(Image Source: SmartInsights)
We’ve already seen a number of consequences for this rising trend. Google has been doling out separate desktop and mobile search results for several years, and recently released a “Mobilegeddon” update to finalize its preference for mobile-optimized sites. It’s clear that mobile user experiences are going to continue becoming more important, especially as Google has confirmed that it doesn’t even care about companies having a desktop version of their site anymore.
With apps seeing increasingly popular usage for specific functions—like making restaurant reservations or getting directions, for example—more than one marketer has raised the question: with mobile usage rising and apps becoming more popular, could apps become a new “type” of website, eventually making traditional websites altogether obsolete?
A new update on the Google front may hold a clue to that development. But first, we have to look at how apps have developed in the world of search engine indexing.
Up until a few years ago, and arguably still today, the “default” mode of the Internet is the access of specific server-hosted web pages through a web browser. This is the structure for which search engines were developed, and until recently, websites were the only constructs that could take advantage of search result improvement.
When apps started becoming popular, Google introduced a host of new app-specific search indexing techniques. Namely, they started indexing apps the way they index websites. As a result, a prompt for your app may appear when a mobile user searches for something relevant to your app. They’ll be presented with your app name, a description, your rating, downloads, and then a link to install the app directly:
(Image Source: Google)
Other search engines have also jumped on this trend. Additionally, it’s possible to index specific content from your app into the search engine; by building deep app links, a user who searches for the relevant content will be presented with a link that opens the app to a specific page within the app. The only hitch is, the user must have the app installed already to access that content.
When these techniques started to become more popular, especially for businesses that already had apps, many marketers took it as a sign of things to come. Much like Google started introducing mobile search results, and now demands mobile websites by default, Google could be introducing app results, eventually demanding apps by default.
From a user experience standpoint, apps do hold a number of advantages over websites; they’re more immediately available, designed to function in specific ways, and offer a higher degree of personalization due to having access to a personalized device. Then again, most of us who have grown up knowing the Internet as a collection of web pages find it hard to imagine the traditional web browser experience ever truly going away.
For all their advantages, apps still have one critical disadvantage: they have to be downloaded on a device in order to be accessed. At least, they used to.
Google App Streaming launched just a couple of months ago, and has since risen in both functionality and popularity. Now, when you perform a search for deep linked content within an app that isn’t currently downloaded on your phone, you have the option to “stream” the app. Contrary to a common misconception, you aren’t accessing a mobile site version of the app when you do this; you’re actually accessing a version of the app that’s running in the Google Cloud, almost like a remote access machine.
(Image Source: TechCrunch)
This essentially solves the problem of the “download barrier” when it comes to app access through search engines. Google’s goal here is to provide a user with the content he/she needs, regardless of whether it currently exists as a webpage or as a mobile app.
Seeing Google’s recent favoritism toward supporting apps in its search engine, you might be led to believe that Google is attempting to gradually phase out traditional websites in favor of mobile apps (as we briefly discussed earlier). However, this doesn’t appear to be the case; app content doesn’t take precedence over web content. In fact, by offering this, Google is striving to give users the best of both worlds. Traditionally indexed web content is still available, with the addition of app streaming to avoid alienating users who need app access. In effect, Google is striving to keep apps and web pages as closely bound together as possible.
It’s hard to say exactly what Google has in store for the future, mostly because it’s consistently surprised the marketing community with its advancements for the better part of two decades. However, if I were a betting man, I’d say that app-based and webpage-based SEO will continue to exist as complementary and independently valuable strategies for interested organizations. Google clearly doesn’t favor one over the other, but instead is trying its best to make as many users happy as possible. If anything, we should look to user preferences as an indicator of what comes next.