Since April this year, Google now shows app install buttons and app deeplinks in the search engine result pages for Android users. They already showed it to users of specific apps but will now add apps if users haven’t installed it yet or are not logged in. Google has already indexed over 30 billion links directly pointing to content within apps and now uses App Indexing as a ranking signal for all Android users. A very logical step, since Google is now officially getting more searches from mobile compared to desktop users (source). Adding direct links to apps will contribute to a more positive user experience for their users.
Update 22-05: Google just announced Apps being included in the Search Console (formerly known as Webmaster Tools) interface: Rolling out the red carpet for app owners in Search Console
For me, the implications of this change are heavier compared to the #mobilegeddon everyone has been talking about in the past months. Since December 2013 Google has been testing with showing apps in their search results for logged in users, with specific apps already installed. Google now shows app deep links if both the webpage and app contents are indexed, not depending on any previous installed apps. At this point, Google is using web based signals to rank app content, so at this point, there is no need to really optimize the content within your Apps for SEO purposes. Rankings still depend on your websites ranking signals. With over 50% market share for Android, Google has a strong position in the indexing of apps. This development will probably inspire more companies to create Android Apps in the first place, before developing a iOS version.
App indexing requirements
- To make it possible to go directly to specific content within an app, there needs to be a possibility to use deeplinks. Read Google’s guide on Add deep linking to your app. Make sure these links take users directly to the content. Remove any paywall, splash screens, login screens or any popups that block the content after the first click. Similar to the Frist Click free principle Google uses for News and Subscriptions sites.
- Google needs to know about the relation between a website and the accompanying app. They need to be connected though Google Play Console and Google Webmaster Tools: verifying your website in the Google Play Developer console. If this is done correctly, the app will show up in WMT as an associate account. If the deeplink configuration was done correctly, Google will start indexing the deep links automatically directly after verification.
- To help Google find the deeplinks for specific webpages, there are three ways to support Google’s robots:
- Using a <link> element in the the <head> section of a page.
- Using an <xhtml:link> element in the Sitemap <url> element specifying the page.
- Using Schema.org JSON-LD markup for the ViewAction potential action.
Don’t forget to also add a deep link from your homepage to your app. Never include alternate links to app deep links that don’t exist. That means you only link to app deep links you are sure you have content available in your app.
- App indexing API: instead of using your website to point to deep links, you can use the specific API developed to communicate your deep links directly to Google. Currently this API is just used for two things: specifying deep links and make it possible to engage with in Google’s Auto completion functions. When the API is enabled, your app will show up in Google’s auto suggest boxes. Google will probably use this API to create new functions and that will probably result in having app specific ranking factors for SEO.
Tips and Tricks for app indexing
- You can restrict access to specific parts within your app by using a noindex.xml file. This file indicates which deep links should not be indexed by Google, a simple list of URIs that should be excluded from crawling and indexing. This is comparable to the Robots noindex meta tags works for standard webpages.
- Track performance: firstly you can use the traffic and clicks in Google Webmaster Tools. Also reguraly check the crawling errors and blocked resources overview to make sure Google is able to index all app content properly. A more advanced possibility is implementing referrer information so you can track the traffic of specific app deep links originating from web search.
- Follow the latest developments via https://plus.google.com/+AppIndexing/posts
- Contribute to new developments: Google is actually looking for developers that want to participate in the developments by testing the latest updates, John Mueller shared:
Signup for Google App-Indexing preview features
We’re working on new things for sites & apps that use App-Indexing, and we’d love your feedback. If you have an Android app, have set up App-Indexing, if you’d be ok with signing an NDA, and if you’re keen on trying something out and giving us feedback, feel free to sign up here.
- Have a look at Bing’s App linking possibilities. They are also enabling app linking for Windows and Windows Phone apps; Link your app to Bing Search results.