Mobile Search and App Visibility

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Does Mobile SERPs Matter for Apps?

The Significance of Mobile Search

Apps appear as “App Packs” in mobile search results. This type of result is triggered more often as more searches occur in mobile than on desktop. Mobile search is even attributed as the main method for discovering mobile content.  And with the emphasis on mobile-friendly content and app content deep linking capabilities on both Android and iOS, more apps will appear higher in the mobile SERPs – pushing organic mobile search results lower on the page.

 

Mobile App Indexing

Before, only the web content from an app’s official web page appear in search results. But now, indexed app content can appear as app packs or individual mobile search results (like in iOS devices). This is made possible through deep linking within apps. Google claims to have already indexed 100 billion app content links. App indexing was initially designed as an incentive for businesses with apps. It  offers functionality with implications on the app’s downloads and re-engagement.

 

With deep linking capabilities, Google can retrieve information from within the app and provide a link to the user. The user receives either a link that would redirect to the app (if the app is already on the user’s device) or the app’s download link. App listings certainly change both the SERPs environment and provide another opportunity for app discovery.

 

Google indexes both Android and iOS apps and just recently, iOS 9 Search was introduced. This mobile search capability has three APIs. The NSUserActivity object is used to index in-app activities and app states that users can return to as applicable in their search. The CoreSpotlight framework enables you to index app content (including user-generated content) and then manage this on-device edit. Then there is the Web Markup API. It links the app to related web content and ensures that search results from the app’s website content open using the app (if installed already).

 

Apple’s app indexing is different in a way that there is an effort to protect user privacy.  Apple provides a private indexing option. Device Index’ main function is to index content that is only accessible to a single user ID. Google has a generalized restriction. An XML file inclusion , noindex.xml in order to specify links and URIs to exclude in the index.

 

How Apps Rank in SERPs

But how can apps land a spot above the fold where it matters most? Ranking factors may differ between Google and Apple but a combination of ASO and traditional SEO practices are at play.

 

Ranking signals are different for apps. Google determines the authority of app deeplinks through the Firebase App Indexing API or SDK. The use of the app indexing API itself is a positive ranking signal. Google search also share several ranking signals with OS-specific app stores. This means that apps that rank high in specific search queries in the app store would also appear in a SERP App Pack for the same search queries.

 

SEO also plays a big role in app SERPs ranking. Google considers app metadata like title and description as title tags and on-page text. App titles with exact-match keywords are often in the first six results in the app pack. Keywords like “app” and “download” appear in Google search queries but not in play store queries. Keywords from user reviews also serve as ranking signals. These keywords are an accumulation of sentiments from users and somehow serve as a gauge for the app’s quality and reliability.

 

App rating is also a strong ranking signal. The minimum star rating of apps in app packs is 3.5. Google sometimes places the app pack at the bottom of the mobile SERPs or in the middle of organic results. The latter happens if there are only a handful of apps in the pack or if the app’s ranking is low. On the other hand, apps with high star ratings can overtake other apps with exact-match keywords in their titles.

 

Ranking factors for Apple search is a different matter but the basic framework is the same.

Ranking Signals for Apple Search:

  • Apps already installed in the device rank higher.
  • The authority of the associated web URL.
  • Click-through rate of the specific search result.
  • Structured data implementation.
  • App screen engagement as determined by session analytics.
  • The rate of user engagement.
  • Association of screens to either a single user ID or URL of different indexing methods

 

There are also factors that can negatively affect the app’s ranking:

  • Over indexing.
  • Low engagement of indexed app screens.
  • Keyword stuffing, especially if the keywords are irrelevant to the indexed content.
  • High bounce rate.
  • Interstitial ads that may prevent the direct access of content.

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