Not that long ago, search engine optimization (SEO) was all about making web pages more visible. With Apple’s App Store now boasting more than 2 million apps and the Google Play Store offering more than 2.4 million apps, the game has changed. The popularity of apps like Facebook, Snapchat, and Pokémon Go is staggering.
Time spent on digital media in the United States increased 50 percent in the past three years. Ninety percent of that growth can be attributed to mobile apps, according to comScore. Mobile apps are on such a tear that they now account for approximately half of total digital media time. What makes apps especially attractive and valuable to marketers is the generally high user engagement rates they deliver.
Fast growth, high engagement…what’s not to love?
Optimizing a mobile app for greater visibility and reach, though, can be challenging. Given the complexity and all the pieces to consider with app SEO, I wanted to provide an overview of some major areas that you should factor into your optimization efforts.
There are a few key questions to ask when an app is being developed.
- What platform(s) the app is being developed for (iOS and/or Android)?
- Will the app be tagged for analytics and Search Console?
Two critical questions:
- Will the app be set up for deep linking (Android) and Universal Links (iOS)?
- Will the app have partial, or complete, web parity (the content within the app is the same as content on the website)?
Deep linking with an app behaves like URLs. A deep link directs to a specific screen (page) within an app. Android and iOS deep links look different.
- Android: android-app://com.example.android/example/
- iOS: http://www.yourdomain.com/example
On the app development side, apps need to be enabled to support deep linking. For apps with web parity, Google needs to be told what content to index by either adding the rel=alternate reference to the XML sitemap and/or adding rel=alternate to the head of each webpage that corresponds to a deep link.
Apple handles deep linking differently. On the app development side, apps should include the Core Spotlight framework (which provides Apple a way to index your app) and support universal links (which allows the app to be discoverable via organic search and allows users to be directed to an app if installed and the website if not installed).
Universal links are Apple’s version of deep links. Apple’s deep links used to look similar to Android, but the iOS 9 update also included the move to Universal Links. Note, Universal Links currently only work some of the time in places like Chrome, Facebook, Twitter, and Safari. Despite this, Universal Links are Apple’s chosen method of deep linking.
In addition to the app supporting Universal Links, an apple-app-site-association file must be created and uploaded to your HTTPS web server. Think of this site association file like a Robots.txt – where you can tell Apple the website URLs that should be handled as universal links and those that should not be.
You will also want to specify your website as the support and/or marketing website when the app is submitted.
Support Organic & Social Discovery
Schema.org tags can bolster organic visibility and potentially trigger rich snippets in Google and Bing organic search results, as well as Apple’s Spotlight Search. JSON is becoming the preferred format for these tags.
Both Apple and Google also crawl Schema.org tags for app-related information, so appropriate markup should be implemented across the website.
Open Graph tags are also crawled by all engines and Apple. At the basic level each page on the site should have title, description, and image defined. If the page contains video or audio then og:video or og:audio should also be utilized.
Facebook App Links provide a way for users to directly navigation from Facebook into your app, when installed. App Links can be added to support Android and/or iOS. If your content is regularly being shared on Facebook, then these meta tags should be added to the website.
*Note, iOS App Links are in deep link format, not Universal Link format.
If the app does not have web parity, then there is an API that can be set up to support App Links.
Twitter Cards are also crawled by all engines and Apple, and should be included on each page of the website.
The Twitter App Card is specifically designed to promote installs.
*Note, iOS Twitter Card references are in deep link format, not Universal Link format.
Smart App Banners
Smart App Banners are a way of promoting your iOS app on your website.
You simply include a meta tag on each page you want the banner to appear.
*Note, there is no Android equivalent to Smart App Banners.
As you can see, there are a number of pieces to the mobile app optimization puzzle. With mobile representing two-thirds of all digital media time and app usage the lion’s share of that, it’s essential to spend the time and effort ensuring your app is set up correctly to maximize visibility and reach. “If you build it, they will come” does not apply to mobile apps. If you spend the time, money, and resources to build an app, you want people to find (and use) it! Follow the steps outlined above, and you’ll be sure to get your app in front of many more prospective customers.