Apps have all but taken over the world. The slogan “there’s an app for that” effectively captures the mentality of the modern consumer; apps exist for almost any conceivable human function, from communication to entertainment, and thanks to the prevalence of mobile devices, app functionality is ubiquitously available.
Some argue that apps will, someday soon, replace websites altogether, but as search marketers, we’re more interested in how apps will develop from a search visibility perspective.
The Current State of Apps and SEO
Already, search engines have begun to adapt to the prevalence and popularity of apps on mobile devices. These are just a few ways:
- App indexing allows apps to display in SERPs. Google has offered a means of indexing apps for a long time. With a few simple development protocols, you can get your app listed in search engines for relevant user queries (on mobile devices only).
- App deep linking allows developers to provide in-app content to search users. Going a step further, Google even offers app “deep linking,” which allows you to link users to specific deep pages or sections of your app, provided they already have the app installed.
- App streaming. A more recent development has been the introduction of app streaming, which allows users to interact with apps in search engine results without first having to download the app on their mobile devices.
- App trial ads are becoming available. App streaming has also appeared in the form of ads, with developers pushing their apps (usually games) through short “trial” experiences.
The Future of Apps and SEO
With that existing trajectory already in place and with a bit of foresight, we can predict some possibilities for how SEO and apps might evolve together in the not-too-distant future:
- The soft death of traditional websites. Now that search engines can crawl, index, and even stream content from apps, there’s starting to be less and less of a reason for traditional websites to still exist – there are just too many advantages apps have over webpages. On the other hand, it’s unlikely that websites will die out altogether, now that so many users have grown accustomed to their formatting and existence. Instead, we predict a “soft” death of traditional websites, where apps become the overwhelming majority, but some websites still stick around.
- More interactive app experiences. With rising capabilities of search engines and apps working together, the new “app experience” will become more fluid and interactive. For example, apps may become more personalized and more dependent on user feedback, and may become accessible in new ways.
- Increasing pressure for businesses to create apps. While some businesses revolve entirely around apps, in the near future, most existing businesses will be asking whether or not it’s worth it to make the investment in creating an app. It’s hard to say for sure, but it seems likely that user interaction and reliance on apps will be so prevalent that businesses will almost have to invest in an app. Even if you need to take out a loan to invest in the new development, it may be worth the cost.
- Increased reliance on digital assistants. With apps available both as downloaded items and as streaming forms of online content, it’s likely that users will turn to digital assistants to help them navigate the confusing blurry lines of digital realities. This will, in turn, drive a marked shift from traditional search engines to assistant-based ones.
- Universal cloud access to apps. Right now, Google is fostering the possibility for all apps to be accessible as streaming forms of content, hosted like websites and available through SERPs, but still functional like the traditional mobile apps we’ve come to know. This cloud access may create a new kind of hybrid between standalone “app” and traditional “website” as a form of content experience we can’t yet fully describe.
As with any technological prediction, you can’t take these projections too literally or too strictly. It’s impossible to tell how tech might develop in the future, and some new, not yet invented technology may get ahead of us and replace “apps” the same way DVDs replaced VHS cassettes.
It seems strange to think this way, but the most dramatic progressions of technology have been the ones that nobody saw coming. Be prepared for anything, but keep a close eye on the mutual development of SEO and mobile apps over the next several years.
Where do you think it's all going? Please leave a comment with your thoughts.