Google has made changes to end the disjointed way in which users move between the web and mobile apps. Essentially, what this means is that users won’t be expected to download individual applications just to be access content within that app.
Until now, users could only access app content after downloading the app that contained the respective content. This process meant there was a huge disconnect with accessibility on mobile to web and app content, as users would have to flip between web browsers and apps to surface relevant content.
It means that brands could find that their applications, and the content held within them, are much more accessible to new users - a move that will undoubtedly benefit app-based businesses and one which could also encourage more brands to invest in their mobile applications.
How did app indexing work?
‘App indexing’ allows a brand to index their app content so that it is visible within Google Search results pages. Rather than searching for a specific topic or piece of content within an app or App Store (such as Apple’s App Store or Google Play), users instead can search within a normal web browser on their mobile which will display content from the relevant apps that have been correctly indexed.
App indexing in organic search results helps brands to increase app engagement with both existing and new users. As mobile users with an application installed search for specific content within Google, they will see relevant content from that app displayed within the results.
Alternatively a new user will see an app install option if they do not have the relevant app installed.
This meant that in order for new users to access content within an app, they had to install each respective app. That created huge user experience issues for Google, as it provided a barrier to what was potentially the most relevant content for that user’s search query, and it made it harder for brands to attract new audiences. It also meant that, because Google only indexed apps that had corresponding web content, app-based services were not necessarily getting their content seen.
However, last month Google announced two key updates that will transform the level of app content users see within search.
No need for web content
The first update allows for brands with app-only content to have their content raised within Google search results without having the matching web content.
Although many brands tend to have both a website and an app, their communication strategy may be optimised to share certain content relevant to the app that is not necessary suited for the website, and visa-versa. In such a situation this content will now show in Google search where previously, it wouldn’t.
Alternatively, some brands have recognised the increased activity of mobile usage and are choosing an app-only strategy for their business (for example, Hotel Tonight). Google’s new update creates a level playing field for such brands to take advantage from getting deep app content displayed within search.
The second of these updates means that if a user does not have an application installed on their device, they will still be able to access the content within it. To deliver this content, Google will essentially ‘stream’ the device to the user (assuming a good Wi-Fi connection), removing a major barrier to content discovery.
The update also provides a quicker and more mobile friendly way to complete tasks like booking a hotel without installing the app. ‘Streaming’ does not mean that the results will lead the user to a functional mobile web version of the app but instead, the app will run from a virtual machine on Google’s cloud platform. The app will however, in the most part, function like a natively installed app.
Google hopes that by displaying app-only content in search results (without matching web content) and allowing users to view app content within the mobile browser without downloading the app, it will be able to retain users on the search engine and keep them top in search, making them more prevalent than ever. The offset for brands to have their app content streamed within Google search results is that naturally, there will be a decrease in app installations, but this could be countered by greater exposure of applications in search overall.
As with anything Google introduces, this new feature and functionality is currently in beta and being tested with a small number of app developers. Initially, users will have to be in the Google application on their phone (running on Android Lollipop or higher) for ‘streaming’ to be function (currently only available in the US). Google will use this beta stage to see how users respond before committing to worldwide deployment or to expansion on iOS.
In the more immediate future, Google will continue to index in-app only content (i.e. no matching web content required) and it will update search pages to ensure that links that launch apps will be supported in any browser that supports deep linking technology, including Google Chrome.
This update puts another emphasis on mobile as part of your digital strategy. Google is making significant efforts to improve the user experience for mobile users and that puts the onus on brands to optimise both their mobile website and applications.