Mobile Strategy

The mobile app content ecosystem part 2: app indexing

woman taking a picture of people riding elephants with an iPhone

In the introductory post of this series, we learned that:

  • Mobile apps have their own content ecosystem, which differs from the ecosystem for websites
  • This mobile app content ecosystem contains 4 critical components
  • Providing a great experience across the content ecosystem can cause to people to download and loyally use your app

It’s time to dive in and learn about the first component of the mobile app content ecosystem: app indexing.

What is app indexing?

Because a mobile app is a type of product, we sometimes think that mobile app content is completely separate from the Internet, locked away in its own little world.

But that’s not necessarily the case.

Technically known as Firebase App Indexing, this component of app development is described by Google like this:

Firebase App Indexing gets your app into Google Search.

Succinct, right? Basically, app indexing is a method of enabling Google to link to your app’s content from the search engine results page (SERP). Let’s look at some examples.

Aiding retention when the user has the app installed

Let’s say I’m on my phone. I have some time to kill, and since I’m a Neil Patrick Harris fan, I want to watch the Netflix show A Series of Unfortunate Events.

I pull up Google in my mobile browser and enter “a series of unfortunate events” as my search term.

Because Netflix is indexed by Google, here’s what happens.

app indexing 1

Once I see the Netflix app in search results, I click on it and the Netflix app loads on the landing page for the show—not the Netflix homepage. I don’t have to separately navigate to the Netflix app, then open it and search for the show.

You can see how app indexing can help users continue to engage with your app. If I’ve forgotten I have the Netflix app on my phone—or perhaps I didn’t realize the content I wanted was available there—I’m instantly reminded and taken to the content I was searching for. That’s useful.

Aiding discovery when the user doesn’t have the app installed

It’s well and good for users who already have your app to be reminded and prompted to open it.

But wouldn’t it be great if app indexing could also help users discover your app who’ve never downloaded it before? Well, it can!

Let’s say I’m looking for coupons for Kroger, a grocery store in my hometown. I pull up Google again, and search for “kroger coupons.” Here’s what I see.

app indexing 2

After a few search ads, I see a Google organic link to the Kroger app. Because my browser knows that I don’t have the Kroger app installed, the green INSTALL button appears.

When I click INSTALL, Google Play loads the Kroger app for me. From there, I can learn about it and decide to install it on my phone.

If you like professionally animated videos featuring cute cat illustrations, you can also catch an overview in Google’s own video about Firebase App Indexing.

Website required (kind of)

One constraint with app indexing is that, in order to take advantage of it, you need to maintain a website with the same content as your app. Think IMDB and Netflix—their web content also appears in their apps, which is why indexing works for them.

But if you work on a standalone app, don’t despair! You can use a tool like Branch to satisfy Google’s requirement for a web environment that mirrors your app content.

App indexing usage still lags

At this point, you might say, “This is all very interesting, but app indexing has existed since 2013. Why bring it up now?”

I’m glad you asked!

If we look at usage, a relatively small number of apps currently incorporate of app indexing.

According to Search Engine Land, only about 30% of Android apps and 19% of iOS apps use indexing.

app indexing 3 app indexing 4

That’s not very many. It’d be great to see more apps take advantage of this tool.

How to get started

Sold on app indexing? Great! So, how do you proceed?

App indexing isn’t something that a writer, designer, marketer, or friendly neighborhood content strategist can implement unilaterally, because it requires development effort.

So, talk to your development team. Point them to Google’s documentation on Firebase App Indexing so that they can determine how much effort is required, and how best to move forward with implementation.

Now that we’ve looked at search, in the next blog we’ll learn about another content-related component that can help you improve retention of your app: push notifications.


Editor’s note: This blog post is the second in a series about the mobile app content ecosystem:

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