This is the second part of our presentation we gave at the SEO Campixx in March 2016. In the first part we discuss the future of mobile SEO and the changing role of the SEO manager.
With the eBay Kleinanzeigen Android app we were amongst the early adopters for app indexing. While plenty was being written about the topic already, we decided to dive right in – with enthusiasm and a healthy dose of pragmatism we catapulted our App content into Google’s Index.
Simply getting Google to index your app isn’t necessarily a massive project, especially if your app already supports deep links. However if your ambitions go beyond just getting app content into the index, then it is a different story. There’s more to mobile SEO than just indexing – naturally you also want to rank and offer your users the best possible experience on their device, and convert the traffic you get.
We have 5 practical tips from our own experience with app indexing, if you’re getting started they should hopefully help you get the important things squared away from day one, and make sure the project is a success.
- 1 Tip 1: APP SCREENS ARE BECOMING Landing Screens, CONSIDER THE IMPLICATIONS
- 2 Tip 2: Speak to your developers and designers about tip 1
- 3 Tip 3: implement proper tracking and reports
- 4 Tip 4: Don’t forget about deleted content (404)
- 5 Tip 5: monitor APi Calls to control indexing
- 6 Tip 6: don’t Overdo it
Tip 1: APP SCREENS ARE BECOMING Landing Screens, CONSIDER THE IMPLICATIONS
This is probably the most important tip we can give. When apps were created in the past, the developer had one use case in mind: a user downloads the app from the app store and starts their session on the home screen. From there the user would navigate to the relevant information.
With app indexing and deep linking in other marketing channels, the app is no longer a closed ecosystem, with an interaction beginning from a fixed starting point. All of a sudden, the app hast to be able to offer users and complete experience and proper orientation on every screen, not just the home screen. This means category pages, product pages and news articles become landing screens, and the first point of contact with your app.
In particular for mobile devices, some elements or information from previous interactions might have been left out on purpose, in order to save space. Now, however, users are diving in deeper to the app experience, and they will look for the hints and usability typically offered on web pages, including:
- An appropriate and visible heading which tells the user that the page they are on, matches their query from the search engine
- An easy to find and intuitive navigation, though breadcrumbs aren’t a must
- Clear calls to action and optimized UX – perform A/B testing as you would on a web page to improve user experience and metrics
As Google is now suggesting apps within search results for certain queries and deep linking to the appropriate screen, SEOs will have to monitor and optimize their apps and particularly the app screen performance. Here is an example of the eBay Kleinanzeigen app in the search results, since the app is installed it is opened per default. The corresponding landing screen shows the selected filters, menu navigation and search field. The user can modify their search or navigate elsewhere in the app easily.
Tip 2: Speak to your developers and designers about tip 1
Once you’ve taken a look at your landing screens it’s important to give your feedback to the proper stakeholders, naturally. But beyond that, it’s a good idea to start evangelizing this topic in your organization (as you would SEO), so that the developers, product managers and UX specialists are aware of this change and their implications. This way the work in future won’t fall to you alone. Below an example of a page type we need to improve, if a user clicks on the back button they are taken back to the Google SERP. Users either convert or bounce, we will integrate navigation elements and similar ads to improve the user experience:
Tip 3: implement proper tracking and reports
This tip is logical but not as straightforward as you might think. Obviously you want to track the traffic you are generating for your app from all channels and in particular from search engines, but you’ll also want to be able to segment and analyse the data as you would for your website, for instance be able to separate out brand traffic vs. non-brand. In order to do that you’ll need the tracking SDK for the app and eventually a few customizations.
For an online shop, page types such as: category page; product page; blog page; etc. will probably be relevant – also product categories: shoes; pants; jackets; etc. will be relevant. The metrics you pay attention to will depend on your site. Every site will want to be able to measure bounce rate, pages per session and the conversion rate.
You can start by asking yourself the following questions:
- Do all indexable screens have a “screen name” and a “screen type”. This information is necessary to track performance and identify issues.
- Can I separate brand traffic from non-brand, and how will that work for my app? For instance do I define brand traffic as organic traffic to the “Home” landing screen?
- Do I have all the relevant dimensions in place that I normally use to cluster and analyze my SEO traffic?
- How do I find improper entry points or “Error Screens”?
The good news is, with the Google Analytics SDK you’re in good hands. However one drawback at this point is the inability to track bounce rate. We do have a workaround for you, which we will be publishing in the near future.
Tip 4: Don’t forget about deleted content (404)
Every SEO has had to deal with deleted content at some point. We rely on 404 errors to remove deleted content from the index and structure the page so that it has a benefit to the user, so they can still use the site. For apps that support deep linking, this is a must, so make sure the functionality and logic is in place.
This is particularily important for online shops and eCommerce sites have a large fluctuation in inventory – old products are sold out, new ones arrive. As a result a lot of URLs land in the index, that reference unavailable products. Create a landing screen which allows the user to continue using the site, and see to it these pages are removed – or at least no longer sent to the index, for details on that see tip 5.
Tip 5: monitor APi Calls to control indexing
Indexing app content will in the future be done via APIs. Both Google and Apple are advocating this method. Basically the way it works is, when a user accesses an app screen, the URI and meta data (such as title and description) for the corresponding content is sent via an API. The search engine receives this data and can calculate how relevant this page is, based on the number of views, associated meta data, and user metrics. It’s likely that the user metrics will play a large roll in the future.
What does that mean in practice? Well it means you can move fast and break things, if you’re not careful. With websites you have a number of options in controlling what gets crawled and indexed, such as via robots.txt, meta robots tags, nofollow links and canonical tags. For apps however the API calls are your bread and butter, so think about what pages you are currently keeping out of the index and how and consider the app and decide which pages should be calling the API, and which shouldn’t, so only the appropriate screen types end up in the index. Product pages and category pages belong in the index? Make sure the API is being called for these screens.
As previously mentioned, the performance of individual screens will in all likelihood play a large roll in the organic ranking, since Google and Apple won’t have backlink data to rely on. You can take advantage of this and use the logic of the canonical link for app indexing. Do you have duplicate content, different sorting options or data that is user-specific (such as geo-coordinates), then it makes sense to strip this from the URI that you send to the API and send a canonical version. In this way you can retain your user metrics without sending unneccesary content to the index.
Tip 6: don’t Overdo it
It looks like apps are only going to be more important for mobile as time goes on, there is a lot of potential and as a result a desire to go big, and to do it fast. We started with a lot of enthusiasm and because there isn’t a lot of pratical knowledge available on the subject at the time of writing, it’s been a lot of learning by doing, which means a few hick-ups – some our fault, and some not (*ahem* Google). In any case we want to stress starting small, and gaining your own experience. Start with a single page type for instance and move from there, once you’re sure that the tracking works, the experience is better and is performing as such. Our site is also a particular use case and it’s likely you will find a few pitfalls of your own that you would recommend others avoid. We want to hear about those too! Let us know in the comments or send us an e-mail.