If apps are not on your radar as an SEO then you could be missing out on some big opportunities. Even if you or your clients don’t have an app, with more and more apps surfacing in Google’s search results, app indexing is impacting on all areas of SEO activity on mobile and you need to join the party.

Whilst app packs are not as common in the SERPS in New Zealand as the US for example, we are starting to see more and more of these app packs appearing in the search results. Apps have been appearing in the search results on mobile and desktop for some time now. Until recently, they had always appeared as a standard blue link but the introduction of app packs has changed this. Their inclusion has dramatically improved app discovery – now 27% of people find apps through web search compared with just 2-3% in 2014. You can see above how they dominate the search results when presented as an app pack. We are yet to see ‘Apps’ included in the search filters in New Zealand but this will be introduced over the coming months.

Web app stores are not dead yet though. 40% of people still find their apps through one of the app stores which means there is still work to be done optimising your app for the stores. App deep linking is also an important element to consider. Deep linking essentially allows content within your app to appear in the index and to be accessed directly from that app on a mobile device (providing the app is already installed by the user). This is a game changer in terms of the traffic that may usually have been driven to a website is now been sent to an app.

Example: Coming from the UK, football is still a big part of my life. In the off season, I love checking out the latest football transfer gossip. There are a number of sites that offer up stories and if I am looking for the latest football gossip and type this in as a search query, you can see that the top result I am seeing is going to take me straight into the BBC app which I have installed on my phone – that’s deep linking.

Example of a deep linking app result

Optimising for the app pack

Whilst it is becoming increasingly important to rank in the search results with your app content, it is still important to ensure you optimise you app within the OS specific App Stores. 40% of people are still using OS specific App Stores to find their apps and this is something you shouldn’t ignore. Whilst some of the techniques for optimising your app for the OS specific App Stores are the same, there are some subtle differences to be aware of. The key meta data to consider for both stores include:

Store NameApp TitleApp categoryKeyword FieldApp descriptionDeveloper account name
iTunes App StoreYesYesYesYesYes
Google PlayYesYesN/AYesYes

With the exception of the keyword field, it’s important to optimise all the above elements for both the iTunes App Store and Google Play. Whilst the meta fields may be the same, the restrictions on what you can do in those fields do differ.

App Title

In the iTunes App Store, App Titles can be up to 75 characters long whereas in Google Play, this is limited to just 30. Then there’s the App Display Name – this is the name displayed under the app icon on a user’s device. The best practice for the app display name is to keep things to 11 characters – after this the name can be truncated which is poor for your brand and your app. You App Title and App Display Name do not have to be the same. Make sure you make use of the extra characters in the App Title to include relevant keywords and of course your brand if it is relevant.

App category and sub-categories

After you have finalised your App Title, you will want to think carefully about the category that your App is going to sit in. These are really for people who are just browsing through the stores by category rather than those who know more clearly what they are looking for. You may want to look at how competitive certain categories are before adding your app to that category. You may choose to select your categories tactically – choosing less competitive categories can help you to achieve more visibility within that category but equally, there is likely to be a lot less traffic looking at that particular category.

Choosing your category will likely come down to your brand strength as well as the quality of your app. If you are confident in your brand and the fact that your app will be downloaded by lots of people, you may well have more confidence to go into the more highly competitive categories.

Keyword Field (iTunes App Store only)

This one is only relevant to the iTunes App Store but is an important one to consider if you want to rank well in that store. This field can contain up to 100 characters of comma-separated keywords that are relevant to the app. This is not a whole bunch of space to play with so think very tactfully when selecting your keywords for the iTunes App Store. You can find out more about selecting these keywords in this great article from Search Engine Land.

App description

The final piece in the puzzle is the App Description field. Both Google and Apple have a long description field length of 4,000 characters which gives you plenty to play with. Google also has a short description field of up to 80 characters.

The short description in Google appears to have the most correlation with keyword rankings as well as App Pack rankings so make sure you reference your most important keywords here. Updating your descriptions on a regular basis is also good practice, especially if you are making updates to the App as you can tell users more about any new developments and upgrades in your long description.

I’ve optimised my App – now what?

Once you have gone through and optimised your app, both for organic search and for the app stores, you then need to focus on the external elements that impact on the ranking algorithms. These include reviews and ratings, download rates (volume and velocity), freshness and good old links. All this is for another post, however if you are interested to find out more, make sure you check out the Search Engine Land article referenced above for a much more in-depth dive into optimising your Apps.

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