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June 25, 2015

Apps 101: Deep Linking, App Indexing and Why They Matter

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Apps are largely considered the new SEO frontier. Mobile app usage is growing at an incredible rate and shows no sign of slowing. Overall app usage grew by 76 percent in 2014, and lifestyle apps in particular saw 174 percent growth.

If you have an app or are developing an app, app indexation and deep linking are things you definitely need to be paying attention to. Basically, Google wants to treat your app like a website. It wants to crawl it and index it so that search results can return specific pages from an app in mobile searches. That ability to return specific pages within an app? That’s deep linking.

This article is for those just dipping their toes into app indexation. Read on for a breakdown of what app indexing and deep linking actually are, as well as helpful examples of deep linking in action. You’ll also learn basic requirements for Android and iOS setup.

Dip your Toe Into Deep Linking and App Indexing

First, Some Definitions: What are App Indexing and Deep Linking?

What is Deep Linking?

Deep linking, in a general sense, involves linking to specific content within a website or app, rather than to the homepage. Here we’re talking in particular about getting specific elements of an app to show up in search results on a mobile device, allowing users to open an app directly from a search results page. Note: Users will only see this prompt if they have the particular app installed.

What Is App Indexing?

App indexing is the result of getting your app in Google’s index to enable deep linking. By allowing Google to index pages within your app, features (or promotions) within the app can begin showing up in users’ mobile searches, driving visits (and hopefully conversions) to the app.

Deep Linking in Action

Let’s say you search for “Jurassic World” on a mobile device, and you’re offered IMDB’s Jurassic World page rather than the IMDB homepage — this is deep linking in action. You, as the user, have the IMDB app installed on your smartphone, so you’re pleased to find among the top results the page for “Jurassic World” in your app, as well as a listing on IMDB.com directly.

Jurassic World mobile search

Let’s return to the previous example of Jurassic World. If you wanted to read some reviews for the movie, you might type in “Jurassic World reviews” in a mobile search.

Jurassic World Reviews

This result doesn’t give you the option to open the reviews in the mobile app. This would be a great opportunity to drive you to the app rather than the website, but that option simply doesn’t exist. Now, what if IMDB’s reviews page wasn’t ranking on the first page? Using deep linking in this instance would be a great way for IMDB to keep driving people back to the IMDB app, since Google is giving favor to apps that users have installed.

Next Steps: Getting Your App Indexed

To begin with, there are general setup requirements for Android and iOS:

Android Setup Requirements

  1. Must be developed with minSdkVersion 17 or lower.
  2. Only available on searches using Google app version 2.8 or higher, and Chrome for Android 4.1 or higher.
  3. Users must be signed in for deep linking to work.

iOS Setup Requirements

  1. Developed on a base SDK of iOS8.
  2. Only available on searches using Google app version 5.3 or higher, and Chrome for iOS.
  3. Users must be signed in for deep linking to work.

From there, Google offers specific guides for setting up Android apps and iOS apps for indexing. It is a technical process, but investing the time and effort can drive more users into your app and increase your relevance and visibility.

Have a specific question about app indexing and deep linking or mobile seo in general? Ask us in the comments! We’re always here to help. And in the meantime, check out this liveblog from Search Marketing Expo (SMX) West 2015 on Deep Linking and Development.

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15 responses to “Apps 101: Deep Linking, App Indexing and Why They Matter”

  1. Website Designing Company writes:

    Thanks John. We have recently started building android apps and will definitely take care of the points you have mentioned. Thanks a lot for keeping us posted on new Google trends.

  2. Peter Consolino writes:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for sharing this great article. App Indexing or API is an important factor nowadays for the search engines. Everything is now based on the apps and so Google and other search engines don’t wont to lack behind in this as well. Deep links are an important part of the app indexing and it will surely be given more importance in the near future as its the time of apps now. We are also working on certain apps that get found in google as any mobile user search for the particular content. That is what app indexing and deep linking is.

    Once again thanks for sharing such informative post. Cheers!

  3. Alexander Vereshchak writes:

    John, thank you very much for a valuable post.
    I got really a lot of new stuff I’ve never known about.
    We are developing an app (the secure messenger). That’s why the theme you started is so interesting for our team.

    You wrote about Deep Linking that “Users will only see this prompt if they have the particular app installed”.

    What about App Indexing?
    Will showing up in users’ mobile searches be ONLY among users who installed SafeUM, or it will not depend on installation, or somewhere in the middle?

    Thank you in advance.
    I wish you a great success.

  4. John Alexander writes:

    Peter and Website Designing Company- glad to help!

    Alexander- Google Now on Tap hasn’t been released to the public yet; it sounds like it should be released around September this year, with the latest Android update. (Now called “Google M”.) So I can’t say for certain how that is going to behave.
    However, in order for deep links to work, the user would need to have the app installed. Currently, Google is actually returning recommendations for some apps that aren’t installed; for example, I searched for a restaurant in my area, and Google showed me the link to the restaurant’s page on Yelp.com, but it also offered a link to install Yelp. (I don’t have Yelp on my phone.)
    However, that’s Yelp. Google pulls a lot of data from Yelp. It’s hard to believe that, for smaller companies or more specific niches, Google is going to extend the same courtesy. So it’s most likely that the user will in fact have to have the app installed in order to see those deep links showing up in their search results pages.
    Hope this helps!

  5. Cathy Mayhue writes:

    Thanks for this very enlightening article John!I am one of those who are yet to jump into the Mobile app bandwagon. Till now, happy with building websites but it seems can not afford to ignore mobile apps for long. Since, as you mentioned, Google has started indexing apps also, this will give a further impetus and motivation to app creators.

  6. Kevin writes:

    Thanks! John. You have explained very well in a short blog.

  7. John Alexander writes:

    Kevin- thanks for the feedback. Glad I could help!

    Cathy- glad to shed some light on the topic. Before you spend money on an app, make sure that your service warrants it. Spend a little time on a cost/benefits analysis and make sure that your business relies heavily enough on repeat traffic that an app would make sense. Of course, if your website doesn’t necessarily translate to an app, you could always develop an app that performs a useful function that is related to your business. It’s all about offering value to your users. Good luck!

  8. Harekrishna writes:

    Thanks! John,for a valuable post.before you build a new app check website that really repeat traffic on your site to the right prospects.if your site necessary then change on app.

  9. Oasis Me writes:

    Thank you John for the valuable information! We will start to build apps to increase our brand awareness. Wish you luck!

  10. aaidan writes:

    We have recently started building golem apps and can positively pay attention of the points you have got mentioned.

  11. Carl Larson writes:

    Good article. We are working our way through some of these technical challenges here at Disney. It is not a very easy process, especially on iOS.

  12. John Alexander writes:

    Harekrishna – thanks for the feedback, and good luck with your prospects.

    Oasis- thank you, and good luck to you, too.

    Aaidan- I hadn’t heard about golem apps prior to your comment, so thanks for exposing me to a new technology!

    Carl- I know that working with such large properties can be a very tricky (and laborious) process, but I sincerely hope that you see increased visibility and engagement as a result of your efforts.

  13. Hemanth Malli writes:

    Deep links are an important part of the app indexing. Thanks! John,for a valuable post.

  14. Jason writes:

    Very concise article. Restructuring your app for deep linking is a pain for devs, but is absolutely necessary. It’s better to do it now than wait till people are actually discovering apps with Google App Indexing! And Apple has a plan for Spotlight search discoverability. Configuring your app is the first step.

    Here’s a satirical post on the future of deep linking on mobile: http://goo.gl/KrPG6L — worth a read!

  15. John Alexander writes:

    Glad you enjoyed it, Hemanth!

    Jason- that was a really good article; thanks for sharing! It’s prescient of Branch to be offering a service of making clients’ apps integrate with all of the indexing giants. The problem that the author outlines, however, reminds me of the “Basket of Remotes” problem posed by the nascent Internet of Things (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_of_Things#A_Basket_of_Remotes); without some standard protocols, we’ll never get the “Enterprise computer” so vaunted by Page and Brin; instead, we’ll get Captain Picard having to download updates for the phasers because they’re no longer compatible with the shields. (Sorry for the ultra-nerdy metaphor!)



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