Bridge the gap between web & app: Google App Indexing & Apple Universal Links

Discoverability – by users and by search engines – frustrates anyone who aspires to make consumer products.

The bog-standard SEO consultant will point to a variety of Google-specific remedies and leave it there. And really, the best baseline SEO advice is found at Moz Blog. But if we define “search engine optimisation” broadly, there is so much more to SEO than fiddling with Google Webmaster Tools.

When evaluating the SEO-ness of a suite of products, the guiding questions to be answered first are :

  • How do customers find us?
  • Who are the gatekeepers between our public and our products?

This article explains how to knit together the three silos of web content, app content and referring links from social media for great SEO visibility and a smooth customer experience.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Since the rise of the iPhone in 2007 and the iOS App Store in 2008, mobile handsets have come to dominate how people communicate over the internet. There’s no better, more succinct narrative of this upheaval and democratisation of access than Benedict Evans’s presentation, “Mobile is eating the world“.

The presentation captures the pervasiveness with which mobile dominates our lives and businesses, but it glosses over some of the growing pains we, as digital agencies and brands alike, have suffered in pursuit of the best way to reach the most people on the planet – apps.

It’s helpful to remember the state of the internet 8 years ago. By the end of 2008, Google dominated the major customer acquisition channels of the time – search and advertising.

One silo - web

But, with the rapid adoption of mobile, people spent an increasing percentage of time on Twitter (without mobile, Twitter would be a footnote in digital history) and, more importantly, Facebook. Freed from the constraints of desktop computing, mobile became an enabling platform for social networks – what better way to kill time or casually keep in touch? The social graph exploded and became Facebook’s most valuable asset.

Two silos - social and web

If you look at the analytics of any publisher in the world, you’ll discover that Facebook dominates “customer acquisition” – e.g., where publishers get customers, usually called “referrers” in analytics suites.

Google and their search/advertising silo on the web has been supplanted in some markets and businesses by links posted by people on Facebook and clicked on by people using Facebook.

At the same time, shifted how they accessed Facebook and Twitter – from a web browser to a native app. That pattern of usage cuts across all digital services – people spend most of their time on mobile using apps and not their web browsers. Because of privacy and security concerns, apps are designed to operate autonomously in another silo, particularly on iOS.

three silos - social, web and apps

If I email a link from a news site to my mum, how can I ensure the link opens in the app on her iPad rather than opening in Safari or in Chrome? How do we break down the walls between silos and streamline the means and methods of customer acquisition? How do we create better customer experiences? By forging links between the silos.

FACEBOOK

This isn’t a new concept. Facebook proposed a “deep links” standard in 2014 http://applinks.org.

Developer documentation – https://developers.facebook.com/docs/applinks/overview

Since I make tightly-integrated products that have breaking news, video on demand and live broadcasting components across the desktop/mobile web, mobile apps and “home devices” apps (TV, Playstation, Xbox), it’s important to clearly define the relationship between content across these platforms – and Facebook’s suggestions simply aren’t a silver bullet. This brings us to the app platform vendors, Google and Apple.

GOOGLE

Not to be outdone or outflanked, Google has a way to securely expose app data to Google Search called App Indexing : https://developers.google.com/app-indexing/ It’s a straightforward solution for Android, but it is in beta on iOS.

Android

  • Add intent filters to your app manifest
  • Connect your app to your website through the Google Play Console and Google Search Console

iOS

  • Declare support for custom URL schemes
  • Handle incoming URLs that use the custom schemes
  • Add a custom URL scheme for App Indexing
  • Add back bar support for Search deep links

Developer documentation :

APPLE

Over the past couple of years, Apple doubled down on privacy and security and so it’s not surprising that they take a dim view of third parties indexing app content.

Apple refer to their scheme as Universal Linkshttps://developer.apple.com/library/prerelease/ios/releasenotes/General/WhatsNewIniOS/Articles/iOS9.html#//apple_ref/doc/uid/TP40016198-DontLinkElementID_2

  • com.apple.developer.associated-domains entitlement to one’s app
  • apple-app-site-association post JSON file to one’s website
  • use Apple-specific (and Schema.org standard) markup to make content mirrored in an app and on the web visible

Great WWDC2015 video on the topic : https://developer.apple.com/videos/wwdc/2015/?id=70

Silos connected with deep link schemes from Google and Apple

Adopting both Google’s App Indexing and Apple’s Universal Links will ensure maximum discoverability across web search and on-device search and guarantee a great app experience for customers on mobile.

Bridge the gap between web & app: Google App Indexing & Apple Universal Links

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