Strangely for us, this is one of the few areas that we haven’t really covered in terms of search marketing but with added importance being placed on mobile, app and speed as well as user experience (UX), we thought that it was important to understand how brands and businesses can get the most out of deep linking and in-app indexing
What is app indexing?
App indexing is one of the easier concepts to get your head around, and is a bit of a Ronseal service – it does what it says on the tin – it is the process of getting apps indexed. By allowing apps to become indexable and therefore found online, Google is filling its searchable database full of new information.
Google automatically sends out ‘spiders’ to ‘crawl’ websites for new and updated information on a regular basis. This information is then included in Google’s index, which you access every time you make a search enquiry. The process of indexing was initially limited to only desktop sites and the mobile web, but in 2013 the change started. The growth in the number and popularity of apps meant that the content therein had to be indexed; indeed some of the best content was only available in app format.
Now a mainstream approach, Google indexes content from an app via either the Google Search Console or through one of the sitemap files. The beauty of this is that to further boost UX there is a choice…The content can be displayed in a mobile format if the user doesn’t have the app or they can be offered the chance to download the app.
This is highly beneficial to businesses as downloads will increase and there is another chance to remarket to these users, reward their loyalty and on a personal level, increase their active audience. In a world where personalisation is key, this level of crawling and data collection could help build better, more relevant customer experiences in the future.
Google themselves have commented on the importance of allowing app indexing and have stated that it is one of the many ranking factors that they consider. Google says: “If your app is indexed, Google will use the content within your app as a signal in ranking, not just your web content.” So it’s definitely worth doing to increase your presence in search results.
With that in mind, many will ask how it’s done. Moz produced a fantastic guide to the process and looked at pulling in all of the separate URLs into one single URL.
What is deep linking?
Unlike most traditional link building patterns which advocate linking to the home page and service pages from an app, deep link building is a way of linking directly to the exact page that you want to send the user to.
In essence the backlinks that you gain skip the top level pages in order to boost the user experience (UX) by giving those seeing the link exactly what they want. This builds trust and in truth leads to a higher conversion rate. Bounce rate is also affected and should reduce because you are saving the user the trouble of navigating around the site and therefore minimising the risk of them ‘dropping off’.
One thing to remember when it comes to deep linking is that you should make sure it is the correct strategy for your business, most SEO practitioners advocate trickle down link building where the authority passes down from the top level landing pages and whilst this is a good approach it may affect the balance.
The main benefit of this sort of linking is that it allows Google and other search engines the opportunity to gain visibility into pages other than the home page.
To see this in practice a user will be greeted by a (generally) searchable or indexed piece of content or a webpage (eg, “https://example.com/path/page”), rather than the website’s home page (eg, “https://example.com”). From our website a link could point to:
The beauty of this is that the user gets exactly what they are looking for (in terms of what is displayed) and as a result is more likely to convert and become a business lead.
Basic deep links
The beauty of basic deep links is that they are versatile. They can be incorporated into almost any type of marketing strategy. In terms of the mobile aspect of their usage they can be included in webpages, emails, texts, and on social media platforms. The links here can direct the user to the page or content that they want, regardless of its location.
In order to reduce the friction of the UX the links places by businesses can join an advert directly to the product page. As I mentioned before, this technique is a great way to generate traffic to both the site and to the app.
Users who click on a basic deep link but don’t have the app installed will be sent to the download page/app store. The only slight negative is that it may add steps into the process as they may have to sign up and navigate from there. This is a deferred tactic.
Deferred deep links
For those that don’t have the app a deferred deep link will still direct the user to a specific page within the app they intend to access skipping out the mobile home page and the generic welcome page as highlighted in the image below.
This works through ‘device matching’ where users are assigned a digital fingerprint after they click on a deep link that enables them to be identified and matched with the experience or app page they were looking to navigate to after their install.
Contextual deep links
These are similar to basic and deferred deep links however they are much more data-centric. They not only pass user data to an app following installation, but also record information about the user, where they were referred from and perhaps which promotion they want to apply to their order.
This is handy as it allows developers the chance to build customised features such as bespoke welcome screens after download, or unique a promo codes. They also enable marketers to gather information on how advertising campaigns and marketing channels are performing.
Deep linking and HTTPS
The technology behind the internet, the Hypertext Transfer Protocol/Secure (HTTP/HTTPS), does not actually make any distinction between ‘deep’ links and any other links. It reads all links the same and has a baseline that means they are equal in terms of their functionality.
This is completely intentional as one of the core design purposes of the Web is to allow authors to link to any published document on another site.
The possibility of so-called “deep” linking is therefore built into the Web technology of HTTP/HTTPS and URLs by default—while a site can attempt to restrict deep links, to do so requires extra effort.
According to the World Wide Web Consortium Technical Architecture Group, “any attempt to forbid the practice of deep linking is based on a misunderstanding of the technology, and threatens to undermine the functioning of the Web as a whole”.