All About App Search: Indexing, Ranking Factors, Universal Links, and More – Whiteboard Friday

App search is growing and changing, and there are more opportunities than ever to both attract customers at the top of the funnel and keep them in the background. In particular British Whiteboard Friday today, Tom Anthony and Will Critchlow of Distilled dig into any app search and highlight a future where Google may have some competition as the giant search engine.

App Search Whiteboard

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The video transcript

Tom: Howdy, and welcome to another British Whiteboard Friday. I’m Tom Anthony, head of R & D Distilled here. This is Will Critchlow, founder and CEO. Today we’ll talk about the search application. App search is really, really important right now because research shows that the average user spends 85% of their time in apps on their mobile phone.

Did we say a little more about the search application.

Will: When we say “the search for the application,” we could potentially mean three things. The first is the App Store Optimization or ASO, which is not what we talk about today. It is an important area, and it has got its own quirks and subtleties, but it is far enough into the funnel. Most research in app stores are either branded or high-level research class.

What we spend most of our time is now …

App indexing

This is on top of the generally funnel and takes the possibilities to rank in search of long-tail. This gives you the opportunity to acquire new users through research really for the first time in the marketing application.

The third element that we will discuss later is the personal corpus, which is the idea right down to the bottom of the funnel and is about to retain users once you have them.

The essential thing is the app indexing. This is what we spend most of our time on. What are the basics, Tom? What are the prerequisites for app indexing?

Tom: The first thing, the most important thing to understand is deep links.

Close App Search table: a graph representing the tree Deep Links leading to the Distilled Twitter account.

Tom: People sometimes have difficulty understanding the deep links, but it is a very simple concept. It is the parallel of what a normal URL for a Web page. A URL will take you to a specific web page instead of a website. Deep links allow you to open a specific screen in an application.

So you could click on a deep bond. It’s just a URL. It might be on a Web page. It could be in another application. It can open you to a specific point in an application, for example @Distilled page in the Twitter application.

There were various competing standards on how deep links should work on different platforms. But what is important to understand is that everyone converges on a format. So do not bother trying to learn all the intricacies of it.

The large format is what we call universal links. Do tell us a little about them.

Will: universal connections – this is actually the terminology of Apple, but it is, as Tom said, spreading everywhere – this is the idea that you can take a URL as we use for regular HTTP or HTTPS URLs URL that would normally open the Web page on the desktop.

Close App Search table: a URL to a web page

Will: Now, if we were to place on a mobile device – and we brought our new mobile whiteboard to demonstrate this concept – so if you click on that same link on your mobile device, same URL, it would open the view deep within the application as Tom mentioned.

So the critical thing about the universal bond is that the form of this relationship is the same, and it is shared between different devices and platforms.

Now, before this was the case in the world where we had different types of links, different types of link formats for different devices and platforms, it was important that we mapped our web pages to these URLs mobile. There were several ways to do this. So you can use markup on your web pages. You can use JSON-LD. You can match all your robots.txt. Or you could use rel = “alternate” links.

Tom: This is much like how you did the same to the mobile version of a desktop web page.

Will: Right. Yes, if you had a different mobile website, an m-point site for example, you can use rel = “alternate” to match the two together. In the ancient world deep links, where there were specific links to the application, you can use the rel = “alternate” to map them together.

Close-up of the table: a normal office page on the left with a two-sided arrow with “alternate” written below, a drawing of a mobile phone to the right

If you use universal links, it is not much more of this mapping. This does not include the words is there. But it is about advertising the fact that there is an application, you have an application that can open that particular viewpoint or a web page. It’s obviously pretty important to get indexed and that for this app rankings.


Tom: Google and Co. encourage you to have parity between the time your application. So you have your desktop website, mobile site, then you have the same screen in the mobile application.

Will: Absolutely, and that they would all be on these universal URL. Now all this is so far quite familiar to us as marketing research. We understand the concept of having these URLs, after having crawled after having indexed. But in the world of the application, there are more chances to crawl because Google and Apple iOS opened the API, which means you can push information to the search engine on the way the application is actually used, which opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities.

Tom: Absolutely. The first new types of ranking factor, being the great commitment. Apple have already confirmed they will use engagement as a ranking factor. We expect that Google will do the same.

This is the idea that users open your app, using your application, spend time in your application is indicative of the value of this application. It is therefore more likely to appear in the search results. There are two layers to it. The first is in personalized search results. If I use a specific application a lot, so I’ll wait to see more.

Then there is the second level, which is aggregated user statistics, which is where they see the most people like this application to this thing, so that others will see that in the results of research.

The second point brings us back to what mentioned at the beginning.

Staff corpus

This is the idea where you get specific search results to you from your data. So you might run a search and you’ll see things like your posts, entries in your calendar, photo gallery. I see different results in Will, and I see them all in the same interface as when I see the results of public research.

So I could do a search for a restaurant. I might see a link to the restaurant’s website in the results of public research, but I could also see that Will sent me a message to go for dinner at this restaurant, and there could be an entry in my calendar, that other people would not see. It is a very interesting way that we could start to appear in the search results in a new format.

Then the third thing interesting here is the idea of ‚Äč‚Äčindexing the single application.

Close the whiteboard: Display the top of the funnel (app indexing) and the bottom of the funnel (personal corpus).

With universal connections, we talked necessary parity between the desktop site, mobile site, application. With the indexation of the single application, we might consider a model where there are screens in applications that do not have an equivalent tape. So you might begin to see the results of research where there is no possibility of a website shows why. It is also a fascinating new model. Apple already do. Google have confirmed that they will do that. So it is definitely coming.

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Then later in the future one of the important things is going to be streaming app. So Will, will you tell us a bit about it?

Will: Right. App streaming, this is another thing that Google announced. It is somewhat available in limited testing, but we think it’ll be a little more because they try to attack the basic problem, which is that to use an application and for application to appear in the results research, if you don ‘t already got, you need to download and you must install it. This is both a slow and a process data suppressant. If you are just kicking the tires, if it is an application that you’ve never seen before, it is a bit too much to ask you to do multi-megabyte download and install this application, just to try it.

So what they are trying with application streaming is saying, “We can simplify this process. This is an application that you have not used before. Let’s preview for you. “So you can use it. You can see it. You can certainly check the common areas of the application, and then install it if it is useful for you.

The current configuration is a bit of a kind of hack; they are running in a virtual machine in the cloud and streaming. All very odd. We believe that the details will change.

Tom: Yes.

Will: Basically, they will find a way to make this rationalization and smooth, and it will become much easier to use applications for the first time, making it possible to expose them to a much wider range of search results. Then there are all sorts of things and of things to come in the future. I mean, Tom passionate about the personal assistant.

Tom: Yes. The smart thing PDA is really, really exciting for me. In smart personal assistant, I mean things like Siri, Cortana, Google Now, and going back and forth the – M Facebook app SoundHound and Hound. What is fascinating about PDAs is that when you do a search, you search for the weather Siri for example, you just get a weather map to know where you are. You will not be taken to a list of results and taken elsewhere. You just get a direct answer.

Most PDAs are already able to respond to a large number of search queries using this direct response method. But what we think is exciting about applications is that we expect a future in which you can store an application and it allows PDAs to tap into data from this app to respond directly to queries. So you can imagine that I could do a search for “are the trains running on time.” Siri taps into my application process, pulls the data, and let me know that. So am I open the application. What’s important is the application is actually a kind of gateway through a data source in the backend. We start to get all the data pulled into a central location.

Will: It’s fascinating. You talked about a lot of different tools, businesses come to the platforms there. The last thing we want to stress is that this is a really interesting space because Google had a lock on the web search for what feels like forever.

App Search is a new field. Obviously, Google has some advantages that only Android devices and have the applications installed in many places and it is part of people’s habits. But there are certainly opportunities. It is the first crack. It is the first crack in the armor which means that perhaps there are some players to come that will be interesting to watch and interesting to us as marketers to pay attention.

Thank you for joining us here in London HQ Distilled. It was great talking to you. Thank you for taking the time. Goodbye.

Tom: Bye.