July 20

SEO for Apps: How Apple App Indexing is Changing the Online Optimization Field

Apple and Google both announced in June that they would start improving their app search capabilities by instituting new technologies that index deep content within apps. The specifics of Apple’s indexing approach were detailed in the first article of a three-part series from Search Engine Land.

Essentially, app indexing is the accumulation of information within apps to create search results. This means that when you search a restaurant, for example, on your phone, instead of redirecting you to a website, you could instead be guided directly to an app where you can make a reservation for that restaurant. For Apple, this will allow users to search for apps—new, or previously downloaded—and app content via the Spotlight, Siri, or Spotlight Suggest features. It’s also important to note that Apple’s app indexing will only work for iOS programs.

Methods for Indexing

Apple’s evolving app indexing service is comprised of three main indexing methods: NSUserActivity, CoreSpotlight, and Web Markup. NSUserActivity and CoreSpotlight work specifically with apps, while Web Markup language can be used and understood by both apps and websites. Another important distinction in Apple’s indexing methods is the difference between private “Device Index” and public “Cloud Index.” While Google’s indexing is rumored to make a similar distinction, it is not confirmed that separate indexes are created.

Apple sees privacy as a key differentiator and selling point for its products, and demonstrates a higher regard for its customers’ privacy, which is why the Device Index is designed to harness deep app content while still protecting users’ personal information.

What it means for SEO

Programming apps for Apple’s indexing services really only requires a few additional bits of code. What’s important for SEO professionals is the fact that app indexing will require developers and marketers alike to pay greater attention to app search optimization (ASO) through metadata and deep app content optimization earlier in the app development process.

That’s not to say traditional web SEO is to be forgotten entirely, especially since Apple’s Web Markup indexing language allows website popularity and app search rank to work hand in hand. When a website includes Web Markup language, it is also eligible for an Apple Search rank, giving you two chances to achieve rank.

In addition to paying attention to optimization earlier, there are also several other factors that contribute to app search rank including app downloads and installations, aggregated app engagement, and personalized app engagement. Successfully promoting app installation can be a huge factor in increasing your Apple Search rank. For this, Apple and Google have different ways of redirecting users to app download pages. While Google will take users directly to the app download page, Apple uses Smart App Banners, which appear on web pages encouraging users to click-through to reach the App Store. When considering conversions, Google’s more direct link could prove more beneficial. Additionally, if Apple’s aim is to create an app-only digital space, using Smart App Banners on websites does little to eliminate the need for a web-based world.

Apps as a Necessity

Moving forward, an important question to ask of your own business, or of the clients you work with, is whether developing an app would be a worthwhile marketing investment. The answer really depends on your specific business. Some companies offer services and products that easily translate to an app platform. Some don’t. While developing an app couldn’t hurt given the possibilities for app search optimization and how many people use apps on their mobile and tablet devices, search engines will continue to be a popular venue for search queries. Though Google is developing app indexing methods as well, Google stands the most to gain from maintaining a web-centric digital world. In fact, Google invests heavily in programs for developers to create high quality web content to rival that of apps.

Though Google has an advantage when it comes to search, currently holding a little over 70% of the global search engine market share, Apple has an advantage when it comes to apps. By implementing app indexing technologies for iOS devices, Apple users will now have access to what could be considered a more personalized search option built into their own devices, which could steal traffic away from Google.

Though the platforms are different, the objectives and basic practices of SEO and ASO are incredibly similar. And given how we use technology today, ASO really is the next logical step in furthering the reach and relevance of SEO.