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

Part 3 : Survey the competition, see what works and what doesn’t using “jobs to be done”

In Part 1 we began by asking ourselves some guiding questions to challenge our initial assumptions. In Part 2 we defined our vision and mission, products or services and how we’ll know when we have succeeded.

Now we want to survey the competition – see where they are, what they’re doing – and why. A typical competitive analysis methodology :

  • Who are they?
  • Who are our competitor’s users?
  • How does our competition reach their users?
  • What’s the product?
  • What’s the product’s position in the market?

After we’ve done our homework about our competition’s customers and devised a proper SWOT analysis, we will want to know more about how products are used.

Methodology for product development based on a review of the competition and determining the
Methodology for product development based on a review of the competition and determining the “jobs to be done”

At work I recently completed a study of 20 different sport and news websites, in particular the editorial strategy of responsive web views vs app home screens and their respective navigational schemes.

Have a look at following examples of two very similar, yet subtly different products. What conclusions do you draw from the following questions:

  • What are the “jobs to be done” by this product?
  • How do our competitors minimise effort?
  • How do our competitors monetise?

Remember, just because a cool new feature or service exists in a competitor’s product doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for your product.

It’s important to know why a feature exists, because that’s the only way you’ll be able to determine if it’s the right fit for your product and help achieve your commercial goals.

Part 3 : Survey the competition, see what works and what doesn’t using “jobs to be done”

“Jobs to be done” and B2C product development

The job, not the customer, is the fundamental unit of analysis for a marketer who hopes to develop products that customers will buy.

Clayton Christensen on “What Customers Want from Your Products

Quote

Part 2 : Refining your vision, from mission statement to actionable intelligence

In Part 1, I introduced a set of “guiding questions” one can pose before embarking on a cycle of product development or as an aid to focus a project team on a specific goal. They’re useful questions to ask whenever one wants to challenge assumptions and shake the tree a bit to get at the truth of a given situation.

But sometimes one doesn’t have a clear solution in mind or one needs to overhaul an existing, underperforming product or service. Best to go back to basics to ground oneself by defining an overarching goal and supplement with some intelligence about how to achieve that goal.

Refining Our Vision 

  • What’s our vision?
    • E.g., our ultimate goal – the global leader in delivering amazing sport content anywhere, anytime
  • What’s our mission?
    • E.g., state broadly how we achieve the vision – e.g., “producing market-defining products to deliver our best of breed content to the world”
  • When will we know we’ve succeeded?
    • E.g., which metrics and KPIs will we use to measure progress toward our mission, fulfilling our vision? Increased subscription revenue? x% more page views or marketshare?
  • What will contribute to achieving our ambition ?
    • Core product or service
    • Who are our customers?
    • What “jobs to be done” do our customers want?
    • What makes us different from our competitors?

This technique works for commercial propositions as well as products and services – and prepares one for devising a concrete set of product requirements.

vision and mission development worksheet
A useful grid to help you refine your vision, supporting mission statement and to define specific products and “jobs to be done” to further your goals.

Continued in Part 3.

Part 2 : Refining your vision, from mission statement to actionable intelligence

Part 1 : So you want to build a successful and profitable web site, mobile or home devices app, service or platform?

Often when I tell newly met acquaintances how I make my living this statement/question arises – “I have an idea for an app (or website, etc) – tell me how do I make it?” Where to begin? Perhaps with a quick overview of my previous experience. Over the past 14 years I’ve made a wide array of products and services, monetised through advertising, subscription and mixed revenue models :

  • Streaming video portals
  • Screen savers
  • Advertising creatives
  • Flash-based games
  • Marketing microsites
  • Educational assessment
  • Breaking news, live video & video-on-demand sites and apps

Despite differences in scale and diversity, all of these products began by answering a series of “guiding questions”. These aren’t the classic “five whys”, but instead help lay the foundation for further development of your idea or proposition :

  • How would you describe this in 60 seconds?
  • What problem does it solve?
  • What is the service?
  • What is the opportunity?
  • Who are the competition?
  • What is our competitive advantage?
  • How will we monetise this?
  • What is required to deliver this?
  • What don’t we know and how will we find the answers?

If you’re able to quickly answer these questions, you’ll be well on your way toward making a commercially viable product or service.

This will be the first in a series of articles discussing how one conceives of, constructs, delivers and maintains a digital product. It’ll be a blend of commercial considerations, project management, product delivery and technical development.

Continued in Part 2, Part 3.

Part 1 : So you want to build a successful and profitable web site, mobile or home devices app, service or platform?

What it takes to be a consultant

As I prepare to launch a new phase of my career, I’m mindful of this thoughtful summary of precisely what it takes to be a great consultant by Matt Gemmell. Essential reading for anyone looking to up his/her game in business.

Today is my final working day with Perform and this paragraph sums up what I hope I’ve achieved over the past several years – and hope to do long into the future :

Being a consultant is about diplomacy. It’s about being a fact-finder for the client’s issues, and an interpreter for their wishes and business goals, and a translator between the domain of a difficulty, and the necessary steps to solve it. It’s also always about being an ambassador for the real stakeholders, which are usually the customers.

What it takes to be a consultant

The elegance of simplicity

“People don’t understand the elegance of simplicity,” Willis said once. “If you take a sophisticated idea, reduce it to the simplest possible terms so that it’s accessible to everybody, and don’t get simple mixed up with simplistic, it’s how you mount and present something that makes it engaging.” – Gordon Willis, the great cinematographer who died on the 18th of May 2014, in a piece by the Paris Review

That’s precisely what I strive for when writing copy, planning a project, giving a presentation, taking a photograph. Finding the essence of an idea and expressing it simply, elegantly.

Sometimes it’s an agonising process, but one feels so profoundly satisfied when it all falls into place.

The elegance of simplicity