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July 10, 2015

Drive More Target Engagement With Google’s App Indexing Ranking Signal

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“You’ve invested time and effort into making your app an awesome experience, and we want to help people find the great content you’ve created. App Indexing has already been helping people engage with your Android app after they’ve installed it — we now have 30 billion links within apps indexed…”

So that was the announcement made by Google just a few days before the much talked about Mobilegeddon was ready to take the spotlight. While the mobile search-friendly algorithm update was something that most of us might have anticipated a long time back, the latest update on app indexing is something that had probably left a ‘significant impact’ (to quote Google Webmaster Trends team member Zineb Ait Bahaji) on everyone’s mind.

However, you cannot deny the fact that now with the latest algorithm update, the significance of a mobile app has become much greater than what it had been before. Here’s how app indexing can help you reach a larger target audience, but before that let’s first…

Understand the Impact an Indexed App Content Can Leave On the Search Engine Results

Suppose you are a coffee supplier and have come up with an app to ensure a faster payment transaction. You have your app indexed.

Now suppose someone decides to prepare a cup of coffee for the first time and is searching the Internet for instructions and guidelines. Google tries to generate content with relevant information and your app provides information that the search engine thinks is valuable. Google displays it on the search results. The person reads your content and finds it interesting and useful. He/she notices that there is more valuable information that he/she can avail by downloading your app displayed on the SERP. The reader decides to download the app on his/her Android device to access other information that might help him learn a bit more about coffee preparation.

Advantages of Your App Being Indexed

  • Improvement in the Search Ranking Result

For those who have not indexed their app yet, fear not, you will not suffer a penalty charge. However, those who have their app indexed have a better chance of improvement in their ranking on the SERP.

  • Better Interaction With Mobile Apps

Apart from exposing the content present within your app to users who might have never known about its existence, this algorithm change would lead to better user interaction with a mobile application. Imagine someone searching for a nearby restaurant to dine and comes across an application where they can reserve a table instantly. Thus, app indexing helps to enhance personalized search results.

  • Timely Access To Relevant Content On The Go

With the rise in the number of Smartphone users and other advanced mobile devices, Google aims to provide users with a search experience optimized to offer relevant and timely results.

What You Require For App Indexing

  • To help Google index the content present within your app, you need to add deep links to the Android app. This will take users directly to that specific content.
  • Add intent filters to the app manifest. For this you will have to create an intent filter for each of the deep link formats to launch the content present within an application. For example, you would need two intent filters to support both the formats like and example://.

The following elements within an intent filter:

  • The <action> tag

This tag is used to specify an intent action (ACTION_VIEW) that makes the intent filter reach from Google’s Search.

  • The <data> tag

A <data> tag is used for each URI format accepted by the activity. The minimum attribute that a <data> tag comes with is android: scheme. There are other additional attributes that can be used to refine a URI type that gets accepted by the activity.

  • The <category> tag

The <category> tag is used to define intent activities namely DEFAULT and BROWSABLE.

With the BROWSABLE intent activity, you can click on a browser link and resolve to an app. Without it, this would not have been possible and only a current mobile browser would respond to the URL.

The DEFAULT intent activity is needed when you want an Android app to respond quickly to a click, made from some referring website. The intent, which includes your app’s identity, is used from Google’s search results. This leads the intent to point explicitly to your recipient app. When other sites are unable to identify your app, it is the DEFAULT category that declares that your app can accept an intent that is implicit.

  • Adding code that will handle your intent filter. This is because, once the intent filters are added to the AndroidManifest.xml, the app reads the data passed by the activity. You can easily retrieve the data and the action associated with an incoming talent, by calling the getAction ( ) and the getData ( ) methods. This can be done anytime during the lifecycle activity, but the best time to do this is during early callbacks like the onStart ( ) or onCreate ( ).
  • You can even restrict Google from indexing some parts of your app content and for this, first include a noindex.xml file to the Android app. This will help to indicate which deep links Google bots should not index. Then use the noindex.xml file as a reference in the application section of an application’s AndroidManifest.xml.
  • The noindex.xml file functions to indicate a list of URI prefixes or to exclude a list of URIs. Create an XML file (res/xml/noindex.xml) and include it in the XML’s resource directory present in an app. Deep links matching the uri attribute or starting with the string matching uriPrefix attribute will not get indexed.
  • After adding the noindex.xml file, refer it to the Android app’s AndroidManifest.xml in the application section.
  • You can remove the splash screens, paywall, login screen or popups that prevent the content from opening after the first click.
  • There are three ways to help Google’s search bots look for the deep links of certain web pages:
  1. Use the <link> element in a page’s head section
  2. Use the element <xhtml:link> in the Sitemap’s <url> to specify the page
  3. Use the JSON – LD markup for the potential action of ViewAction
  • You can also use an API, developed specifically to directly communicate the deep links to Google. An API is used mainly for two reasons: To specify the deep links and to engage it with Google’s Auto completion function. Your app will be displayed in Google’s auto suggest box after the API has been enabled. The API will be used by Google for the creation of new functions, which will ultimately lead to having app-related specific ranking factors useful for SEO purpose.

So what do you gain from app indexing?

Google’s App Indexing is one of the smartest ways to convince people to use your apps, which would in turn result in more user ratings and reviews. So, go ahead and get started now.

There is nothing to worry for those who have not yet indexed their app. But those who have already indexed their app, Google will definitely be rewarding you with better ranking on the SERP.


Jose Lopez is an online marketing addict and has been working as a chief Product Manager in Mobixed, a reputed mobile application development company in California. His 10-plus years of dealing with, crafting and diagnosing innovative apps has helped him gain an in depth knowledge on the different aspects of online marketing and making effective conversions possible.