that Google knows your brand is in control of both your mobile app and your primary domain (and will associate the two).
  • Use the app indexing API provided by Google. They give detailed instructions on how to do this correctly.
  • Run a test. Fetch as Google to make sure you’ve implemented these steps correctly.

iOS App Indexing

articleimage1600  iOS App Indexing

For iOS, the process is a little different:

  • Use the “universal links” option to enable HTTP deep link support. If you need help with this step of the process, Google offers a handy guide for developers.
  • Use Google’s app SDK to register your app with Google. This will make sure Google recognizes and properly associates your app with an existing website.
  • Run a test. Fetch as Google to make sure you’ve implemented these steps correctly.

Apps Without a Corresponding Website

articleimage1600  Apps Without a Corresponding Website

You may have noticed that one of the biggest parts of implementing app indexing is associating an app with a particular website. So what happens if your app has no corresponding website? Unfortunately, do to Google’s current structures and limitations, it is not possible to index your app. However, they are working on developing a new way to index and display app-only content. If you’re interested in being one of the first volunteers for the feature, you can use this form to apply.

Is This Really Necessary?

If you don’t have a mobile application, the answer is short and probably obvious—this isn’t necessary for implementation. However, having an app associated with your brand that’s indexed with Google will actually increase your ranks. Knowing that offering a mobile app can boost user engagement, brand visibility, and even customer service, that ranking boost might be the icing on the cake you need to finally start developing an app.

Trends are moving in a direction that favors mobile experiences and applications, so your business will probably need to develop its own app eventually. With app indexing this simple, it doesn’t take much to make sure it gets seen by the right people.

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Samuel Edwards

In his 4+ years as a digital marketing specialist, Sam has learned the ins and outs of online marketing. Additionally, he has worked with countless local businesses as well as enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including: NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP, and human rights organization Amnesty International. Today he continues to work with and establish SEO, PPC and SEM campaigns.

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