Guest author John Milinovich is the CEO of URX. 

See also: Google Search Extends Deep Into Apps With Android 4.4 KitKat

In October, Google unveiled KitKat, the newest addition to the Android family. One of the less discussed new features was App Indexing, which will allow content from within apps to be surfaced within Google search results using deeplinks. Today, one of the biggest challenges with mobile search is it is completely blind to rich, actionable content within apps. Android App Indexing is going to completely change the way users discover content within apps by leveraging Google’s largest asset to drive downstream engagement for app developers.

The Problem Today

One of the largest problems that app developers face is they don’t have the tools they need to properly engage their app audience. Mobile users spend 80% of their mobile time in apps and have an average of 48 apps installed. The Google Play and Apple App stores now have over 1 million listings each, and 66% of users only open apps between 1 and 10 times. This means even after app marketers win the battle to get an app installed on a users’ device, they risk the reality of being forgotten or, even worse, uninstalled. 

How App Indexing Changes Things

Search is still the most powerful form of intent, and mobile now accounts for over 25% of Google’s paid click volume. Until KitKat’s App Indexing, this powerful signal was never able to be used to drive engagement for mobile apps. The implications here are huge – search visibility was one of the main value propositions the mobile Web still had over native apps, but this change ensures that apps will continue to be a crucial part of the mobile landscape. App Indexing will cause developers to take a more holistic view of their marketing strategy, treating apps and the web in the same light – this is very inline with how Google wants advertisers to think about their budgets, as was evident in the recent release of AdWords enhanced campaigns.

How App Indexing Works

Google App Indexing takes advantage of a company’s Web SEO to help them promote their apps. Apps will be treated as first class citizens by Google’s crawlers, algorithms and Webmaster tools to ensure users are taken to the best location to consume the content they’re looking for. There are two main steps involved in getting an app ready for App Indexing:

  1. Update App to Support Deeplinks: App Indexing relies on an app using deeplinks to be able to link into the middle of an app. Android developers must add Android Intent Filters to their Manifest files and map Actions/Methods to relevant Routes.
  2. Update Site Map: After an app has deeplinking enabled, an app developer needs to expose its deeplink structure to Google’s algorithms. This can be done by either adding sections to the section of a page’s HTML or by adding elements to the XML sitemap. In addition, developers need to update their robot.txt file to allow the Googlebot to index their app.

Implications of App Indexing

Google’s announcement solidified the giant’s perspective on why deeplinking matters and completely changes the way developers market their apps in the process. With this change comes both opportunities and challenges for developers. First, this will cause marketers to refocus on their SEO strategy in a way that is more sensitive to users’ mobile search behaviors. This causes a difficult challenge for mobile-only companies that don’t have robust web presences, as they won’t be able to leverage their Web-based SEO to boost app traffic. Further, it will be interesting to see how quickly marketers take advantage of these changes, since they only work on Android at the moment. It remains to be seen how or when Google will take similar measure to iOS. 

Android App Indexing is something that needs to be taken very seriously by mobile developers. The use of engagement metrics as an informant in app rankings in both the Play Store and the App Store, combined with rising challenges in engagement for mobile marketers should compel app developers to take a serious look at how deeplinking and app indexing will impact their business.

Top photo: Nexus 5 by Dan Rowinski for ReadWrite