Search engine app-timization: Google puts app content in mobile results

Google is installing apps right into mobile search results, which could force developers to rethink marketing strategies to get to the top of the page.

The app streams will appear as blue links like the rest of the results, but they will open to apps, not mobile websites, taking people directly to relevant content — regardless of whether they have the app on their phones or not. The app streams in Google search will offer limited options to start, though, and not the full range of services the complete in-app experience provides. For instance, people can find a hotel on Hotels Tonight but not book it.

Google will eventually develop more robust integrations, but for now, the app stream results are just considered an experiment. So far, only nine apps are participating, including Hotels Tonight, national parks directory Chimani, Weather and the New York Subway system.

The move is just Google’s latest change meant to make search more compatible with mobile devices, where most of people’s time is spent in apps.

Google search became the dominant force on desktop because it was effectively the gateway to the Web — and all sites had to adjust to maintain visibility. Now, however, that same dynamic could play out in the app ecosystem with developers vying for top placement.

“If you’re able to surface some type of content and show what happens inside your app and get that first touch, it is a gigantic step forward,” said Michael Richardson, co-founder and senior director of product at Urban Airship, a mobile marketing firm.

google app stream

Developers and marketers will have to think about how they get to the top of results, just like websites have to plan for search-engine optimization, Richardson said. “If you’re not the top page, you’re effectively invisible,” he added.

Still, many apps may resist the potential new influence of Google in this sphere, according to Rajat Mukherjee, vp of products at Quixey, which is an app-search pioneer. “We know this for a fact that developers have been a little wary of providing data to these larger players,” he said.

On desktop search, Google rivals have accused the company of favoring its properties in results, a sentiment that could discourage them from participating in its app-search endeavors. Google still dominates traditional search, but more and more people search Amazon, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and other properties for needed information on mobile devices.

To stay relevant, Google has been developing mobile functionality: It recently developed freely available computer code that speeds up mobile media sites. It also altered its algorithm so that the most “mobile friendly” pages show up top in search. Last week, Google partnered with Flipkart to design a mobile e-commerce site that works similarly to an app.

Still, Richardson of Urban Airship cautioned Web developers against thinking of apps as Web pages. “They shouldn’t create landing pages in apps that serve nothing except to improve their search ranking,” he said.

One potential outcome of all this is that app developers may start marketing more for traffic than downloads, according to Ted Dhanik, CEO of engage: BDR, a digital ad platform. Apps could focus on drawing more users in search and generating money from ads, he said.

“App owners should take advantage of this shift by transitioning from paid download models to ad-supported revenue models — as the former model will be far less profitable as this shift takes hold,” Dhanik said.

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