“Native app platforms screw Google!” is the wrong discussion

URLs and the loose coupling of the Web is amazing and we need to learn from them in the app world

I am often reading about how Google is screwed because all of the
worlds content will be locked away in proprietary apps. Far from the prying eye of Sa^H^HGoogle:

“Google can’t crawl apps AND mobile app usage keeps rising like crazy.”

What I don’t hear as much of is the analysis of the various use cases and what the various parties want and need from the system.

For example, many companies want Google and others to index their content, and SEO/SEM is a huge traffic driver. If I am an online magazine, why wouldn’t I want Google to index me?

One of the technical challenges has been having platforms that were introduced without the powerful loose coupling that the Web has via hyperlinks. We are seeing the introduction of solutions to this such as deep links which is fantastic because It is often the case that I would like to say this:

“If Google results link a customer to a deep link AND they have the
app installed AND it can deal with that URL then use the app, else send to the website.”

To do this we have a bunch of hacky solutions. When the customer hits the web server we send back a redirect to a URL scheme that the app has registered for instance. The end result if that the user is bouncing around between applications and the browser. It feels disorientating. It also means that every company needs to invest in building up the mechanism, and even then you can only deal with a subset of the use cases (e.g. logged in and tracked ones).

Have you ever accessed an experience via a WebView (e.g. embedded in a Tweet or Facebook) and it doesn’t work as you aren’t logged in there?

What about cross app communication? More hacks, and each app needs to know about others on some platforms (vs intents).


Why can’t I easily build this app?

The Randomiser

I have a series of micro tasks:

  • DuoLingo lesson
  • Lumosity game
  • Quiz Up challenge for “General Knowledge”
  • Show me a random quick work out exercise “20 push-ups!”

The app tracks these and gives me random items to check off these
habits during the day. To do this though I need to know a URL scheme that works, and ideally some of the apps would have a “show a random X” and “show the next X” callback for their world.


Cloaks and Daggers

A constant battle has been the war of what people want to send Google, and what they want customers to see. There is cloaking and Bad Things, but there are also times where the companies genuinely want to do the right thing.

With the rise of native apps companies work on what they need to have indexed and they can offer up different content and experiences. E.g. A summary, and in the app you get the full content. But they could do some of that by hiding behind logged in accounts. The balance has just changed a bit.

Web + App not Web || App

The Web and app context can often be different. In my world of
eCommerce I have seen different strategies based on the nuance of the business.

For example, many users end up on general merchandise product pages based on searches [cheap samsung tvs]. The name of the game here is simple:

  • have good SEO to be as high on the results as possible
  • if a customer comes to you, display compelling reasons to move
    through the checkout funnel and transact (compelling includes “fast”)
  • depending in your business model: . Upsell (including recommendations) . Get the customer to signup

However, with apps it may be quite different. Customers who have taken the premeditated time to install your app are self selecting as more loyal customers. They have associated with your brand in some way.

What can you do to serve them beyond “buy X”?

Within the umbrella of eCommerce there are a vast array of niches. Our team builds experiences across very different business models. The primary services are:

  • Walmart: general merchandizing lead (incoming search heavy)
  • ASDA: home delivery of grocery in the UK (you have a weekly grocery fill up)
  • Sam’s Club: a paid member (different level of loyalty).

Context matters. Our experiences are different because our customers and context is so different.

So, when I hear one sided talk of “Google isn’t able to index your
secret app content!” I wonder. Maybe in the future the balance of
power will shift and people won’t go to search engines for many use
cases, but for now we have work to do to get more content into the
indexes.

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